During assembly on Monday, January 8, Siegfried Adler spoke to students about his experience as a small child in rural Germany as the Nazis were rising to power. He said, "As witnesses dwindle, it is even more important to seek coherent explanations of why the Holocaust occurred."
Adler said events after WWI contributed to a whole new outlook for Germany and facilitated the ascension and consolidation of Hitler and the NSDAP (Nazi Party). He added that a dictator must have a scapegoat for his nation's ills, and, for Hitler, the Jewish people were that scapegoat. He then took assembly back 75 years to see what life was like in a small German farm community from the perspective of a small boy:
Adler was born in 1935 in Edelfingen, near Stuttgart. When the Nazi soldiers came to Edelfingen, new rules were put in place: all Jews had to wear the Star of David, they could not be on the streets after 8 pm, and they couldn't congregate in public spaces. Friends of this small boy were no longer friends. Soldiers abused Jewish farmers for no apparent reason. One day after school, Adler went into the fields to find his father but his father had been picked up ~ along with nearly two dozen others ~ by Nazi soldiers. His father was taken to a concentration camp but returned six months later. Adler explained how unusual this was. Most people taken to the camps died there, but Hitler honored veterans from WWI and Adler's father was a decorated veteran from the Great War.
A local Lutheran preacher advised the Adlers to get out of Germany. At first Adler's father resisted, thinking/hoping that the Nazi Party would fade out of power, but when his sister and her family were taken to the camps, he decided to leave. Though they had little money (they couldn't legally sell their farm), the family had three tickets to the U.S. So they walked to Genoa, took a boat to New York City, and eventually made it to St. Louis where they had a sponsor. The sponsor had to guarantee that the Adlers had a place to live and work.
Now in his 80s, Adler told students that the Holocaust was not mysterious ~ "it was the work of humans acting on familiar weaknesses and motives." The Holocaust committed atrocities against not only Jews but also the mentally and physically disabled, intellectuals, homosexuals, gypsies, teachers and certain Christian sects. For the most part, Adler said, these actions were accepted by the German people.
Adler closed with a German proverb: Beware of the beginnings. He urged students to speak up when they see something wrong. "You can't be idle."