Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Maximilian Kowler - April 26, 1984

Speaking About the Holocaust

When I moved to Lenox I started to teach at the high school, and was a very funny experience, because uh, they really didn't know what a Jew was when I came here. And then uh, later on in years, when we had a movie--an educational movie on the Holocaust, and the, the social studies teacher remembered that I am coming from the old country, like they say, and they invited me to come--and they made a uh, they wanted to have a question and answer period, just one period, after the film. Out of that one period became two solid days. I couldn't do my own teaching, I had to sit with social studies classes who had seen the film, and questions and answers were going for two solid days. It was quite interesting, because you talk to children who didn't even know what a Jew was, much less the Holocaust. Uh, a typical question was, "Mr. Kowler, tell me, under the camps in Germany--under the concentration camps, these tunnels--were they really like that? That you could run in and out of the tunnel--out of the camp?" You know what they compared the camp to? Hogan's Heroes on TV. Uh, I was the curious animal--I was like a curious animal in the zoo, you know, and I felt like I was in a cage, and they all looked at me because they hadn't seen an animal like that before. Uh, it was--I, I think I brought some, some enlightenment to that school, because they didn't know what it was. And I think it was a fantastic experience for them and for me. A typical question of a student, for example--not typical, I shouldn't say that--an interesting question from a student, for example was uh, when I talked to them about it, naturally I made it clear that I was never in a concentration camp and uh, but I told them that in a way, I am prejudiced against Germany, because I will never forget what Germany brought on us, you know? And uh, that I apologized, that uh, you know, that if sometimes maybe I'm prejudiced and I uh, I can't keep--I can't stay neutral, you know? Please forgive me, etc., etc. So uh, one girl lift--raised her hand and said, "Mr. Kowler, it's funny. You seem to really--to hate what came out of Germany, what happened to you. So how come you teach German?" Well, my answer then was, "German, after all, is my mother tongue, I grew up with it and I can never deny it, and there is no reason why I should hate the German language, because it is my language." Uh, another absolutely fantastic experience: I was invited to then--by other social studies teachers in different schools in the area here, and one day I came to Montclair Re...Regional High School, and we talked again about the Holocaust, the past, my past, and uh, other people--like, our past, you know? And the class was--it was a selected class, really, and uh, the kids, after--before I said good-bye to them, I thanked them for being as attentive as they were, and I thanked them and I had a good time, etc. and then I said, "I hope you got..." I believe I said like seventy-five, or eighty percent- of what I said, "that you understood--that you caught the meaning of what I've been trying to tell you--what happened in the world, what happened to us Jews, what happened to refugees in Europe."

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