Charlene Schiff was 9 years old when World War II began.  Then known as Shulamit Perlmutter, she was living in a small town in Poland with her parents, both educators, and her older sister when German soldiers stormed into her home. Her father, who taught at a local college, was among the 300 community leaders rounded up in the early days of the invasion.  “He was a very formal man. He was wearing short sleeves that day and when the Germans came for him, he asked if he could go get his jacket. They said no,” Schiff told a group of students and parents at Middle Tennessee Christian School Friday. “We never said goodbye. He couldn’t even hug us before he left.”  Now 82, Schiff shared her experiences of living in a ghetto and wandering through the forests after becoming an orphan at the age of 11. After the war was over, she learned she was one of only two people from her town to survive the Holocaust.  “The memories are like a prison without walls. Time doesn’t diminish the pain. It’s a wound that doesn’t heal,” Schiff said.  MTCS teachers Kelley Mullins and Linda Cooper teach fifth-grade students about the war by having the students participate in a boot camp. They learn the history behind the war and go in depth studying the Holocaust.  Mullins met Schiff last summer while visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and invited her to Murfreesboro to speak.  “You can use hard times as a crutch, but Mrs. Charlene doesn’t. She feels that if she shares her story with enough people, then history won’t repeat itself,” Mullins said.  Fifth-grade student Kayce Howard was among those present when Schiff’s flight arrived in Nashville.  “She didn’t talk much, but she seems really nice,” she said, adding that she enjoyed Mullins’ and Cooper’s lesson. “I’ve liked hearing from all of the soldiers and Mrs. Charlene.”  Once Schiff’s community was taken over, students were taught in Russian, something she said “wasn’t a big deal” as many in the community were bi- or trilingual because of geography. Eventually, synogogues and prayer books were burned. Soldiers even came to raid her father’s private library, which contained many first-edition and rare books in different languages.  ‘We were cut off’  Schiff, along with her mother and older sister, were sent to a ghetto. Those ages 14 and older were forced into labor and given a small meal ration. Nothing was provided to younger children.  “We were cut off from the outside world. We dug a tunnel to escape the ghetto to get food,” she recalled, talking about times when she or other children were caught returning. Some were beaten and others were killed.  “Many times I heard I was very lucky to be alive,” said Schiff, who now lives in Virginia.
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