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Holocaust survivor shares her life story with students

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Holocaust survivor Andy Holten, 84, shares with students at Bosque School how he survived the genocide, which claimed the lives of an estimated six million Jews. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)
Andy Holten gestures as he describes his Holocaust memories. He was the only survivor of his immediate family, staying alive hiding with a friendly family for the last two years of World War II. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Students at the Bosque School came face to face with living history on Monday — namely one of New Mexico’s last Holocaust survivors — who came to teach them about the different facets of humanity.

Around 40 juniors gathered in the school’s visual and performing arts room to hear the story of Andy Holten, a docent for the New Mexico Holocaust Museum who, between 1943 and 1944, lost the vast majority of his family to the genocide which claimed the lives of approximately six million Jews.

“I’m incredibly happy to have had this opportunity, because we will be one of the last generations to be able to talk to real Holocaust survivors,” said junior Tenzin Wong. “I think it’s incredibly powerful.”

Bosque School is a private college preparatory school for middle and high school students located along the Bosque in Albuquerque. Attendees at Monday’s presentation were mostly students enrolled in humanities courses, which teacher Norah Doss said combines English and history.

Holten, 84, mixed textbook history of the start of the Holocaust with stories of his experience as a “hidden child, after his biological parents made the excruciating, but ultimately life-saving decision, to ask a Christian family to take him in.

“They made the very difficult decision, I’m still impressed that they made that decision,” Holten told a captivated audience. “But that’s what allowed me to be here, to talk about it.”

Holten, then a five-year-old Jewish child, went “into hiding” with Johannes and Petronella Meijer in the town of Haarlem, not far from where he was born in Holland, where he hid under an assumed name for the last two years of World War II.

In January 1944, his parents and maternal grandparents boarded a train with nearly 1,000 others – including 122 children – bound for the Auschwitz concentration camp.

His mother and grandparents were immediately sent to the gas chamber, while his father was forced to work in a nearby camp for around four months before falling ill from the working conditions and being executed in august.

Holten survived the war, finishing high school under the wing of the Meijers, whom he emotionally said were “chosen to keep him,” before immigrating to the United States in 1956, where he earned a degree in Physics from the City College of New York.

He enlisted in the US Air Force, rising to the rank of captain and helping design the fuel system protection for the A-10 “Warthog” Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, before moving to Albuquerque and become a substitute teacher in Rio Rancho for about 22 years. years.

Recently, Holten, who is among 23 to 33 Holocaust survivors in the state, shared his story and that of his family with hundreds of local students in the past few weeks alone, according to the program director of the New Mexico Holocaust Museum, Carson Morris.

That experience, Holten said, can be difficult at times. For the most part, however, these are corrective measures.

‘Talking about it helped me,’ he told the Journal, while holding a copy of Nicole Krauss’ ‘Love Story’ – a novel that one student described as involving a survivor of the Holocaust turned American immigrant grappling with his past and his people. .

But telling her story also serves much broader purposes, Holten said, referring to a 2020 study by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany that found that 63% of millennials and Gen Z respondents were unaware of the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.

Above all, Holten said her story is one that teaches young students to practice tolerance and about the many different aspects of humanity.

“I’ve been through the worst that people can do to each other – they wiped out my whole family,” Holten said. “But I also experienced the best that people can do. The Meijers welcomed me… they were ready to try their luck.

Holten’s message seems to have had an effect on his students.

“It’s so important that we understand our history,” junior Soren Olsen said. “Even in the future, we really need to learn more about the Holocaust and extend that understanding to our society…and I think it was really enlightening to talk to someone who actually had to go through that. .”