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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Immaculata High School introduces students to social justice themes

  • Ralph Hartwich, the son of Holocaust survivors, said there are other holocausts happening today all over the world.
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  • Ralph Hartwich, the son of Holocaust survivors, said there are other holocausts happening today all over the world.
    Hartwich, who spoke Wednesday at Immaculata High School, said people are being killed and deprived of their liberties because they are different and can't defend themselves.
    Hartwich, who is a volunteer for the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, was a featured speaker as part of Immaculata's Social Justice Awareness Day.
    He told students his speech was not about himself. It was the story of his parents ― Werner and Eva ― who fled Germany in the late 1930s to escape Nazi oppression.
    Hartwich said Adolf Hitler and his cadre were nothing more than bullies. He said their goal was to advance their cause at the expense of non-believers.
    They used anti-semitism as a method.
    "They needed a scapegoat," he said.
    The Nazis picked Jews, gypsies and people with mental and physical deficiencies, Hartwich said.
    Hartwich said his parents grew up in different regions of Germany. They didn't meet until after both had fled Germany.
    His maternal grandfather committed suicide in 1933 because laws in Germany at that time made it almost impossible for Jewish people to make a living.
    Hartwich said things got worse and worse in Germany between 1933 and 1938.
    He said Hitler and the Nazis were trying to drive Jews out.
    Hartwich's father was jailed in 1938, along with about 30,000 other people as a result of an event known as Kristallnacht, in which Jewish-owned properties were targeted in attacks.
    Hartwich said his father and others were arrested for no reason other than they were Jewish.
    Hartwich's father was sent to a concentration camp.
    At that time, German concentration camps were not yet "death camps," Hartwich said.
    "They were work camps," he said. "They were slave labor work camps."
    Hartwich said his father spent about 2.5 months in a concentration camp. He got out because his family had enough money to buy boat tickets to leave Germany.
    Hartwich said both his parents fled to Shanghai, China, where there was a small European population.
    "They met in Shanghai," Hartwich said.
    His parents were married in 1941.
    He said things were OK in Shanghai until Japanese occupation during World War II.
    "Then things got tough," he said.
    Europeans were forced into a ghetto district and survived mostly through charity.
    Hartwich's family moved to the U.S. in 1947. He was 15 months old at the time. The family ended up in Kansas City, Mo., because Hartwich's father had experience working in the grain business.
    Page 2 of 2 - Hartwich's father died in 2001. His mother continues to live in the Kansas City area.
    "Today my mother is 92," he said. "She will be 93 in April."
    Ellie Wolk, a high school junior who served as the main coordinator for Wednesday's Social Justice Awareness Day, said the event was designed to raise awareness about social injustices that are occurring, and help students learn how they can take action.
    Wolk said the Catholic high school had a similar event about three years ago.
    Before listening to Hartwich's remarks Wednesday, groups of students rotated through presentations by guest speakers who discussed topics such as the death penalty and human trafficking.
    Also as part of Social Justice Awareness Day, displays by students and organizations such as the Alliance Against Family Violence and Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children were set up in the school's gymnasium.
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