Holocaust survivor speaks to students

Katie Valenti, Staff Writer

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Mary Wygodski, who is 93 years old, addressed 120 students about her time in the Holocaust and surviving Jewish oppression every day on May 2 in the media center.  

Jewish Student Unions president, sophomore Carol Kornworcel, put on the event with Rayna Exelbierd’s help. 

“Having Mary come speak with students was an honor and a privilege to have,” Kornworcel said. “I was in complete shock about the turnout because I didn’t think so many people would be interested in such a topic. Once I saw the masses of people coming into the media center, I felt so proud and so glad to have had such an opportunity.” 

Wygodski was introduced by Exelbierd, the Southeast High School Director at Stand With Us. Stand With Us is “proactive in regards to education and not only wait for something hateful in order to react.”  

“Again, I think a really big message to take out of this is just that every single movement started with one conversation,” Exelbierd said. “It’s just so important to speak up whether you know somebody is saying something that’s not true or you actually see someone being disrespected because again the Holocaust and the experience I had on campus are just like representative of what happen when hate goes unchecked. 

Wygodski spoke about how soldiers would take groups of Jewish people to be killed and put into mass graves. She lived in Vilna, Poland before the war and discussed being Jewish and the hatred that inflamed, the progression from segregation, discrimination and wearing the yellow star in the ghettos during this time. She was steps away from being put in a gas chamber, though managed to escape her death that day. 

“I think it’s important for people to learn and remember so history doesn’t repeat itself,” sophomore Henry Kanfer said. 

Now, over 70 years later, Wygodski is an activist, wife, grandmother, school teacher and active member in the St. Petersburg Holocaust Museum. She stopped speaking at schools few years ago but came to speak to continue telling her story. 

“I came to see Mary because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down and have the chance to hear someone’s story about such a tragic event,” senior Sophia Ward said. “And I wanted to develop a greater understand for those who survived the Holocaust.” 

Mary Wygodski kept her faith to see her family again and desires for young adults to stop spreading hatred of minorities, so they won’t have to endure her past. She asks from students and upcoming generations to “fight hate and fight anti-Semitism. 

“Because a civilization renowned for great scientific and cultural achievements, and because a civilized world has not stopped such actions, heads of states all over the world agree that it must never be forgotten, and it must never be permitted to happen again,” Wygodski said. 

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