Peter L. Fischl, a World War II Hungarian Jewish survivor, delivers
his message of tolerance to anyone who wants to hear it.
Fischl addressed students Wednesday at John Muir Middle School.
Speaking quietly and slowly, Fischl, 72, told them of the horrors he
lived through when Hitler sent occupying forces into Hungary in 1944.
“The German soldiers marching in goose step appeared powerful and
impressive,” the Burbank resident said, “but they were nothing more
than bullies who picked on people who could not fight back.”
Fischl said that John Gaal, a Christian man, befriended many
Budapest Jewish families who were rounded up by the Nazis and
sequestered in a group home that had a large Star of David on the
front of the house.
“We should think of him as an example of the kind of people we
want to be,” Fischl said.
Fischl, his mother and sister went into hiding until the Russians
liberated Hungary in 1945. But his father was executed by the Nazis.
Eventually, Fischl immigrated to the United States. In 1965, while
leafing through a Life magazine, he came across a photo of a young
Jewish boy from the Warsaw ghetto standing with his hands raised as
Nazi soldiers held him and others at bay.
“All my miseries and horrors came back when I saw the little
Polish boy,” Fischl said. “For the next four years, the boy lived
with me. I spoke to him and he spoke back to me.”
In 1969 Fischl wrote his poem, “To the Little Polish Boy Standing
with His Arms Up.” After its publication in 1994, Fischl began his
speaking engagements, and he is now one of the subjects of “Keepers
of Memory,” a documentary in production chronicling the lives of
Jewish war survivors.
Eighth-grader Chelsea Shideler said Fischl’s talk touched her
“It was a great honor to have him at our school,” said Chelsea,
It was important for the school’s Armenian students to hear
Fischl, since many of their people were killed during the Armenian
Genocide, Muir teacher Stacie Crowther said.
“We need to learn about these things so that we don’t repeat
them,” Crowther said.