George Rishfeld tells a story that few have the chance to hear. He was born in Warsaw, Poland but fled east to Vilna as the Germans invaded in the early 1940s. His family sent him to live with a Polish family who showed him love and hid him for the remainder of the war.
Rishfeld visited Dalton Middle School on February 23 to tell students about his experiences growing up during the Holocaust. "The reason I was saved was to tell the story," he explained. "It's the responsibility of every adult to get the story out there – it has to be told. People need to know this was real and not a Hollywood creation."
Rishfeld recounted many "close encounters" he had for the students. He described escaping from Nazi soldiers, hiding under his bed as soldiers searched his apartment, and watching as another child was killed by exploding shrapnel beside him. He was able to describe the reunification with his parents, as well.
Students were quick to ask questions at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Their questions ranged from how many languages he spoke to his favorite books on the Holocaust to what the resistance was to how he felt and where he was when the war ended.
"You forgot to ask one question," said Rishfeld. "Nobody asked what advice I would give to you all. So, I'll give it to you now."
Rishfeld encouraged the students to never stop learning, reading and pursuing their education. "You're nothing without an education; without knowing what's going on in the world; without being able to make a decision for yourself," he said. "Think for yourself. Think positive and be happy."
He told the students how lucky they were to be free. He asked that they cherish their parents and teachers. He said to have fun but to never take their education for granted. "Hear. Tell. Do what you can to help our children know," he said. "Choose life in the face of darkness."
Rishfeld and his wife, Pamela, live in Atlanta. They have two daughters and six grandchildren. His talk was presented by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust (www.holocaust.georgia.gov), along with Dalton Middle School.