Holocaust Authors Visit Local Wheeling Park, John Marshall

Photo by Drew Parker Authors Gabriela and Uwe von Seltmann speak with John Marshall High School music instructor Tracey Filben, below.

In July 2006, the worlds of an art and journalism collided at a crowded coffee shop in Krakow, Poland. Although the stories were completely opposite, they shared one common thread: an ancestral connection to atrocities of the Holocaust.

Prior to the fateful meeting, Uwe von Seltmann, a German freelance author and publicist, learned his grandfather had served as an SS officer during World War II, killing several people in Nazi-occupied ghettos in Warsaw. During his research for a book on the topic, Seltmann met his future wife, Gabriela, who’s grandfather was murdered by Nazis in Auschwitz.

Ten years later, the couple are traveling the U.S. for the first time to share the importance of love and anti-war sentiments with youth. The pair made stops at John Marshall and Wheeling Park High Schools Monday afternoon, sponsored by Classrooms Without Borders of Wheeling.

“I met a historian in Vienna and discovered something terrible. My grandfather belonged to an SS unit in the Warsaw ghetto,” Uwe von Seltmann said. I went into a coffee shop during the Jewish Cultural Festival, which was very crowded.”

After their initial meeting, the pair began searching for information on their ancestry together through much of Europe, leading to their first joint book, “Gabi and Uwe. My grandfather died in Auschwitz, and my was an Esesmann.”

“The first meeting for us, was truly very difficult,” Gabriela von Seltmann said. “We decided to work on those memories and discover what was influencing the next generation.”

Gabriela von Seltmann said she wanted to explain the negative impact of war to students in the U.S.

“We try to show them the impact of war and the fact that it takes three generations to recover after it and that war produces a lot of trauma,” she said. “We want to say that war is only bad. It cannot bring you anything positive. The second world war is just an example — every war is the same.”

Uwe von Seltmann said he hopes the visits will encourage students to think for themselves throughout their lives.

“We want to encourage the students to be aware of what’s going on around them and that racism and anti-Semitism are never the solution,” he said. “We can reach mutual understanding in the future by accepting one another. … Before the students follow any leader in their lives, I hope they stop, think and head in a different direction if they see something wrong.”

Tracey Filben, a John Marshall music instructor, traveled to Poland this summer for a Classrooms Without Borders trip, along with other local educators and students, where she met the von Seltmanns.

“It’s a unique story to have these ties to the Holocaust and for that relationship to bloom out of such opposite sides with one grandfather serving as a murderer and one the murdered,” Filben said. “For them to build a relationship and ultimately end up married from a chance meeting at a bar in Krakow is very interesting for the kids to hear. We want to teach love rather than hate.”

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