Middle Schoolers Hear Holocaust Survivor’s Memorable Message


Holocaust survivor Werner Reich recently shared his experiences and offered wise solutions to bullying and intolerance in a memorable, moving talk with students at the middle school.

The May assembly was part of the school’s annual Holocaust remembrance, which it has been holding in various forms for the past 20 years, forming part of the character education program as well as part of Islip’s studies on World War II, civics and citizenship. The program began with now retired teachers Adina Karp and Paul Tapogna, who brought in Holocaust survivor Max Tempkin and his wife Steffi to speak to the students. After about a dozen years, Tempkin was no longer able to attend, and teachers Rich Napolitano and Erica Rinear made arrangements through the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Nassau County to have Reich take over the presentations.

Reich, a Smithtown resident and retired industrial engineer, was a prisoner at several infamous concentration camps between the ages of 15 and 17. His ordeal began when his family was forced to move from Berlin to Zagreb, Yugoslavia in 1933. When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia, Reich was forced to live in hiding for two years before being found, arrested and sent to the Terezin camp in 1943. He was transferred to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was tattooed with a number and barely avoided the gas chambers. After a winter death march, Reich was sent to the Mauthausen camp, where he was eventually liberated by American troops on May 5, 1945.

In his discussion, he pointed out parallels between past atrocities and modern bullying behaviors, and urged each student to be a JUST person, an acronym he devised that stands for “judge situation, understand problem, solve and take action.”

“The one thing that always stands out to me about Mr. Reich is the idea of acceptance not tolerance,” said Assistant Principal James Cameron. “His message to the students is to be accepting of others, not tolerant. When you are tolerant of people, you may at times become intolerant. When you accept others, you are more at peace with who and what they stand for.”

“That message is a powerful one in today’s climate of bullying and prejudice,” added eighth-grade social studies teacher Michael Argenziano. “Mr. Reich uses his experiences to connect the students to the how and why an event like the Holocaust did happen and can happen again. He is current, and changes his presentation each time he visits, but the heart of the message always rings loud and clear.”