Holocaust survivor Edith Frankie cancels speaking engagement due to COVID-19

Miller looking to have Frankie return during next year’s unit on “Night” by Elie Wiesel


Photo courtesy of Leslie Miller

After Holocaust survivor Edith Frankie discusses the idea of hate, Leslie Miller’s preceding English II students consume bagels, potato chips and Edith Frankie’s stories.

Holocaust survivor Edith Frankie was to bring her experience and stories to the Oak Park High School campus. And while the opportunity to hear Frankie is gone for the 2019-20 school year due to her assisted living facility’s request to cancel all speaking engagements, and the shelter-in-place order, the opportunity may present itself again in the 2020-21 school year.

Those 65 and older have been part of the demographic most severely affected by COVID-19, and in response, the CDC sent out interim guidelines to prevent the spreading of COVID-19 into assisted living facilities.

One of these guidelines recommends to “cancel communal dining and all group activities.” Nonetheless, Frankie says she doesn’t find her days in her facility to be boring.

“I’ve been very busy today. I’ve been at the fitness center this morning … then they have the music therapy. I always come up and [the music therapist] plays the piano and the ukulele and she makes it quite fun,” Frankie said. “The building — we can go anywhere, from floor to floor. As long it’s not too big of a crowd.”

While plenty entertained at her assisted living facility, Frankie was still looking forward to telling her stories to the students at OPHS. Her concern resided with an increase in Holocaust-deniers fueled by conspiracy theories on the internet.

“The students, they definitely need to hear [the stories] because [of what] they read on the internet … Some people say [the Holocaust] never happened,” Frankie said.

This occasion would have been Frankie’s second time visiting OPHS — except this time her stories would have been available to everyone, not just English II students.

“There’s an urgency, at this point in time, in terms of our ability to be able to hear the stories from the Holocaust survivors themselves,” English teacher Leslie Miller, the one who organized the event, said.

Frankie’s scheduled appearance follows a recent string of anti-hate presentations at OPHS including the ADL workshops in January.

“Anytime we educators have an opportunity to provide you guys with experiences that build your empathy and your compassion and your tolerance, it’s our responsibility to act on those,” Miller said.

Miller says Frankie’s message aligns with OPHS “No Place for Hate” school status as well as the compassion OPHS tries to promote as its school culture. For Miller, it’s Frankie’s message of love and hope, despite the calamities the Nazis brought her, that makes her stories so incredible.

“Her story is one of resiliency and she’s not bitter and she’s not resentful,” Miller said. “It’s a very powerful anti-hate message.”

While no official plans have been put in place for Frankie to return, Miller and the administration hope to bring Frankie back as a speaker at OPHS.