Stephen Nasser was 13 when the Nazis broke into his home and forced him and his family on a train to Auschwitz. Of the 21 people in his family, only he survived the Holocaust.
Nasser told his story to a class full of middle and high school students and teachers. Four other survivors also spoke to students in packed classrooms Feb. 15 at the Northwest Career and Technical Academy, 8200 W. Tropical Parkway, as part of the Holocaust Education Conference.
"This is the last generation that’s going to get to hear from survivors," said Victoria Gildner, an art teacher at Mack Middle School, 4250 Karen Ave. "We’re losing our primary sources to time. It’s a precious resource that we need to expose as many kids to as possible."
Nearly 240 students from 35 schools attended the event. Teachers accompanying them went through Holocaust education professional development training to be able to give specialized instruction to students.
At Mack Middle School, teachers are working together as part of a cross-curricular, schoolwide effort to teach the Holocaust. Clark County School District teachers teamed with the Governor’s Advisory Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust to create a series of lessons that could be incorporated into traditional curriculum.
"We really just want our kids to truly put things in perspective," Mack geography teacher Monica Pienta said.
About 200 Mack students plan to visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in March along with students from O’Callaghan Middle School, 1450 Radwick Drive. The Governor’s Advisory Council is paying for the trip.
Nasser described his life in a concentration camp in grueling, gory detail. His story got gasps, tears and sniffles from the audience for an hour. He wore a black T-shirt given to him by students from Faiss Middle School, 9525 W. Maule Ave., that read "NEVER AGAIN."
Nasser kept a diary on discarded cement bags that he hid under the straw on his top bunk. He waited more than 50 years to publish it because he did not want his uncle —- who lost his wife and child —- to know how his family died.
"I watched them being massacred six feet away from me," Nasser said.
Nasser kept the secret until his uncle’s death in 1996. Nasser, a Summerlin-area resident, published his diary, "My Brother’s Voice," in 2003 and has given nearly 700 lectures across the country.
He plans to give his 700th lecture to students at Las Vegas High School, 6500 E. Sahara Ave., in March to coincide with the opening of the school’s Holocaust museum, which will not be open to the public.
After hearing from the five survivors, students spent an hour doing a lesson about "hidden children," reading from primary sources of young people who recorded their histories during the Holocaust. Students were asked to put themselves in the place of those children and write short essay answers to questions.
Students, teachers and survivors had dinner and heard from a hidden child, keynote speaker Myra Genn. She and two family members hid in, among other places, a 7-foot-by-3-foot attic space for 10 months.
Mack eighth-grader Laura Castillo said the experience was better than reading from a textbook.
"I thought that hearing from a survivor is really special because most people don’t get to," Laura said. "Hearing from the actual person, it’s more realistic."
Laura’s classmate, Ashley Cruz, walked out with a renewed outlook.
"I think that it definitely taught us not to take life for granted," she said.
For more information about Nasser, visit mybrothersvoice.com.
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 224-5524.