Kyrene Altadeña Middle School students received a lesson in both history and humanity during a virtual presentation by Holocaust survivor Leon Malmed.
Students listened as Malmed joined eighth graders from his Lake Tahoe home.
“There have been many conversations about the impact of virtual learning on meaningful experiences,” Altadeña Assistant Principal Ryan James said. “This event is proof that we can still hear important voices and perspectives while staying connected to each other and to the outside world.”
Malmed discussed his childhood, beginning two years after the start of World War II when his parents were taken away.
Malmed, then 4 and his sister Rachel, 9, did not learn what happened to them until decades later.
After their arrest by Nazi soldiers, Malmed’s parents were sent to Auschwitz, where his father died just a few months before the concentration camp was liberated.
Malmed’s mother never received an identification tattoo, indicating she either died in transport or was killed upon arrival.
Malmed and his sister lived with a neighboring Christian family that protected them through roundups, air raids and famine for five years despite the threat of death if they were ever discovered.
That family’s heroism and compassion inspired Malmed to share his own story.
Descendants of the family consider Malmed and his sister uncle and aunt and they keep in close contact with each other, holding video calls between visits and reunions.
“Malmed’s candid recollection of the events of his childhood spurred many questions from students and teachers regarding hope, change and the repetition of history,” a Kyrene district spokeswoman said.
The students and teachers were inspired by Malmed.
Lauren Ring, 8th grade English Language Arts teacher, said, “Surprisingly, Zoom has made it feel very intimate as opposed to a stage and an audience. Hearing the first-hand account from Leon is priceless,
impactful and emotional. I hope this has enhanced the learning from this quarter for our students immeasurably.”
Natalia Riehle, an eighth grade student, said, “Leon helped me realize that no matter the circumstance life will get better, but that will only happen if we never give up and keep fighting.”
In response to Leon’s promise that the sky is still blue beyond the storm clouds, Natalia said, “That statement really meant a lot to me, especially with this pandemic. It's helped me to
realize I need to find the good in life, even if it's little things, and enjoy it.”
Despite the 70-year age gap between Malmed and his audience, one Kyrene student related to the trauma and shared his family’s own history with the Holocaust.
“This is a heavy subject, but we are so fortunate to have a witness to these events share his story with our students.” James said. “Our students have finished covering the era of World War II in class, but hearing Leon’s testimony is more powerful than a textbook.”
Despite the difficult subject matter, Malmed’s conversation with Altadeña students included a message of hope.
“We all have problems in life,” he said. “The problems can be solved. They are like clouds in the sky. It may be minutes, days, weeks or years, but the sky will be blue again.”
Malmed immigrated to the U.S. in 1964. Malmed was drafted in the French Air force during the French-Algerian war in the 1950 and 60s. He graduated in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Paris as well as the AEA
Senior Executive Program at the UCLA and the Executive Institute program for Management of High Technology Companies at Stanford Business School. He worked for tech companies in Silicon Valley and is currently on the board of the Lake
Tahoe Community College Foundation.
After 60 years of total silence about his childhood during the Holocaust and aftermath, Malmed decided to publish his memoir. The book sales proceeds go to Holocaust survivors in need.
The book is titled “We Survived…at Last I Speak,” which he published in his 70s.