Paul Wolff was one of the lucky ones. As a boy, he escaped the Holocaust on the Kindertransport while his grandmother died horribly in a Nazi freight car packed with other German Jews. Wolff, now 93 and without vision, shared his harrowing story of survival to a rapt standing-room-only audience of over 150 students at Paso Robles High School last week.
“We must speak out in the face of hate and discrimination, especially when sponsored by the government,” Wolff told the students. “Tyranny thrives when good people remain silent.” Wolff told students how Nazi laws were inspired by the Jim Crow laws of the United States. Wolff noted that Jews were not the only victims of Nazi atrocities: people with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), and LGTBQ individuals were also massacred in the Holocaust.
Wolff came to PRHS to speak to Geoffrey Land’s Honors Ethnic Studies class, the only class of its kind in SLO County. Because interest was so great among other students, Wolff’s talk was opened up to other students. Many sophomores, who have read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” in English and studied the Holocaust in history, requested special passes for the 90 minute presentation.
Paul Wolff was born in 1929 in Hamburg, Germany, the same year as Anne Frank, who was killed in the death chambers at age 15. He escaped on the Kindertransport, a program that allowed Jewish children to travel to England, where he was separated from his family. He found his way to the United States where he raised a family and spent much of his adult life as an architect specializing in accessibility designs under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When a student asked if Mr. Wolff saw any troubling reminders of Germany’s antisemitic laws, he replied, “Yes, I am concerned to see similar laws being passed in states throughout our country that target transgender people.” Wolff was assisted in the presentation by Dr. Dan Krieger, professor of history Emeritus from Cal Poly, who taught a Holocaust course there for many years. Krieger’s wife, Liz, a longtime county librarian, also took part in the presentation.
Students left the talk awestruck by Mr. Wolff’s words. “Hearing about kids separated from their families made me think about the situation at our border right now,” said senior Joseph Martinez. “Both are indefinite separation of families rooted in racism.”
“It was amazing to learn about the 10,000 Jewish children who escaped the Holocaust, and how he met his future wife through the Kindertransport program,” said Efrain Ontiveros, a senior in the Ethnic Studies class. “It was sad that she passed two years ago, but seeing him wear her Kindertransport number as a necklace was one of the purest things I’ve ever seen.”
Interested students may still sign up for next year’s Honors Ethnic Studies class.
- Contributed by Geoffrey Land