Fourth-graders at sat crossed legged on the floor of the school's multi-purpose room on Thursday afternoon as 70-year-old Marguerite Mishkin spoke of her experiences as a Holocaust survivor during World War II.
Mishkin's parents perished in Auschwitz when she was a little girl. Her father died in the concentration camp shortly after she was born in 1941. Two years later, sensing increased danger for her two young daughters, Mishkin's mother sent the girls to live with a Catholic couple in Belgium. Mishkin's mother was transported to Auschwitz in August of 1944. One month before the camp was liberated in 1945, Mishkin's mother died.
After the war, the girls were sent to a Jewish orphanage in Belgium. In 1950, they were adopted by a Chicago rabbi and his wife. Later in life, Mishkin became a Chicago public school teacher.
The presentation was a rare learning opportunity for the fourth-graders, who are currently reading books about growing up during World War II. The students are focusing on the themes of friendship and courage.
Dressed in a bright yellow sweater embellished with colorful parrots, Mishkin made an announcement to the students.
"Before coming to Lines today, I visited the Barrington mayor's office and learned that pets will no longer be allowed in Barrington," she said.
After a collective outburst of protests from the students, she confessed it wasn't true but emphasized the importance of understanding how her mother, and so many other Jewish parents during the Holocaust must have felt knowing their children were in imminent danger.
"What would you do, if you were told to bring your pet to the police station?" she asked the children.
"I would hide my dog in the basement," replied one curly-headed girl.
"I would send my hamsters to Florida to live with my cousins," said a boy.
Mishkin explained that she was too young to understand how truly brave her mother was to give up her children for their own safety.
"I was very young, much younger than you, but I remember being angry with my mother for sending us away. I didn't understand until much later in life how much danger we were in."
Mishkin told her young audience that the message she hoped to leave with them is the importance of being an "upstander" rather than a "bystander."
"Don't believe prejudice words. The Nazis hurt and killed people because they thought they were different, not because they did anything wrong. If someone told you that people from Mars are smelly, how would you respond? Would you simply agree or would you say, "How could you say that? We don't know anyone from Mars." That's what I mean when I say, be an upstander."
Mishkin is now retired and travels throughout Illinois speaking about her family’s experiences during the Holocaust to schools, colleges and community groups.