High Springs school gets firsthand Holocaust lesson from 95-year-old National Guard vet

By on May 21st, 2013
Major Frank Towers

Chip Skambis/WUFT News

Maj. Frank Towers, 95, speaks to a seventh-grade class in High Springs on Friday about what he saw while entering Germany as a National Guard soldier in 1945.

The entire seventh-grade class at High Springs Community School left on a field trip Tuesday morning to the Holocaust museum in St. Petersburg as part of the school’s unit on remembering the Holocaust.

As a primer for the trip this past Friday, students had a guest speaker: U.S. Maj. Frank Towers, 95, a World War II National Guard veteran.

Students in Sherry Maguire’s seventh-grade class sat in anticipation Friday, some of them on the edge of their seats, watching documentary footage from Nazi Germany.

Maguire’s students have been studying the Holocaust for about a month now. A few of them chatted about what it must have been like to have seen what Maj. Towers saw. They’d heard about his experience liberating a train full of Jews on their way to the Bergen-Belsen death camp.

The students have been writing the names and birth dates of those liberated Jews on a poster to give to Maj. Towers all week.

The bell rang. Teachers shepherded their students into the school’s band room. Maj. Towers arrived shortly thereafter with his daughter — setting up a map of Nazi troop positions that he took from a German officer when his company liberated the train.

It’s obvious he’s done this before. Swinging the microphone right below the mouth and above the chest, he began to speak.

“Now the Holocaust occurred in 1932 to 1945. What brought it about? A very simple word: bullying,” Towers said.

Towers first spoke about the time before his unit entered Germany. He said he and other Americans were originally skeptical of reports about the camps.

“Now up until this time, we had read in our daily newspapers here in the states and in our army newspapers a certain amount of what we thought was propaganda,” said Towers. “It was hard for us to believe the German people, a civilized nation, could possibly do this to another segment of human beings.”

But then he said he got deployed in Germany and liberated a train full of Jews. He said seeing was believing.

“In these cars meant for 40 men, there were between 75 and 80 people—men, women and children—jammed in there like sardines in a can, and when the door was opened, they just spilled out,” said Towers.

“The stench was so horrible that some of our men just had to turn and vomit,” he added.

Tears welled up in the eyes of kids, teachers and parents alike as Towers told stories about how the liberated Jews were scared of the army showers, and how they vomited when the first began to eat rations.

Towers ended his speech with a simple message: never forget. And the message appeared to sink in with the students.

Sherry Maguire is the coordinator of the Holocaust Remembrance unit as well as a seventh-grade teacher. She said lessons like the one Towers presented are necessary when teaching about the Holocaust because they point out the silver linings.

Maguire recounted an assignment in the class. She read a diary entry to her class from a little girl in a concentration camp, and then gave the kids an assignment: write what happens to her the next day.

“What I got the next day, out of 100 papers, 75 of the students made the next day liberation day,” said Maguire. “I discussed this with the guidance counselor and he said they’re so desperate for the fairy tale that just doesn’t come with this unit.”

Florida requires lessons about the Holocaust, but the subject material is to last only a few days. High Springs Community School’s unit is much longer.

And the students said they won’t ever forget it.

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