The Holocaust would seem to many junior high students to be a lesson learned in history books, a horrific tale from the past.
But for about 600 Catholic school students in the Diocese it came vividly to life when they listened to the story firsthand from survivor Jacob Eisenbach on January 29. The 95-year-old retired dentist spoke for about an hour at St. Francis de Sales Church in Riverside. The parish school hosted the talk as part of Catholic Schools Week activities, and 13 other schools sent their seventh and eighth graders to see and hear a part of history.
An underlying message in Eisenbach’s talk was that the evil forces that led to the Holocaust continue to threaten us today and people of goodwill must remain vigilant to stop them. He told the students to beware of hate, injustice and genocide because those sins continue to “happen around us all the time.”
St. Francis de Sales School Principal Trenna Meins arranged the talk after one of her daughters had heard Eisenbach speak at an Orange County school. It’s not the first time Meins has brought in a speaker who seems to step right out of the pages of history. When she was the principal of Sacred Heart School in Rancho Cucamonga she invited a descendant of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass to address Catholic school students of the Diocese.
“It’s really invaluable for the students to meet people firsthand who have experienced this,” she says.
As a teenager Eisenbach was plunged into the terror of the Holocaust when his home city of Lodz, Poland was invaded and sealed off by the Nazis. Over the course of the Nazi occupation and attempts to exterminate the Jewish people, Eisenbach lost his father, sister and one of his brothers. He attempted to escape the walled off city but was caught and put on the “death train” that took him to a munitions factory that was ultimately liberated. Amidst the trauma of those years, Eisenbach said he carried the words of his mother and father to help him survive. “Never lose hope for a better tomorrow.”
After a successful career as a dentist first in Iowa and then in California, Eisenbach has been called to share his story through speaking engagements, authoring several books and even establishing a presence on social media, where he has his own YouTube channel.
As a follow-up to Eisenbach’s talk, St. Francis de Sales students visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles on Feb. 19. Students are beginning to see their role in this part of history, Meins said.
“The value is in social justice and social responsibility,” she said. “It’s up to them to not let something like the Holocaust happen again.”