The Atmore Advance

March 18, 2007


Holocaust Survivor Visits ECHS

By Tray Smith

Advance Staff



Students at Escambia County High School welcomed a special visitor to their campus March 13. Agnes Tennenbaum, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, spoke to them for more than an hour about the time the Nazis held her in captivity during World War II.

"l would venture to say that probably 98 percent of students will never get to hear from a Holocaust survivor. This is an enormous opportunity for you," ECHS Principal Kyle Ferguson said as he introduced Tennenbaum to the student body.

"There were so many times I wanted to give up, so many times I had lost hope, and the only thing I can say is that God must have had a plan for me," Tennenbaum said. "Maybe that plan was being able to tell my story to you today."

Tennenbaum is different than many other victims of the Holocaust because her father was actually born in New York City before he moved to Hungary with her grandparents.

"They should have stayed in NYC," Tennenbaum said. "Because doing so would have allowed them to avoid the Holocaust."

After the Nazis occupied Hungary in March of 1944, Tennenbaum said that she and her family did not know what to expect, but they knew it was not good. One evening, her sister went into the capital to visit the Opera for her birthday, and they never saw her again.

Tennenbaum, her husband and her family were eventually captured by the Nazis. They were transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp on a train.

"We went two days with nothing to drink," she said. "The thirst was terrible. I do not think that many people know what true thirst is."

She added that there was no room to sit down on the train, which only had one window. When they arrived at Auschwitz, her cousin, her aunt and she were separated from her mother, who she never saw again.

Describing the conditions at Auschwitz, Tennenbaum said she was forced to sleep on the ground. Their diet consisted mostly of stale bread and soup. From her barracks, Tennenbaum could see the smoke rising from the crematoriums and was told by a roommate that their fellow Jews were inside the crematoriums.

Tennenbaum was selected to work in a factory outside of Auschwitz in late 1944. There she worked alongside Prisoners of War from allied countries and manufacture munitions.

“I just kept waiting for the Americans to arrive,” Tennenbaum said.

Eventually, the Americans did arrive. Tennenbaum was able to communicate with relatives in New York immediately after being liberated by U.S. G.I.s. Four years later, in 1949, Tennenbaum moved to New York City, where she lived for 20 years. During that time, she became an American citizen. She currently resides with her son and daughter-in-law in Mobile.

“From the day I came to this country, I have been proud to be a citizen,” Tennenbaum said. “America has never let me down. However, I do not think that many people in America realize how truly great their freedoms are.”

Tennenbaum was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust.

Melinda Luker, who teaches ninth grade world history at ECHS, initiated the idea of having Tennenbaum come speak.

“I am glad our students had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust from an actual Holocaust victim,” Luker said.