‘Never Give Up Strength through Adversity Scholarship’ offered to seniors

‘Never Give Up, Strength through Adversity Scholarship’ offered in honor of Holocaust survivor Manny Fischman


Amanda Lurey/Talon

Manny Fischman recognized at February board meeting by Board of Education members Tony Knight, Denise Helfstein, Barbara Laifman, Drew Hazelton, Allen Rosen and Derek Ross.

Oak Park Unified School District awarded Mendel “Manny” Fischman the Partners in Education Award at the board meeting on Feb. 19. At this meeting, the Fischman family announced a new scholarship that will be available to seniors this year.

Fischman, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, has been speaking at Medea Creek Middle School for 10 years about his story of survival.

“He talks straight from the heart, with no predetermined speech,” son Ross Fischman said. “[The school] invites parents to come hear him speak and every year more and more parents come.”

Manny Fischman was 13 years old when the Nazis began their takeover over much of Europe. He was kicked out of school because he was Jewish, sent to a ghetto and then taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. His mother was sent straight to the gas chambers.

“Early 1945 as the Russians were coming from one side of the front and the U.S. were coming from the other. Orders were [given] to leave the camps and either kill everybody or get out of the camps and get further into Germany, these were known as Death Marches,” Ross Fischman said. “They forced the prisoners to march for miles and miles in the dead of winter, who survived off of eating the snow. The prisoners got on trains again and were taken to Buchenwald in Germany.”

By the time the United States Army liberated the camp on April 11, 1945, Manny Fischman was now an orphan. His dad passed away two months before liberation.

“The French government set up [an] arrangement for kids who were orphans because of the Holocaust. My dad and my uncle stayed at an orphanage in Paris. Luckily, a relative of my grandmother in New York saw my dad and uncle in the newspaper,” Ross Fischman said. “She sponsored them to come to the U.S. around 1948. He worked during the day and went to school at night.”

According to Superintendent Tony Knight, Manny Fischman has had a significant impact on the school and more than deserves the Partners in Education Award.

“Mr. Fischman is one of the most significant people that we have ever given this recognition to because of the effort he has made to take the time to come and talk to our students about his first-hand experience of this incredible atrocity,” Knight wrote to the Talon. “This has to be impactful to our students and will change the way they look at others and to hopefully encourage them to live lives that are not filled with hate for others but love, acceptance, and appreciation, recognizing how human hate can manifest itself.”

Manny Fischman’s new scholarship titled “Never Give Up, Strength Through Adversity,” is open to OPHS, Oak View High School and Oak Park Independent School seniors who attended MCMS with a minimum GPA of 2.0. The scholarship encourages students who feel they overcame a great challenge in their life to apply.

“I want kids to be like ‘I saw him speak, I’ve had these issues in my life, and I never gave up, it was a traumatic experience and I was able to gain strength from it,’” Ross Fischman said.

Ross Fischman said he hopes to inspire kids while honoring his father and uncle’s memories.

“As a tribute to my father and my uncle I want to give something back to the school because it’s been a big opportunity for him to share his story and that’s been very impactful to my dad,” Ross Fischman said.

The scholarship, which is worth $500, will be awarded to a student at the Senior Awards Night on May 20.

“[The scholarship] is really something I’m supporting financially out of my own pocket, but I’ve had numerous friends and companies ask if they can contribute,” Fischman said. “Maybe in years to come we can offer two or three awards per year.”

The application for the scholarship is due on March 28 to counselor Jean Hawkins in the College and Career Center.

“I hope a lot of seniors apply because this is really a meaningful opportunity,” Hawkins said. “Not only will the winner receive some money, but also it will get all the applicants to start thinking about how in their life they will never give up and how they will have strength through adversity.”