Oak Creek Jack Adler is the only member of his family who survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He witnessed horrible atrocities and lived to tell about them. And tell he has.
Adler shared his poignant and powerful survival story with an auditorium full of Soroco high and middle school students Wednesday in hopes of teaching them that hate is the root of all evil and that respect is the only thing that can save the world from hate.
"We don't have to like everyone or love everyone, but we need to respect everyone," Adler told students.
About 200 Soroco teens participated in Wednesday's Tolerance Day, an annual event that brings education and awareness to Hayden, Soroco and Steamboat Springs high schools to foster a better understanding about what it means to be tolerant and respectful.
Adler was a guest speaker at Soroco on Wednesday. He spoke at Steamboat Springs High School on Thursday.
Diane Moore, executive dir--ector of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, said the concept behind Tolerance Day is to have student leadership groups throughout Routt County pick a topic area they want to explore. The topic must relate to preventing abuse, and students must give presentations about it to their peers.
Soroco High School chose a topic that junior Chelsea Bonfiglio said is imperative for students to learn about: intolerance and disrespect.
"We saw problems and issues in our school, namely with disrespect and intolerance. I want to abolish it from my school," she said.
"I think there is a good amount of disrespect at Soroco. I would attribute that to ignorance," Bonfiglio said. "I think 95 percent of this community doesn't see it because that's how they were raised. It isn't their fault. The best we can do is try to educate them."
Bonfiglio was one of nine peer counselors who worked with Moore to develop their presentations.
Soroco students were asked to contemplate "Why we do it" during their lunch hour. They then were shown a film called "Journey to a Hate-Free Millennium," which addressed national issues of racism, sexism and hate crimes.
Adler's speech was Wed--nesday's last event -- and perhaps the most intense part of the program.
"I speak to you as a child survivor. I speak to you as an eyewitness to the darkest pages of human history," Adler said.
For nearly an hour, Adler painfully reconstructed what it was like to be separated from his siblings and have his mother die in a Nazi ghetto in Poland, where he was born. He told the students how he survived by bartering sugar for bread with a Nazi guard. He also talked about how he witnessed some of the most gruesome and ugly moments in human history, such as babies being shot for target practice and hundreds of people dying in gas chambers.
Adler said he recounts his painful past with students because he thinks education and understanding are the only things that can prevent atrocities from happening again.
"By now, I have spoken to nearly three-quarters of a million people. I speak to students like you because you represent the future of this great nation of ours. That's why you should now what hate can do," he said.
Bonfiglio said it is very important for her, as a student leader, to try to educate those who don't understand the importance of tolerance.
"You can't have intolerant kids. The point of an education is to create well-rounded contributing members of society," she said.
Moore said having high school prevention programs are crucial for students.
"This program is one of my favorite things I do because it is helping our youth. It's one of the most important prevention acts we do," she said.
"In order for us to survive, we must learn to respect each other. Mutual respect is the only glue that can hold civility together," Adler said.
-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org