The Museum of Jewish Heritage Holocaust Curriculum website offers a set of free lesson plans for teaching Holocaust history, a curriculum glossary, personal stories about young people who survived the Holocaust, and more. The focus of the curriculum is on the experiences of European Jews during the Holocaust, integrating primary sources and artifact-based learning from the Museum’s collection.

In Lesson Ten of the Museum of Jewish Heritage Holocaust Curriculum, students explore a letter written by a Jewish teenager asking for refuge and consider the world’s response to the refugee crisis during the Holocaust. The letter was written in 1938 by Ernest Michel*, a Jewish teenager living in Mannheim, Germany. The letter reads:

July 1, 1938

To the President of the United States, to the King of England, to the Prime Minister of Canada, to the Prime Minister of Australia, to the Prime Minister of South Africa:

I am a young Jewish boy. I am 15 years old, and I live in Mannheim, Germany. I’m desperate, trying to emigrate.

I can no longer go to school. My parents have difficulties feeding the family. I am healthy and will do any work.

We have no relatives outside of Germany to guarantee us. Sir, please help me to leave here before things get worse. I hope you will help me.

Thank you.

Ernest Michel

The letter was not answered.

Photograph of Ernst W. Michel, 1937 - 1938. Mannheim, Germany
Photograph of Ernst W. Michel, 1937 – 1938. Mannheim, Germany. Collection of Ernest W. Michel. 1996.F.7

What became of Ernest Michel? He was deported to Auschwitz. His parents and grandparents were all killed. But he survived and became a Jewish activist, memoirist, and community leader. A member of the Mayor’s Task Force on the Holocaust which first called for the establishment of a living memorial to the Holocaust in NYC in 1982, Ernest was a founding Trustee of the Museum. His wife, Amy Goldberg Michel, is an active supporter of the Museum and has been on the Spring Women’s Luncheon committee for years.

Ernest died in Manhattan on May 7, 2016. His obituary in The New York Times notes that, in 1986, when the Museum’s site was dedicated, Ernest recalled the moments just before a friend, Leo Diament, was hanged at Auschwitz. “Remember!” he said he had urged onlookers. “Do not forget!”

* Ernest was born as Ernst, the name he used as a child in Germany. He went by Ernest in the United States.