More than 800 high schoolers filled a ballroom in the Broward County Convention Center Wednesday morning to hear from Holocaust survivors.
The survivors gave advice to students about how to overcome forms of intolerance and anti-semitism that are on the rise in the U.S., such as bullying, bigotry and shootings. They spoke about the October shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The Holocaust Documentation & Education Center in Dania Beach has put on these Student Awareness Days across South Florida every year for the past three decades.
This year, a familiar face was missing from the program: Aaron Feis, the former assistant football coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was killed in the Feb. 14 shooting running to shield students. He used to drive and chaperone students on Awareness Day.
“We couldn’t find someone to drive the activities bus, so Aaron Feis would come. He was very interested in the Holocaust, so he was the bus driver,” said Ivy Schamis, Marjory Stoneman Douglas History of the Holocaust teacher.
Schamis recalled a memory from the last Awareness Day.
“It was time to leave ... we were all out here waiting for Aaron, like ‘Where’s Feis?’ He was sitting at far corner at a table holding the hands of a Holocaust survivor, listening intently,” Schamis said.
She said it’s hard this year without him.
“When I got up this morning I thought, ‘I’m going to come back here,’ and I keep thinking of him. He would be so happy to be back here with the rest of us,” Schamis said.
This year Schamis brought about 80 students from Stoneman Douglas to hear stories of strength from Holocaust survivors.
Armin Krauss, 89, survived the Auschwitz concentration camp when he was just 15. Since the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, he has been visiting the campus to talk to individual classes.
He told students to reach out for help and ask him anything they wanted to know.
“I was so glad to go to that school because I know what they went through,” Krauss said. “I love these kids. I feel sorry for all of you because…that was a terrible thing. Any questions you all got, I’m here to tell you whatever you want. ”
Stoneman Douglas senior Ramis Hashmi said meeting with Krauss and other survivors is a powerful history lesson.
“When we talk about these horrible tragedies, like the Holocaust or any other genocide or mass horror that people go through, it’s one thing to read it from a textbook,” Hashmi said. “You need to have that face-to-face to see how this affected a person.”