Students at McCormick Junior High School in Huron got a lesson in history this month from a man whose life includes overwhelming cruelty, tragedy, triumph and acceptance. The history lesson 87-year-old Max Edelman brought to the students is a living history of the Holocaust. Edelman is a living testament to man's inhumanity to man, and the power to overcome the most atrocious conditions and find joy in life.
"As you, my young friends, as you grow into adulthood, develop courage ... develop courage not to be indifferent to evil," Edelman told his young audience. "And as adults, do all you can, use all the energy you have to spare and all the influence you have to try to bring about a society that respects human life, that respects human dignity, that respects human rights."
Nobody, perhaps, has a right -- and the credibility -- to speak those words more so than Max Edelman. Like other Holocaust survivors who made sure the story was told through the years in classrooms and at every other opportunity, Edelman shared his painful and personal story: Edelman was 17, just a little older than many of his McCormick listeners, when the Nazis sent him and his brother to a slave labor camp. Their parents and three other siblings were sent to a death camp.
Prisoners were exterminated at the death camps; at the slave labor camps they were starved and worked to death. But Edelman, with the help of his brother and another prisoner, survived. He emerged from captivity blinded, but alive.
"I think I was more scared to live than I was afraid to die," he told the students.
Holocaust survivors have been telling their stories and sharing the power of their triumph over evil for more than six decades. School officials who arrange to bring that living history into their classrooms are wise, and the opportunity to do that is quickly fading.
At 87, Edelman is still capable of telling that story and helping build a better human race in the process. In a few short years, however, the opportunity to do that will be gone as the last survivors of the Holocaust leave this earthly plane from natural causes.
We salute Edelman and all the Holocaust survivors who shared their pain in an effort to make the world a better place. And we salute the teachers who see that value and bring it to their students.