- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) - You’ve got to love. Don’t hate - it will only make you into a bitter person.”

Those words were the central message from Fred Gross, a Holocaust survivor who visited Danville’s Bate Middle School last week to share the story of how his Jewish family survived in German-controlled France during World War II.

Gross, who will turn 80 in October, was just 3 years old when his family of five fled its Belgium home three days after Hitler’s Nazi forces invaded on May 10, 1940.

For almost six years, they moved around France and Switzerland, doing whatever they could to avoid capture. They moved among homes of people who would hide them; they were imprisoned briefly in a concentration camp; they made it to Switzerland and lived in a refugee camp there. Gross also lived with a foster family for a year.

“I’m alive - that’s what counts,” he said. “I overcame all of these difficult circumstances because I wouldn’t let them destroy me.”

Gross visited the school as part of its partnerships with the ArtsLiteracy Project from Brown University and the Anne Frank Foundation, through which it is providing a year-long study of the Holocaust for eighth-grade English and drama students.

Students have embraced the curriculum, which has had an emotional impact as they learn about the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II, said Linda Cottle, language arts teacher.

“When I told them they would take the babies and they would kill the babies, they were like, ‘But why?’” she said.

Cottle and drama teacher Darell Rickmers work together to teach the curriculum, which attempts to incorporate language art skills with music, drama and art so students are better able to express the stories they’re learning about, Cottle said.

In addition to Gross’ visit, during which he spoke to three groups of eighth-graders in the school’s theater, students have been reading about the Holocaust, including the book “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank and the play “And Then They Came For Me” by James Still.

Students attended a stage production of “And Then They Came For Me” in Louisville and drama students will perform “A Child Shall Lead Them” by Michael Slade on May 13.

Gross, a public-relations specialist and former journalist, said he has been visiting middle and high schools to tell his life’s story since 1992, but more frequently since 2009, when his book, “One Step Ahead of Hitler: A Jewish Child’s Journey Through France” came out.

“It’s important for them to know what happened in the Holocaust,” said Gross, who has been actively involved in the Jewish community in Louisville. “I am grateful to teachers all around Kentucky who have been teaching the Holocaust and made (their students) aware of the evil that occurred during that time and not to repeat those evils.”

Preventing anything like the Holocaust from ever happening again was a main point Gross made to Bate Middle students. Despite the evil things being done during World War II, there were good people, too, who helped some survive or escape, he said.

“If it hadn’t been for the love that was shown to us, even though we went through a lot, I wouldn’t be here today - I would have been long gone as a child,” Gross told students. “Don’t take things for granted. I know you’re living a good life - that you have freedom, that you can go to school and not fear being attacked. If you are fearful, or if you know somebody is fearful of what is going on in his or her life, you come to their rescue. You’re not simply an onlooker but you’re there to help. That’s what people do; that’s what good people do.”

Gross told students it would be up to them to make sure the world is a better place. Even now, there are refugees in the world - from Syria, specifically - who are displaced by war and facing closed borders when they flee.

“Has anything changed? We’re living in a cruel world today and we have to be careful. Especially young people, as they grow up, they have to stand up and be counted that nothing like that - like the Holocaust - will happen again,” he told the students. “That’s how the Holocaust began, when Jews were not able to cross boundaries to find freedom.”

Eighth-grader Maddy Mullins said she found Gross’ presentation inspiring. His warnings made her think of current U.S. political discourse - particularly the rhetoric of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“He’s trying to push people out of their country after they’ve been living here,” she said, comparing Trump’s comments on immigrants to Hitler’s comments on Jews.

Mullins said through studying the Holocaust, she has gained an appreciation for just how difficult life was for Jewish children her age.

“Having to go into hiding - I think about that a lot,” she said. “If I had been a child and I had been Jewish at that time, going into hiding would have been really hard for me.”

Gross said he enjoys his trips to middle and high schools.

“I feel young. You know why I feel young?” he asked a group of Bate students. “Because a lot of times, I’m with young people like you who make me feel young. Which is good - it keeps me alive, keeps me going.”

___

Information from: The (Danville, Ky.) Advocate-Messenger, http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews

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