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Looking To The PastHistorical Articles From NCHS Students

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By Madison Frerker

My English IV Honors class at NCHS has been studying the Holocaust, and though the school year is nearing its end, our lesson is far from finished. Seventy years later the Holocaust is still very much a part of the world today. Elie Wiesel once said, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” As researchers, we have become witnesses, and it is our responsibility to pass the torch and share our lessons with the world. One of the many lessons I have learned through our study of the Holocaust is that life is not guaranteed. Our lives are just shadows in the span of eternity, and some shadows are much longer than others. I clearly see this lesson in the stories of Hans and Gertrud Oppenheim and my great grandparents Lloyd and Mildred Hardesty.

Hans Oppenheim was a soldier in the German army during World War I and afterwards became a successful businessman in Kassel. He married Gertrud “Trudi” Lindenfield, and they had a daughter named Dorrith Oppenheim on December 8, 1931. After the 1939 Kristallnacht, Dorrith, at just seven years old, was sent to Edinburgh, Scotland on Kindertransport to escape Nazi persecution. Hans and Trudi planned to meet Dorrith in Edinburgh, but they were unable to escape. They were deported to Auschwitz where they perished in 1944. Nighttime fell on the lives of the Hans and Gertrud; their shadows ceased to exist. Dorrith lived with her foster family and survived the war. In Edinburgh, Dorrith met her husband Andrew, and they had six children. Throughout her life, Dorrith spent many hours sharing her incredible story. She passed away in 2012, but the legacy of her and her family still lives on.

As Hans and Trudi Oppenheim’s lives were ending, the sun was just rising on the Hardestys’ lives together. Lloyd “Red” Hardesty was drafted into the Army/Air Force during WWII. While stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri, he met and married Mildred Cottom. Just like Gertrud Oppenheim, Mildred went by her nickname of Millie. Millie worked in a defense plant that produced airplane parts for the war. It is here that our two stories diverge. Red and Millie were able to make a happy life in Nashville with their three daughters, Connie (Frerker), Sue (Gordon), and Sara (Meinert). As they aged together, Red enjoyed fishing and Millie loved her flowers and cooking for her family. The shadows of Red and Millie stretched far into their 80’s, and they lived lives surrounded by the love of their family and friends. Sadly, the Oppenheims were denied these experiences by the horrors of the Holocaust. As time goes on, shadows come and go. It is up to us to make the most of our shadows before the darkness of night falls on our lives.

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The Shadows of Our Lives

Looking To The Past

Editors Note: Students in the NCHS English Honors IV Class are assigned an outreach project every year. This year, students were asked to spread the stories of those who were impacted by the Holocaust. Two of these students, Abbie Heseman and Madison Frerker, have asked to share the stories they are telling in The Nashville News.

By Abbie Heseman

As humans we are faced with obstacles, and how we choose to conquer those obstacles says something about our character. Obstacles, minor or major, can be defeated. At times we know what to do in order to overcome an obstacle, but other times defeat seems imminent. As a student studying the Holocaust, I have found that an obstacle we all face today is losing the character witnesses of the Holocaust. How we can overcome this is simple: keep telling the stories of the victims and survivors and keep the story of the Holocaust alive. This is the story of Helga Weiss, a girl who used her art and mind to overcome and survive the obstacles of the Holocaust.

Helga Weiss was born in 1929 in Prague to Otto and Irena Weiss. From a young age, Helga’s father encouraged her to pursue music, but her gift was art. She always kept a sketchbook and drew everything around her. At the age of eight, when talk of war surfaced, Helga began writing in a journal because she knew it was important. When the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, Jews were faced with discrimination. Suddenly Jews were not allowed to speak or come in contact with non-Jews; that meant Jews would lose their jobs and children would be exiled from schools. Helga recalls wearing a yellow star labeled “Jude” to classify the Jews from non-Jews and make it easier for the Germans to enforce punishment.

In October 1941, Jewish Deportations became prominent. Jews began to pack their belongings in preparation for what might lie ahead. As Helga witnessed her friends and family summoned for deportation, she feared she would be next. In December 1941, German soldiers came to the Weiss home for their deportation to the concentration camp Terezín. Here, Jews were divided into buildings; Helga and Irena were kept together, but Otto was sent across the camp. Helga tried to find ways to contact her father, so she drew a picture of her surroundings and sent it to him in secret. Her father’s response encouraged her to document more: “Draw what you see.” By drawing what she witnessed, she was able to express her thoughts and emotions rather than keeping them in. Drawing helped Helga keep her sense of humanity as Nazis attempted to take it away. Three years after their report to Terezín, Otto was transported to help build a ghetto. Days later, Helga and Irena found they were going to another concentration camp: Auschwitz. Before Helga was transported, she gave her diary and drawings to her uncle who worked in the records department. He bricked the documents into a wall to keep them hidden from the officers.

At Auschwitz, Helga and Irena waited in line to hear of their fate. Mothers with young children and the ill were sent to the left for death, and those able to work were sent to the right. Helga and Irena lied about their ages in order to escape death in the gas chambers. Everything was taken from them: clothes, any possessions, and even their hair. Helga and Irena were at the camp for ten days, but those were the longest days she endured. The conditions here were far worse than at Terezín, but perhaps, her inability to express herself in her sketchbook made the experience unbearable. From Auschwitz, Helga and Irena were sent to Freiberg, a slave labor camp. Here they polished airplane parts for five months. After their time at Freiberg came a 16 day rail transport to Mauthausen. During the trip, Helga suffered from frostbite and extreme hunger and thirst. She had thoughts of suicide, but the recurring idea that the next day they would be freed, kept her going. After the long awaited arrival to Mauthausen, they were kept for days without being fed. Soon after their arrival, the camp was liberated by US forces; had they been any later, Irena would not have survived.

Helga and Irena returned to Prague after liberation and began to search for Otto. They found no evidence of him past Terezín. Upon Helga’s return, she obtained her diary and drawings from her uncle and began to document everything that had happened since she had last written. After the war, Helga went to school and pursued her artistic talent. Today, Helga continues to live in the apartment where she was born, and has influenced her descendants to overcome their obstacles through art. By telling you Helga’s story, we have found a way to overcome the obstacle of losing character witnesses. Now you are a witness; you have the chance to tell someone else Helga’s story and keep the story of the Holocaust alive.

Overcoming the Holocaust’s Former and Existing Obstacles

LEFT, Hans and Gertrud “Trudi” Oppenheim, Kassel Germany, between 1915 and 1921. RIGHT, Lloyd “Red” and Mildred “Millie” Hardesty, Tulsa, Okla., 1944.

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