BILLINGS — Educating future generations from a past perspective. On Wednesday at Lewis and Clark Middle School, the son of a Holocaust survivor spoke to the students, giving them a glimpse of his father’s story.
"It’s a pretty cool privilege,” said A.C. Edwards, an eighth grader at the school. ”We’ve all read in the books and stuff. I’m kind of more excited just to hear someone who has a firsthand experience with it."
On a day when most students were knee-deep learning about the past in their history books, students at the school were given a lesson on hope and resiliency.
"It really shows how those people held onto hope even though there was so much bad happening around them,” said Ari Villarreal, an eighth-grade student at the school. “I think I’m just really looking forward to getting to see it."
Most Holocaust survivors have passed on.
"To have somebody like him here is a huge opportunity,” said Lucas Bergeron, an eighth grader at the school. He visited the WWII museum in New Orleans in October. “In the museums and in the books, you’ll always hear the experiences, but that’s always different than being told by somebody. So it will be kind of interesting to see how different it will be from reading it to having somebody explain it to you."
Which made the words of Andrew Laszlo Jr. that much more powerful.
"I’m going to tell the story of my father’s holocaust survival. He was at various camps. He was in the labor camp for a while and he was at Bergen-Belsen incidentally at the same time as Anne Frank,” said Laszlo. “He was 18 when he was taken to the camp."
Named after his father, Laszlo has made it his mission to keep his family history alive.
"He survived," Laszlo said. "It’s my job to keep his story alive."
He was born in New York but made his way to Billings knowing his family’s ties to Montana.
"My great-grandfather was an indentured servant who came from Russia and then went to Ohio. Then he came to Butte to make his fortune,” Laszlo said.
What he didn’t know for most of his life was his father's traumatic past.
"When he stepped on the boat to come to America he decided his past was sealed and he would never think about it or talk about it again. Fifty years to the date later, he decided to share it and gave us a book with his story. Because he decided it was important for us to know our history," Laszlo said. “At the beginning, it was shock. I mean, I’d seen all these horrible pictures throughout my life as we all had. But then, it could have been my father. And after that, I felt foolish. Because I’m, I think, a smart guy, and I should have figured it out. There were a lot of clues."
After arriving in the United States, Laszlo Sr. became a cinematographer, working on films like "Rambo" and "The Warriors."
That story of resilience is inspiring.
"It’s an incredible story of hope and renewal and will and survival,” Laszlo said. "I think it’s very motivational and I think there are two reasons. One, I think it’s important to share the stories because we don’t want this to happen again. And two, I think it’s a real motivational story for young kids to hear."
That's why Heather Blakesley, an ELA teacher at Lewis and Clark, brought him in to speak to her 8th-grade students.
"I guess I kind of just wanted to provide my students with a real-life connection to what they’ve been reading," Blakesley said on Wednesday. “I contacted the Holocaust Museum and just put in a request not thinking that I was going to get it. But I did and they hooked us up with Andrew."
It’s safe to say the lesson stuck.
“Be really grateful for what you have," Bergeron said. "This was a really good experience."
An experience the students will never forget.
To learn more about Andrew Laszlo Sr., click here.
To purchase Laszlo Jr.'s book on his father, click here.