HARRELLS — For many years, Abe Piasek experienced unimaginable horrors as a youth in war-torn Europe. While speaking to a group of students at Harrells Christian Academy, he couldn’t go into detail. But the little that he did share made some of the students gasp.
Piasek, a Holocaust survivor visited the school Thursday and spoke about his terrifying experience which began when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in the 1939. Now in his late eighties, he was just 11 years old when War World II began. After the army rolled through his town, he recalled a moment when members of the SS (Schutzstaffel) approached him and his friend.
“The German soldiers had clicks on their shoes,” Piasek said. “When they marched you heard them for about a mile.”
They were asked about their Jewish faith. Piasek said yes, he was Jewish.
“Without hesitation, one of the SS took a pistol out and shot my friend in the head,” he said. “I was so excited and nervous that I ran so fast, they were shooting at me.”
He later retreated to a place where a part of his childhood was spent playing hide-and-seek.
“They were looking for me and they couldn’t find me,” Piasek said.
After returning home, he was forced by the SS to get inside a packed truck. Against his will, Piasek worked in the Radom labor camp, after being separated from his family. Years later, he spent several years in the labor camps of Auschwitz and Weinhause before the war came to an end in 1945.
Now living in Raleigh, the survivor is a part of the NC Council on the Holocaust’s group. He was interviewed by Steven Spielberg for “Schindler’s List,” which is a part of Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Piasek was also interviewed by the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
For his volunteer service, he was awarded two President’s Medals by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. After the presentation, he talked about the honor with students. Some even questioned him about his faith and disliking people.
“Hate is a very bad word,” Piasek told one student.
Paula Matthis, the school’s Spiritual Life Director, said the school was excited about his visit.
“He is a piece of living history,” Matthis said about the speaker. “There’s not many Holocaust survivors left. They’re getting older and aging out, so we very privileged and honored that he’s coming to speak to us today.”
Most of the middle and high school students have read or studied about the Holocaust.
“They have an idea about it, but they never heard someone speak directly to them,” she said.
Kevin Kunst HCA Headmaster, said the school was blessed to have a strong message from Piasek — an important one for students to hear. He said the message and Piasek’s experiences in the Holocaust continues to resonate today, with unfortunate things going on throughout the world.
“I think it’s important for our students to know that we haven’t quite surpassed that history yet,” Kunst said. “They’re going to have the responsibility as the next generation to go forth and to be in the world, with love and compassion and deal with some of the significant issues that our world faces.”
Kunst added that Piasek is a great example of courage.
“I think that’s an important trait for our students to see,” Kunst said about his bravery and his drive.
Joseph Lee, a junior, said he was honored and cherished the opportunity to listen to Piasek speak.
“I think it’s really great that he’s been able to keep his faith and his positive outlook on the world,” Piasek said.
Through negatives experiences, Lee said many individual can become jaded because of their experiences. But Piasek continues to show enthusiasm about his life, like he did Thursday.
“He has all the reason in the world to give up, but he didn’t and I think that’s very inspirational,” Lee said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.