RAHWAY — Recently, a group of Rahway High School students had an opportunity to learn firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust from Lotte Frankel of Cranford, a 99-year-old survivor who was born and schooled in Frankfurt, Germany. Although her family has long heard her story, this was her first presentation to students.
Frankel’s story began in her first year of university (medical school) in 1932, as things began to get difficult. Warned by a friendly German police officer, she sent her father to Belgium and she traveled with other Jewish young people to Yugoslavia, where they learned to farm. She met her husband there, and after a year, the group moved to Palestine, where her children were born. However, her son had health issues because of the heat, so the family returned to France before it fell to Germany. When the Germans arrived, however, she and her family went undercover.
They traveled from town to town, with false papers or sometimes no papers. Women in the ‘red light’ district helped them when they knocked on the door, providing them a room. Later a hotel owner put them up, telling the German officers that his hotel was full of people that had made prior reservations, even though the Frankel family had just walked in off the street. Many twists and turns occurred that had they not happened could have resulted in a far more tragic ending.
Many people helped, including clergy who helped hide the children in plain sight in a convent and French officials who stamped papers that contained obvious false names using a purloined stamp. The false name her husband used turned out to that of a criminal wanted for murder! Finally, the family crossed an iced-covered river into neutral Switzerland and survived the rest of the war with friends there.
Frankel, accompanied by her grandson Joseph, was a dynamic speaker. Students listed attentively as she answered their questions. She also told her audience that she survived because she was very athletic as a young girl and that is why she can walk today at age 99, and only uses a cane. Even now she exercises daily with tennis balls in her hands. Students presented her with a bouquet of sunflowers and wished her well in her current project of writing her memoirs with the help of her son.
The students are members of a new semester elective English course at Rahway High School, African-American Literature taught by Kim Sharrock-Shaw. During the second half of the year, a second elective will be offered in Holocaust and Genocide Studies taught by Debra Maller, who arranged the visit through Dr. Paul Winkler, New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education of the State Department of Education.
Rahway High School students from Kim Sharrock-Shaw’s African-American Literature class pose for a photo with their teachers and honored guest, Lottie Frankel. (Photo courtesy of Rahway High School)
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