PEABODY — What you learn in school, you carry with you long after.
Making certain the world remembers is a goal of The Holocaust Center, Boston North. And it's the reason the late co-founder, Sonia Weitz, a Holocaust survivor, made so many trips to schools, telling her story to kids.
One of those kids attended the center's interfaith commemoration of the Holocaust last night at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School. Mayor Ted Bettencourt told the gathering he remembered sitting in the same auditorium as a student and listening to Weitz speak.
"Her words really stuck with me," he said, while stressing the city's continued support for the Holocaust Center, which operates in the Peabody Institute Library.
Weitz, who responded to her hellish experiences with remarkable hope and optimism, remains at the heart of the Holocaust Center. Several area students were recognized as Sonia Schreiber Weitz Upstander Award winners, including Ashley Royer of Higgins Middle School and Ashley Lupien of Lowell Catholic High School.
Essays helped them qualify.
Center co-founder Harriet Wacks told the audience that the skies had cleared shortly before the event and the sun even came out.
"If I were a believer, I would say that Sonia is watching over us," she said with a smile.
Keynote speaker Margot Stern Strom was honored with the Holocaust Center Service Award. Strom is the director of Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that seeks to fight bigotry with education. Begun in Brookline, it now has worldwide reach.
A friend of Weitz, Strom discussed the effect that teaching the Holocaust can have. She told of a black Philadelphia school principal who overheard a student muttering after a lesson on the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
"You're not telling the truth," the student said. "It couldn't have happened."
It was then that Principal Leon Bass decided to begin telling his story as one of the American soldiers who was among the liberators of the Buchenwald concentration camp. That resonated with Weitz, who called the first liberator she saw her "black messiah," Strom said.
A native of Memphis, Strom proved her Southern roots when she discussed the reading of Weitz's book "I Promised I Would Tell," and added, "I hope y'all do (read it)."
But there was a dark side to her hometown, and she recalled the sign in the city zoo that read "Colored day only on Thursday."
"We're still living with the legacy of that," she warned, while noting the small steps that can cultivate hate and lead people to big crimes.
"We have a responsibility to prevent other genocides from happening," she said.
Don't be a bystander, Wacks said. "Be an 'upstander.'"
Victims of a war that ended in 1945, the number of Holocaust survivors has dwindled over the years. But they are passing along their memories — not simply in recordings or documents, but through a center program called Legacy Partners.
These are people who learn the survivors' stories and pledge to tell them and to keep the dreadful mistakes of the past vital and alive for future generations.
Several Legacy Partners attended last night's event, and their aim is to ensure "the Holocaust never becomes just a page in a textbook."