FAIRFIELD — A retired real estate broker came Wednesday with black-and-white photographs to talk to Green Valley Middle School students so they might “better understand what people are capable of.”
“What hatred of the ‘other,’ ” explained Hans Angress, “can lead to.”
The 85-year-old Sonoma County resident spoke about surviving the Holocaust, hiding from the Nazis as a teen in Holland during World War II.
His family members were Jews in Germany when Adolf Hitler came to power and Angress said adoring crowds who blindly followed the German leader bothered him more than Hitler, whom he described as a “very evil, very intelligent nut case.”
That helps provide one of the lessons of that historic era, Angress said.
“Intelligent evil people are far more dangerous than dumb evil people,” he said.
Another message, said Angress, is, “how easy it is to make good people do terrible things.”
Hitler blamed all German ills on the Jews, Angress said, because providing a common enemy made it easy to unify a people. Blond, blue-eyed Germanic Aryans were supposed to be superior to all others, Angress said of Hitler’s ideas.
Angress recalled the fascist flag with the swastika at a public grade school he attended, Nazi brownshirts singing anti-Semitic songs and cartoons with Jews depicted as drinking Christian blood. In parks, Jews were to use only benches painted yellow, he recounted.
In 1942, at a conference that took place in a suburb of Berlin, Hitler told 15 men – eight of them with PhD.s and the rest military officers – to get rid of the Jews, Angress said. The gas chambers followed.
His father died Jan. 13, 1943, at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Angress was 17 when the war ended. He had lived with a family involved with the Dutch resistance opposed to the Nazis. One day, he ran into his former Cub Scout leader, who had become a Nazi.
“I’m in hiding,” Angress told her. “I hope you won’t betray me.”
“Of course not,” the woman responded.
Angress said he didn’t head straight home after the encounter.
With the war’s end, he came to the United States, finished high school and took a job at a Connecticut dairy farm and later was a partner in a farm in Tomales Bay in Marin County.
Don’t just follow orders blindly, Angress asked students.
“By doing so, many good people committed terrible crimes,” he said.
Green Valley Middle School student Jonathan Taveneir, 14, whose great-grandfather in Holland was in four concentration camps, appreciated Angress’ talk.
“It was nice of him to come and share his experience,” Taveneir said.
The teen and his twin brother Peter have heard about the Holocaust from their family, but not all teens have that insight, their father said.
Robert Taveneir, 49, said Angress’ appearance provides students with a human history of the Holocaust.
“I don’t think this generation understands,” he said. “But I think they’re becoming aware through things like this.”
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or email@example.com.