1,400 Nebraska students hear first-hand accounts of Holocaust survival
Holocaust survivor Peter Metzelaar & second-generation survivor Dr. Steven Wees share their stories of enduring one of history's darkest chapters
The Wahoo Public Schools, in cooperation with Educational Service Unit #2 in Fremont, was honored to once again work with the Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) in Omaha to host two assemblies on Tuesday, March 21, in recognition of the 2023 Week of Understanding.
In the morning assembly, Holocaust survivor Peter Metzelaar, from Seattle, WA, shared his story of how he and his mother survived this dark chapter of history thanks to those who risked their own lives to shelter them from the Nazis. The rest of his family perished.
For the afternoon session, Dr. Steven Wees of Omaha shared the story of his mother, Elizabeth Wees, who passed away in 2016. Mrs. Wees was also a Holocaust survivor, defying the odds by living through her nightmare experiences in the ghettos, several concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and multiple Death Marches, before being liberated by the Soviet Army. In his presentation Dr. Wees included multiple video segments from his mother's 2012 interview with the USC Shoah Foundation. It was one of the few times she ever spoke of her experiences.
These stories, both of which concluded with a hope for worldwide peace and tolerance, were heard by approximately 1,400 students from multiple schools around Eastern Nebraska, either by attending the assemblies in person or watching them remotely via live stream.
The video recordings of both assemblies are embedded below.
DR. STEVEN WEES
Original article posted 02/23/2023
IHE/WPS/ESU2 brings back Holocaust survivor assemblies post-Covid; Stories to be shared on stage March 21
Wahoo hosts survivor Peter Metzelaar & second-generation survivor Dr. Steven Wees for renewed annual 'Week of Understanding' programs
Holocaust survivor Peter Metzelaar (top) and second-generation survivor Dr. Steve Wees will be our featured speakers on Tuesday, March 21 (10:00-11:30 a.m. & 1:30-3:00 p.m.). After three years of no assemblies due to COVID, WPS is pleased to once again work with ESU2 to host this annual event in recognition of the Week of Understanding, sponsored by the Institute for Holocaust Education in Omaha. Both sessions are open to the public.
"If we forget, the dead will be killed a second time, and then they are today's victims." --Holocaust Survivor and American author Elie Wiesel
After a three-year suspension due to COVID, the Wahoo Public Schools is pleased to once again work in cooperation with the Institute for Holocaust Education (Omaha) and Educational Service Unit 2 (Fremont) to host Holocaust survivor assemblies in recognition of this year's Week of Understanding.
On Tuesday, March 21, Wahoo Middle and High School students, along with 6-12 students across Nebraska, will have the opportunity to personally meet and hear the life stories of Holocaust survivor Peter Metzelaar and Dr. Steve Wees (who tells the story of his mother Elizabeth Wees, a Holocaust survivor who passed away in 2016 at age 91).
Our guests will be speaking live from the Wahoo Public Schools Performance-Learning Center. WMS/WHS students, along with students from other schools in the region, will attend these assemblies on site, and students from schools across the state will connect live from remote sites, via the school's YouTube channel.
This year two speakers will share their personal stories and respond to audience questions.
- Holocaust survivor Peter Metzelaar will share his story during a morning presentation from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
- Second-generation survivor Dr. Steven Wees will share his story during an afternoon presentation from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m.
(60 minutes of Survivor testimony will be followed by 30 minutes during which our speakers will respond to audience questions.)
Wahoo High School students will attend the morning assembly, and Wahoo Middle School students will attend the afternoon presentation. Community members are openly invited to attend these events as well, either in person, or via the YouTube live-stream (link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfsAuQGa87easBGbGBy87vg).
ALL SCHOOLS that would like to participate in one or both of these events, on site or remotely, please click to register: REGISTRATION LINK
Now in its 13th year, this important IHE program began as an effort to bring first-hand Holocaust survivor and U.S. liberator testimony to schools across the metro, giving students the opportunity to hear this testimony while survivors and liberators are still here to tell their stories. For those survivors and liberators who are no longer with us, their families continue to keep their stories alive.
ESU 2 became involved with the Week of Understanding back in 2012, the program's second year. Since then, the geographic reach has expanded beyond metropolitan Nebraska schools to include not only live student audiences traveling to Wahoo, but also school audiences totaling thousands of students connected remotely from the rural east, central and panhandle regions of Nebraska.
"It is my hope that the primary, human experience of meeting and listening to survivors will give our young adults an understanding and an appreciation that cannot be gleaned from secondary source materials," said ESU 2 spokesperson Diane Wolfe. "More powerful, more compelling than photos, text or video is the face-to-face personal opportunity to visit with those individuals. Additionally, it is our hope that this encounter will underscore the importance of taking action to prevent social injustice long before it becomes a holocaust-scale mass human disaster."
IHE Executive Director Scott Littky also stressed the importance of keeping these voices in the spotlight, in hopes that such a tragic chapter of history is never repeated.
“As time takes us away from the Holocaust, it is even more critical to listen to the words of the witnesses,” commented Littky. “Their personal stories add a face and a name to a distant and somewhat incomprehensible event. Not all survivors can speak about their experiences. Some want only to remember their memories silently, but for some, there is a need to speak out. These individuals, and others like them, are the last to bear witness to the Holocaust. It has never been more important to listen to the words of this generation."
Again, all are invited to these sessions. If you represent a school, please register for these assemblies at the link above. If you are a community member (or if you have any questions), please register by contacting WPS Media Director Dave Privett at 402-443-4332, ext. 3232, or email email@example.com.
"My mother and I slept together in a bed that was inside a closet. I remember lying in that bed trembling in fear at times."
Peter was born in Amsterdam in 1935. In 1942, when Peter was 7, the Nazis seized Peter's entire family, except for Peter and his mother. Peter's mother contacted the Dutch Underground for help. The Underground found Klaas and Roefina Post, who agreed to shelter Peter and his mother on their small farm in northern Holland, putting their own lives at risk. For two years they lived with the Posts, until it became too dangerous and they found another hiding place with two women in The Hague. Peter, his mother, and his aunt were the only survivors of his family. Klaas and Roefina Post have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
After the war, Peter and his mother immigrated to the United States in 1949, arriving in New York. Peter was 13 and didn't speak any English, but was placed in the 8th grade. Peter had a long career as a radiology technologist. He and his wife raised two children in California and moved to Seattle in 1997. Peter continues to be an active member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity's Speakers Bureau.
Dr. Steven Wees
"Every day, we saw transports of people going in and not coming out -- older people, people with children, and all you could see was smoke and fire afterward, and the smell was just horrible." --Elizabeth Wees (mother of Dr. Steven Wees)
Elizabeth Bodek Wees was born in 1924 in Svalava, Czechoslovakia. She grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family. When the Nazis invaded, she was 14 years old. Elizabeth spent time in the Mukacevo Ghetto, as well as several concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Ravensbruck. She survived multiple Death Marches, and was eventually liberated by the Soviet Army.
Elizabeth passed away in 2016 at the age of 91. Her son, Dr. Steven Wees, has researched his mother’s Holocaust journey, and now shares her story with schools and other groups.