Hundreds of Glenbrook South students currently enrolled in U.S. History classes attended an in-school field trip March 20. The guest speaker was Aaron Elster of Lincolnshire, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor.
Talking about his childhood was difficult for Elster, who escaped to the U.S. in 1947 with only one surviving family member, his older sister. Elster said he recalls these fearful memories for the sake of inspiring the next generation of leaders.
“My hope is in you,” he told the GBS students. “I believe in you. That’s why I open up to you.”
Elster co-wrote the book, “I Still See Her Haunting Eyes: The Holocaust & a Hidden Child Named Aaron,” in 2007. He was 7 years old on Sept. 1, 1939 when the German invasion began in Poland. His town was liquidated on Oct. 10, 1942. Elster said he was on the run for months – living in fields and forests without warm clothing, “desperately wanting to survive.”
A Polish couple took Elster into their attic for nearly two years.
“It was so cold in the winter – no heat, light, clothes or blankets – and so hot in the summer,” he said. “I desperately wanted to see what life looked like outside of the attic.”
Elster said only 29 people survived from his town of 6,000 – him and his sister being the only children.
“It’s been over 70 years and I still have the taste in my mouth of warm milk and potatoes,” he said, recalling a time when a farm family let him in for dinner.
Elster said he will continue to speak to groups about his experience as long as he can.
“Never forget,” he said. “We want you to be upstanders – be involved, speak up and most importantly, believe in yourselves.”
Glenbrook South junior Miracle Josaiah said Elster’s talk was eye-opening.
“It is incomprehensible how he was able to deal with such negativity and pull himself out… because he decided to choose how these events would affect him,” Josaiah said. “It reminds me that I might not have control over what happens around me, but I can control how I react.”
Josaiah said she will forever remember Elster’s message to students.
“He wants the world to remember that we have a role to play in how to choose to treat others,” Josaiah said. “I am challenged by Mr. Elster’s positivity, passion and endurance to be thankful for what I have, and to take small steps toward making the world a better place.”