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Living History Lesson at FHS

Falcon High School brought living history into the school for Jennifer Hepworth’s “Holocaust & Genocide” classes as Dr. Kurt Metzl shared his life story of escaping the Holocaust.

FHS students with Kurt Metzl

Metzl, part of a Jewish family, was two years old when Austria was annexed to Germany in March 1938. His father fled to Switzerland and arranged for his wife and Metzl, his young son, to join him. During a train ride which briefly crossed the border into Switzerland, Metzl’s mother asked to use the restroom at the train station. She took him off the train and kept walking and never looked back. A friend of his father was there to guide her. 

Other members of his family were not as lucky and died in the Nazi concentration camps.

“I was three years old when I left Austria. Most three year olds that grew up where I grew up, didn’t make it to come here and talk about it,” Metzl said. 

“Growing up, I thought I was Swiss,” he said. “Because I talked like I was Swiss.”

When the war was over, the Metzl family had to leave Switzerland. When he was 12, they traveled to London and Paris, then were put on a boat to New York City. The family didn’t speak any English. They had three options once they arrived in America, and chose Kansas City to live.

When they arrived in Kansas City, they were met by resettlement representatives from what is now Jewish Family Services, and placed in a home with three other refugee families.

He was put in the fourth grade due to his lack of English, but quickly learned and moved on. He eventually graduated from high school and went on to college and medical school. 

“My mother told me I wanted to be a doctor,” Metzl said. And it was obvious, many of the FHS students might have had similar discussions with their parents as they had a good laugh at that remark. He went on to say, “When I had organic chemistry, I came home and said I wanted to be a literature professor. She said I could do that as soon as I became a doctor.”

He spent 52 years as a pediatrician in Kansas City before retiring. He and his wife moved to Denver to be closer to their grandchildren. 

Despite the seriousness of his story, he did talk about the recent Broncos and Chiefs football game, which brought more laughs from the students. (He’s a Chiefs fan.) 

Hepworth is teaching three sections this semester of the first-year class. “With the new legislation put into place this school year that requires students to have exposure to Holocaust education before they graduate, I wanted to offer students the chance to learn even more,” she said. 

Kurt Metzl at FHS

“When the war ended, the Holocaust was not talked about,” Metzl said. “It’s important because history repeats itself, unless you learn and remember what happened, it might happen again. We need teachers to teach, so nothing like this will ever happen again.”

Hepworth addressed the students in the auditorium after Metzl spoke. “I hope you realize how special this is. The people that witnessed and experienced these things first hand will all pass away in your lifetime. What I hope that you take away from this is that you have the opportunity to meet someone, to learn and hear first hand, the things we’ve been talking about in class. Remember what you felt today, what you learned, because it’s your responsibility to pass it on.” 

After the presentation, students shook Metzl’s hand, grabbed some photos and asked him questions. 

Riley Frank said, “Like Ms. Hepworth said, this is an experience no one is going to have in a few years from now.” Riley was also surprised to hear about Metzl’s time in Switzerland. “Even though he was in Switzerland, he still experienced anti-semitism.” 

Graci Brisco said, “It was a very touching moment to hear him talk about his experience living through the Holocaust. It brings out more life than just reading about what happened or watching a documentary. It helps us understand what they went through and how they felt during the Holocaust. 

Nolan Blakely said, “Being able to hear the story in person is definitely more touching than reading about it. Him saying he doesn’t regret coming to America and not wanting to go back, changed my perspective, because there is a viewpoint that they all want to go back. Because he is enjoying his life here, it shows perspective.”