Roslyn Franken, an Ottawa resident whose mother survived the Holocaust and whose father survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, has been invited to speak on April 12 to students at the Florida high school where a mass shooting took place in February.
Franken said she hopes to inspire the survivors with the stories of her late parents’ remarkable resilience in the face of tragedy, which she related in her recent book, Meant to Be: A True Story of Might, Miracles and Triumph of the Human Spirit.
Her Dutch-born mother, Sonja, endured Auschwitz and other Nazi camps, while her father, John, a soldier in the Dutch forces who was taken prisoner in Japan, managed to escape death because he was a forced labourer working underground in a coalmine when the blast occurred.
Both were teenagers at the time. They met after the war and rebuilt their lives in Montreal.
On Feb. 14, 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when a gunman went on a shooting rampage.
Franken said she is honoured to have the opportunity to talk about her parents with students who are dealing with trauma.
“As two young Jewish prisoners on opposite sides of the world, my parents both experienced the worst of humanity first-hand,” she said. “They witnessed the death of their fellow captives and were forced to live and work as slave labourers in the most horrendous living conditions. They were robbed of their loved ones, their innocence of youth, their freedom and all their worldly possessions, but what nobody could steal away from them was their hope, faith and will to live.”
Franken has been a motivational speaker for many years, drawing also on her own experience of having had to battle cancer at age 29. But going to Majory Stoneman Douglas, the scene of one of the worst mass school shootings in U.S. history, will be of a different order.
“Speaking to these students will be the most important, meaningful and emotionally charged speaking engagement of my career,” she said. “If I can have a positive impact on even one of these students in their healing process, then it will be worth it.”