EDMONDS – The students in the Edmonds-Woodway High School theater fell silent. Standing alone on the stage was the person who brought all of the students in from the rain.
Fred Taucher, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, spoke about his capture by Nazi officials on March 15, 1945 during World War II. The 72-year-old Everett resident speaks about his past fairly often these days, but that doesn’t make his story easier to hear.
While riding a streetcar by himself in Berlin that day in 1945, Nazi officials were conducting an identification check. Taucher, who was 12 at the time, had obtained an 11-year-old’s paperwork and was using it as his own. All boys 11 and older had to wear Hitler Youth uniforms while in public and Taucher knew he had been caught.
“They knew right away I was a Jew,” he told the Edmonds-Woodway audience.
“They stripped me to my bare skin … 12 years old, on a crowded streetcar.
“It wasn’t enough to be naked. They were laughing and clapping and saying another dirty Jew had been caught,” Taucher said.
Although at first it was difficult to share, over time Taucher realized he needed to tell his story. As a Holocaust survivor, he had experienced a great deal during his youth. For most of his life, he chose not to talk.
But eight years ago, Taucher went through a number of changes in his personal life and came to a realization.
“Life is too short and people need to know what’s going on,” he said.
Since then, Taucher has spoken publicly about his experiences. On April 7, he spent all day at Edmonds-Woodway talking to students. Although the exact days of his capture and subsequent escape were unclear at the time, German archives have helped him piece together his history.
After two days of interrogations and abuse by Nazi officials, Taucher was sent to Dachau, a concentration camp near Munich.
While being transported in a cattle car, Taucher believes the lock on the car was opened during an air raid. Russian prisoners helped Taucher escape and they carried him across the highway and into a wooded area.
There, they encountered Nazis who were teaching Hitler Youth members to shoot a rifle. The Russians, who were unarmed, overpowered the Nazis.
“No one was left alive,” Taucher said.
After being left behind by the Russians, Taucher dressed himself in one of the Hitler Youth uniforms and found a ride with two Nazi officials. Through courage and quick thinking, 12-year-old Taucher made it back to his mother and older brother in Berlin.
Both of Taucher’s parents died during the war, his father in Auschwitz and his mother in Berlin just two days before the Russians liberated the city.
For Taucher, whose son and daughter attended Edmonds schools, it’s important for people to understand the harsh reality of the Holocaust. Yet while terrible things were happening during the war, there also were people who were good, he said.
“There are many, many who risked their lives for us,” he recalled. “Not all of the Germans were part of the regime.”
Lisa Holstein is a German student studying at Edmonds-Woodway this year. She said she appreciated hearing Taucher’s story. Understanding the actions and thoughts that drove the Nazis is an important part of her education in Germany. She had heard a number of survivors speak on the topic while at home.
“This one was sad, but it gave me hope that more people escaped,” Holstein said.
Joe McCleary, a senior in Sherri Webster’s leadership class at Edmonds-Woodway, organized Taucher’s visit as part of Multicultural Week at the high school.
He said Taucher spoke to almost half of the students throughout the day. He knows Taucher’s story got the students talking, which was one of his goals.
Many students introduced themselves to Taucher and thanked him for sharing his story, McCleary noted.
“I was pretty pleased with all of the students showing respect to him,” he added.
Reading-and-social-studies teacher Sarah Schumacher encouraged all of her students to attend one of Taucher’s talks. Although students don’t learn about the European perspective of WWII until 10th grade, most of her ninth-grade students listened and learned from Taucher.
“I think they appreciated having the first-person story,” Schumacher concluded.