NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Students from an Orange County school plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism were given a lesson in tolerance Monday.
As CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported, several student leaders took a unique trip to hear personally from Holocaust survivors, hoping to spread the message of acceptance back on campus.
They met the survivors on a visit to the “March of the Living” exhibit at the United Nations – a graphic and emotional Holocaust display that would be a reality check for anyone.
And for the students from Pine Bush High School – which is part of a district plagued by widespread allegations of anti-Semitism — the message hit home particularly hard.
“I couldn’t fathom, like, the fact that they did lose everything, but they still had the hope to go on,” said Pine Bush sophomore Savanna Paxton.
The Pine Bush Central School District is embroiled in a federal lawsuit, filed by three families who claimed the district tolerates the harassment of Jewish students.
The lawsuit also include exhibits such as pictures of Nazis and Ku Klux Klan graffiti.
On Monday, the Pine Bush students heard from Holocaust survivor Judy Weissenberg Cohen, who lived through the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“This is what frightens me,” Cohen said, emphasizing that words led to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Pune Bush sophomore Andrew Cunningham said he agreed that words can be damaging.
“I think words are really important, because with words — like, there’s a saying that the power of life and death is in the tongues,” he said.
Cohen and other survivors spoke one-on-one to these students, in hopes their message will resonate hard.
Students who spoke to CBS 2 said they have never witnessed anti-Semitic bullying. But they are well-versed on the topic because of the allegations in the district.
They students volunteered to visit the U.N. and meet the Holocaust survivors, in hopes that they could be the voice of change.
“We hear, like, all the stories — Holocaust stories — in school, like, we’re learning about it in school. But I feel like if I hear it from a survivor, I’ll have more information; more knowledge on it,” said Pine Bush sophomore Aleena Khan.
Throughout the exhibit, students had an opportunity to create their own virtual plaque, and pledges will be shown at places like Auschwitz.
This year’s annual March of the Living – an educational program which brings students around the world for a silent march from between the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps – takes place April 28.
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