Eighth graders were connected to one of the most disturbing periods in history when Holocaust survivor Murray Jaros visited CMS on April 8th to share his harrowing story of persecution and survival during World War II.
In 1941, the Jaros family lived in a section of eastern Poland that is now part of Belarus. Their ordeal began when the Nazis invaded their remote village, and soon after, SS soldiers at the head of a civilian mob stormed their home in the middle of the night, dragged the family from their beds, and demanded to know where their gold and money was hidden. Jaros said it was common then for people to bury their money in the yard, but his family had it all in a bank far away. When his parents explained that, the mob beat his parents and his grandmother unconscious. They then threw his father on a table and, while he shrieked in agony, tortured him in front of the family. Though it happened more than seven decades ago, Jarros said he can remember it like it was yesterday. “That excruciating scream just lives in my mind.”
The family was taken, along with other Jewish neighbors, to a fenced-in ghetto in the village, where his grandmother died a few days later from the injuries she had sustained. Rumors soon began drifting in of mass executions in nearby communities. “A lot of people didn’t believe it,” Jaros said. “They said ‘it is not possible that they would execute civilians for no reason.’” One night, two local men snuck in to the ghetto and advised everyone to flee immediately. About 60 percent went with them, but others stayed behind because they didn’t believe the rumors, felt it was too dangerous to run, or had family members who were not well enough to make the escape with them. Jaros admitted that had his grandmother not died, his family would have stayed as well. “We would not have left her there,” he said. Later, Jaros learned that those who stayed were all executed shortly after.
His family spent years in hiding, moving from farm to farm in search of shelter and food, entirely dependent on the generosity others who risked their own lives to help. Jaros said his mother, who owned a shop in the village, had always treated her customers with kindness and respect and thankfully many people in their area didn’t forget that. However, Nazi patrols were never far behind and the family had to keep relocating to avoid discovery. At one point, his family decided it would be safer to split up and hide separately. Jaros spent 11 months living with a local farmer, dressed as a girl and posing as his niece. As the Nazis began losing the war, things got even more dangerous in their area, so his parents came to collect him and the family moved with others to a secret encampment deep in a swamp, where they remained hidden until Russian soldiers liberated the area in 1944.
While Mr. Jaros recounted the darkest days of his life, he wanted students to see the uplifting side of his story, which was that he was able to be there talking with them that day due to the kindness and courage of others.