Abbey Marshall | Staff Writer
Photo by Abbey Marshall
Hate and prejudice are with us today.
These words were spoken by Holocaust survivor Werner Coppel, who is more familiar with hatred and prejudice than most people can fathom.
Coppel spoke to a group of Honors World History students on Tuesday, April 29, to share his trials and tribulations of being a forced labor slave, being held in a concentration camp, and ultimately escaping it all to reconstruct his life.
Being born in Germany as a Jew and growing up in the 1930s, Coppel experienced firsthand the rise of Nazism and its wrath. He recalled being ostracized by his peers after the passing of the Nuremberg laws that stripped Jews of their rights then having his synagogue destroyed by Anti-Semitists.
After experiencing this discrimination, he applied to travel to Palestine, now known as the state of Israel, to where Jews were originally from. A year after being accepted and starting his training, the training centers were closed and all those in the program with him were shipped to a forced labor camp in Berlin. He was granted a brief hiatus from the camp to visit his family in December of 1941, which was the last time he ever saw them.
April 8, 1943, was a date seared into Coppel’s memory: it was the date he was shipped to the concentration camp known as Auschwitz.
“We were packed in a railroad car like sardines,” said Coppel. “If you died, you couldn’t have fallen over.”
Upon arriving, Coppel immediately took note of the terrible conditions.
“557 old folks, women, and children out of 1,200 were gassed,” Coppel said.
After Coppel’s later escape of the concentration camp, and then following the war, he settled down with a family and had the opportunity to come to America.
“I remember thinking [when I got to America], ‘Now you have reached the shore. Now you have left hate and prejudice behind in Germany,’” Coppel said.
According to Coppel, however, that wasn’t necessarily true. When he arrived in Ohio, discrimination still existed; an article was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer denying that the Holocaust had ever happened. According to Coppel, the same sort of prejudice that led to the Holocaust still exists.
“When you go into the world… You will have setbacks,” Coppel said. “Stand up [to those setbacks], don’t walk away.”
Coppel’s story touched the students and was important for all to hear, according to freshman Samantha Winkler.
“I think it’s really important for all of my friends and peers to hear [Coppel’s presentation] because a lot of them are unaware of the Holocaust and they don’t really know how severe it was,” Winkler said. “I think it’s important to understand what they had to go through.”
Coppel’s presentation was also relevant for what the freshman students are learning in the classroom, according to Winkler.
“We kind of touched a little bit on the Holocaust [in history class] and we’re learning about World War II,” Winkler said. “We haven’t really learned how severe the Holocaust was yet, so the speaker started us off on the Holocaust unit with the conditions and everything that happened in Germany.”
Freshman Brooke Suddleson, along with Winkler, helped organize the event.
“[Winkler and I] are both Jewish and our Sunday school teacher survived the Holocaust,” Suddleson said. “So, when we found out we were learning about it, we thought it would be cool if she would come in and talk. Then plans changed and we ended up going through the Holocaust Center for Humanity and they set us up [with Coppel] and arranged everything.”
According to Coppel, he enjoys sharing his story with the young people at Mason High School.
“[The students] were wonderful,” Coppel said. “They were one of the better, if not the best, audiences I’ve had in a long time. This school always has been for all the years I’ve been coming here.”
Coppel ended his speech with one final piece of advice that he finds to still be relevant and important even after all these years following the Holocaust.
“Stand up to hate and prejudice even if it doesn’t affect you,” Coppel said. “Always respect others the way you want to be respected.”