Gahanna resident John Koenigsberg, a Holocaust survivor born in 1937 in Amsterdam, Holland, came to the school May 23 to tell sophomores and students in the WWII class his story. These students have recently been studying the Holocaust.
Koenigsberg has been speaking for approximately 20 years and has spoken at the school for approximately 10 years now.
“There are not many who are as documented as I am,” Koenigsberg said. “I like to research.”
Koenigsberg said he gives these talks because he does not want to forget.
“I just don’t want it to go away,” he said. “We’re trying desperately to try to have the second and third generations speak, but it’s hard, because public speaking is normally a little bit tough.”
Koenigsberg said seeing students’ reactions makes him a little sad sometimes.
“A lot of these kids don’t have a clue what happens because they weren’t taught,” he said. “I’ve also seen a little bit of decline in some of the public schools, but most of the time I am very, very happy.”
Koenigsberg said he always asks for input from the kids because he always finds out more about how he impacts them. Students wrote letters telling him what they learned and thanking him for coming.
“My wife is the first one to get to the letters to start reading them,” he said.
Sophomore Blissann Treffert said Koenigsberg made her feel grateful that she didn’t have to go through the Holocaust.
“I didn’t have to worry about anything that he did when I was six,” Treffert said.
Koenigsberg’s life turned upside down at age six, when the Germans occupied Holland and began deportations of the Dutch-Jews.
First, his grandfather, whom he was closest to, was deported. Then, he and his parents avoided deportation because of his father’s medical worker’s immunity stamp on his I.D. since he worked at a Jewish hospital in Amsterdam. Koenigsberg himself avoided deportation through an induced illness and a fake appendix operation.
Later, his parents decided it would be safest to split up and go into hiding.
Koenigsberg’s parents arranged for him to stay with a Dutch family who turned out to be Nazi sympathizers. He said the only reason they did not turn him in was because of the money his parents had given them and the promise of more. His parents found out and moved him to a new family named the Snijckers.
When American GI’s freed them and Germany finally surrendered, his parents, who had both survived the war in hiding, began frantically looking for him and eventually found him. The Koenigsbergs visited the Snijckers often, but Mrs. Snijckers suffered severe bouts of depression every time because she missed him and wanted him to stay. Eventually, the families ended all contact for her sake.
Treffert said the part of his story when he had to leave the Snijckers stuck with her the most.
“It really showed how much he loved them because he did it so Mrs. Snijckers would get better even though he would never talk to her again,” she said.
Treffert said she found the story very interesting.
“Seeing how their daily life changed as they were discriminated against really put into perspective how much people were affected even if they weren’t put in camps,” Treffert said.
Sophomore Morgan Mead also said the speaker made him feel really grateful that he was born in this time period and no one had to go through that.
“The person closest to him in his life [his grandfather] was taken away in a matter of minutes,” Mead said. “It shows me not to take my family or friends for granted.”
Mead said he highly recommends that people listen to Koenigsberg speak.
“It’s really heart-wrenching, and some parts of it you can tell he is a bit emotional,” Mead said. “There aren’t many survivors left, and to be able to hear it in person is something that you won’t forget.”
Visit the Holocaust Memorial Program facebook page to find out where upcoming events will be where Koenigsberg will speak in the future.
By Alan Grove