It was a cold and rainy day.
But the unseasonable July weather doesn’t really account for the chill Tom Holmes felt that day.
“I (was standing) on the spot where the selection was made,” the retired history teacher says, describing his trip to Auschwitz concentration camp.
“Some SS officer would take a look at this human being who had spent the last few days shoulder to shoulder in this cramped box car and make a decision as to whether the person would go to the right or the left.”
Going to the right meant the person would live, although in horrendous conditions.
But a wave to the left meant a certain death.
Holmes, who retired last spring after 40 years at Washington and Roosevelt high schools, spent more than three weeks this summer studying the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance.
The program, offered through the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, took him to Washington, D.C., Germany, Israel and Poland.
Holmes toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka and Majdanek and visited the scene of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
He has continued his studies since his return and now wants to share that knowledge with others – school classes, teacher inservice gatherings, church groups and programs such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
“In the group of 27 teachers, several of us were close to retirement,” Holmes says.
“They told us one of the reasons we were chosen is they wanted us to go out in the community after we retired and spread the word, which is what I want to do.”
Learning about the Holocaust is important because its legacy still resonates today, Holmes says, pointing to the genocides that have taken place in countries such as Bosnia and Rwanda.
It also satisfies a need to teach that hasn’t been quelled in Holmes, even though he officially left the classroom last spring.