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FAMILY ESCAPED NAZIS ‘Nothing worse than hate,’ SMS students learn from speaker

WWII survivor

Ernest Fruehauf, a Munster resident who, as a Jew, survived the brutalities of Nazi rule in his native Germany, spoke to St. Michael School's junior high students as part of their social studies curriculum at the Schererville school on May 14. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


By Steve Euvino

Northwest Indiana Catholic


      SCHERERVILLE – Ernest Fruehauf considers his family “extremely lucky” to have escaped Hitler’s death camps. Still, he witnessed enough as a young boy to know hatred does nothing, for the hated or the hater.

      Addressing St. Michael School’s middle school grades on May 14, Fruehauf grew up with Hitler’s rise to power and saw “a good example of how a leader of a country may be evil and the people around him are so smart they can fool a country of 70 million people.”

      Then there’s the hatred the Nazis spread against Jews and others. “There’s nothing worse than hate,” Fruehauf told St. Michael students in grades 6-8. “We have to get over hatred, or we’ll never get to tomorrow.”

      As hatred festers in people’s minds, Fruehauf said, it can be worse for the hater, who “does not know how to stop hating, how to think, because they’re always thinking of hating.”

      The key, Fruehauf said, is to not let such a leader take control. “It takes a lot of guts to stand up” to evil, he confessed. “The world has to keep in mind what evil can do if good people don’t do anything. … The world learned a hard lesson.”

      Coming off the Great Depression of 1929, Hitler and the Nazis, Fruehauf said, took a very simple yet systematic approach to the Jews. “When you have some group that’s considered dangerous, you have to fight it, segregate it, and kill it, which is what they did with the Jews,” he said.

      Fruehauf grew up in a Jewish family in Kitzingen, a small village along the Main River in Germany. His grandfather owned a confectionery shop. In 1935, at age 6, young Ernest began to witness anti-Semitism, from students intimidating him as he walked to and from school to newspaper depictions of Jews as enemies.

      Restrictions tightened on the Jewish community. Then, on the morning of Nov. 10, 1938, the Fruehauf family heard noise and saw crowds destroying anything they could, including burning parchments pages from the Bible. Fruehauf’s father and grandfather were arrested. The grandfather was released because of his age, but the father would spend four weeks in Dachau in southern Germany.

      Even though he never spent time in a concentration camp, Fruehauf said that November uprising “really sticks with you.”

      The Fruehauf family had to leave Germany. They chose America, but because of quotas the family would not obtain a visa until May of 1941. Five members of the Fruehauf family boarded a train taking them from Munich to Portugal, where they took passage on a ship headed from Lisbon to the United States. On Aug. 9, 1941, wearing his bar mitzvah suit, 12-year-old Ernest set foot in America.

      The family settled in Green Bay, Wisc. Fruehauf, a Munster resident, is a retired  Amoco engineer.

      Lisa Kreutz, middle school social studies teacher at St. Michael, said her students have a strong interest in the Holocaust. Her eighth-graders are reading The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow, an award-winning novel about a 14-year-old Jewish boy’s developing relationship with Max Schmeling, the boxing champion and German national hero.

      “My eighth-graders are incredibly interested in the Holocaust,” said Kreutz, who attended a 2014 Jewish Federation conference on the subject. “When your students are begging you for something, you give it to them.”

      Several St. Michael students have visited the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

      Grace Jarzombek, an eighth-grader, said Fruehauf “explained our journey through the museum. Having a person who actually experienced it is a lot better than just reading it in a newspaper. We saw pictures of kids and toys, and he talked about his toys.”

      Classmate Brianna Barone added, “We learned a lot. We got to walk through the museum, but here we had someone in person who was there.”

      Fruehauf shared slides from his hometown, including the synagogue the Nazis burned. Among those starting the fire was a medical doctor who was later imprisoned for his actions. That experience taught Fruehauf “the amount of education or knowledge someone has nothing to do necessarily with the type of human being you are.”




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