Gloria Lyon, 84, faced her audience and held up her arm, revealing a faded numeric tattoo. Showing that somber marking from Auschwitz added to the emotion of the event: an annual Holocaust education assembly at Mercy High School, a Catholic girls school in San Francisco.
The Helen and Joe Farkas Center for Holocaust Education in Catholic Schools — which is housed on the fourth floor at Mercy High — presented the March 28 event, which combined music, dance, readings and a face-to-face encounter with a Holocaust survivor. The center was founded in 2007 in honor of Helen and her late husband, both survivors.
More than 500 students attended the assembly, which was organized in partnership with the Holocaust Center, a program of S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
As a child, Lyon lived in Czechoslovakia until Hungary annexed her region in 1938. She and her family were rounded up with the rest of Hungarian Jewry in 1944 and sent to the camps. She ended up in seven, surviving one truck ride to the gas chamber by jumping off and hiding in a drainpipe.
After a glee club sang “Jerusalem of Gold” in its original Hebrew, Lyon told her story to the students, many of whom had studied the Holocaust in history and religion classes.
“I was very well received and very touched by the fact that they were so well prepared,” Lyon told J. afterward. “I was asked important questions. We survivors know how important it is to answer those questions.”
One student, 17-year-old senior Lauren Weiser, called the event “very moving.”
“It’s surprising to be in a room with more than 500 people and everyone is so emotional and so riveted,” she said.
Weiser added that her curriculum includes extensive study of Judaism, viewing it as similar to Catholicism in several respects. “We use the same texts and a lot of the same morals,” she said. “The No. 1 part of Catholicism is to love everyone and help people. In Judaism, the most important part is tzedakah and mitzvot.”
Lyon, who immigrated after World War II and settled in San Francisco with her husband in 1949, admitted she felt awkward in a Catholic setting, but said the event was vitally important.
“[The Church] blamed the Jews for murdering Jesus,” she said. “This developed into anti-Semitism throughout the world and harmed us to the point they started murdering us, to the point of 6 million. With this background, I still am not 100 percent at ease about it, but my intelligent self knows we are heading in the right direction