Dr. Irene Hasenberg Butter, a peace activist and author of Shores Beyond Shores: from Holocaust to Hope, My True Story, has a compelling experience to share with others. A survivor of the Holocaust, Dr. Butter advocates for understanding and compassion and is passionate about delivering this message to the next generation.
As a young Jewish girl, Dr. Butter grew up in Nazi-occupied Europe. Under threat of violence, her family fled Germany to Amsterdam, but the traumatic effects of their World War II experience followed them and pervaded every aspect of their lives, including life in the classroom.
“Every week more of the seats of Jewish students grew empty because they were going into hiding or being deported,” Dr. Butter recently told tenth graders in an online English class at Insight School of Michigan (ISMI).
Unfortunately, what she described to students, later happened to her too, as she and her family were captured, sent to work at camps, and subjected to horrible, life-threatening conditions.
Eventually her family was able to escape and find safety, however, her father died during the journey. Dr. Butter later reunited with her brother and mother in the United States.
Today, Dr. Butter carries the vital task of educating others—young and old. This is an important part of her life, she says, because it’s a way to honor the memory of her father and others who did not survive. Her moving experiences can strike a chord in ways that simply reading a textbook cannot.
“When you hear someone talk about the things they’ve been through, it always affects you more than just being taught things out of a history book,” 10th grade student Kirsten Taylor said. “You understand the trauma. You feel what they felt.”
Dr. Butter’s conversation adds to the lessons some ISMI students are currently learning. Like so many other students across the country, every year the 10th grade students at ISMI read Elie Wiesel’s Night, a book of Wiesel’s personal accounts of surviving the Holocaust.
Not only did Dr. Butter help the students gain a better understanding of the events of the Holocaust, they were also able to learn important lessons that apply to today.
“The most valuable thing I learned from Dr. Butter’s talk was to never lose hope,” student Evan Roddy said. Dr. Butter urged students to be respectful of others and their differences, and to work to stop the spread of intolerance.
Despite not being in the same room, the connection between Dr. Butter and the students could not have been stronger.
The students wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Butter without the assistance of science teacher Laurence Biederman. For Mr. Biederman, the talk came with a personal connection because he and Dr. Butter attend the same synagogue. He’s glad that students had the opportunity to see history come alive.
The event was also important to ISMI English teacher Mae Condalary who said that students and adults alike don’t often have the valuable opportunity to learn from someone like Dr. Butter.
“I think for me, what was really impactful was seeing how somebody could go through something so difficult and painful and still be able to use that experience for good,” Ms. Condalary said. “To see that she’s reaching out to the next generation, to carry that torch, and that message is truly impactful.”
To learn more about Insight School of Michigan, visit https://mi.insightschools.net/