WENHAM, Mass., January 27, 2020 — The Academy at Penguin Hall (APH) students, faculty and staff recently welcomed Holocaust Survivor Rita Kaplan as a Guest Speaker for APH’s annual Symposium Week. As part of Senior Jennifer Bloom’s semester-long “Capturing Oral History” class, Bloom invited Kaplan to Penguin Hall to share her story and personal experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust.
A member of Dr. Alma Barozzi’s “Capturing Oral History” class, a popular elective for students in grades 9-12 at APH, Bloom was asked to interview a person who lived through a historic moment in time. As a proud member of the Jewish Community, Jewish education is of utmost importance to Bloom, and she knew she wanted to highlight Kaplan’s story for both her peers and mentors.
“I was raised Jewish and it’s a very big part of my life,” Bloom said. “Through this course, not only did I learn how to conduct a formal interview, as well as more about a topic that is important to me, but I also got to strengthen my relationship with one of the most impactful, knowledgeable, and sincerest people I’ve ever met: Rita Kaplan.”
Bloom and Kaplan met in April 2019 through the Holocaust Legacy Fellows Foundation, which allowed Bloom to travel to Germany and Poland. To help students prepare for the trip, Bloom and her peers were introduced to Holocaust survivors, including Kaplan, where they learned about their survival stories and life experiences.
Dr. Barozzi spoke of Bloom’s connection to the Holocaust Legacy Fellows Foundation as the inspiration for her interview. “Because of Jenn’s extensive previous knowledge of this period in history and her personal connection to it, she was emotionally well-equipped to handle this sensitive dialogue with all the respect it deserves,” Dr. Barozzi said.
During Kaplan’s address, she shared memories of her home, her family, her neighbors and their families, and the terrible oppression and constant fear they experienced there as Jewish targets. With visible emotion and deep fondness, Kaplan said,“The four families I mentioned, they don’t mean a thing to you, but I’m using them as sort of remembrance, that I haven’t forgotten them, even after 80 some-odd years, and that I still think about them.”
Kaplan talked about her parents’ arrival in the United States as legal refugees in 1939, and spoke of her Aunt’s narrow escape from death. At just 14-years-old, she herself escaped peril via the Kindertransport to London, where she resided with a young British couple until she left to join her parents in America.
The Levys, whom she referred to as “Aunt and Uncle,” asked Kaplan for nothing in return for her stay, except remembrance. “And remember them we did,” Kaplan said. Kaplan and her own children remained in contact with the Levys and their family for the rest of their lives.
Rita Kaplan speaks with students after recounting her experiences during the Holocaust.
After sharing her story, Kaplan took questions, including one from Carter Delloro, Director of College Counseling at Penguin Hall, who asked how she felt about welcoming asylum-seekers and refugees today, given her own experience.
“It’s a good question, and I’ve asked myself the same question many times over again,” Kaplan said. “I do think that we have to follow the law, but I know how these people want to get out of the country. I really don’t have a definitive answer for you. I’m torn in-between, having been a refugee myself.”
Brigid Beckman, Campus Minister at Penguin Hall, asked how we can best honor the memories of those who had fallen and helped Kaplan as a refugee. Kaplan replied, “Just by having sympathies for other people who want to get here and can’t, for one reason or another. You know, just have feelings for them.”
Many students were so moved by Kaplan’s story that they waited in line to meet and talk with her after she spoke, including a Senior exchange student who hails from the same German city Kaplan resided in as a younger woman.
About The Academy at Penguin Hall
The Academy at Penguin Hall is the only all girls independent college preparatory high school North of Boston. Located in Wenham, Massachusetts, The Academy welcomes young women and their families to learn more about the school. Applications are being accepted. For more information or to schedule a tour, visit www.penguinhall.org or call 978-468-6200.
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