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Spokane school named after Holocaust survivor opens

Carla Peperzak talks onstage with Andre Wicks, the principal of Peperzak Middle School, during an event at Ferris High School last October.
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
Carla Peperzak talks onstage with Andre Wicks, the principal of Peperzak Middle School, during an event at Ferris High School last October.

The namesake of Spokane’s newest middle school will be there this morning [Tuesday] to join teachers and sixth and seventh-grade students for a short ribbon-cutting ceremony on the first day of school.

An architect's rendering of Carla Olman Peperzak Middle School on Spokane's South Hill
Courtesy of Spokane Public Schools
An architect's rendering of Carla Olman Peperzak Middle School on Spokane's South Hill

Carla Olman Peperzak Middle School is the last of the three new middle schools to be built with funds from a bond issue approved in 2018. It will serve students from the Moran Prairie and the upper South Hill area.

Carla Peperzak, just a few months away from her 100th birthday, says she is humbled that a public school has her name on it, but it’s appropriate given her background and her mission of teaching children about the Holocaust.

“I really love to talk to young people and I think sixth, seventh and eighth graders are probably the most understanding and most open to this," she said. “They ask me my age and at the time, when the war started, I was 16 years old. But when I got involved with helping to go into hiding, I was 18, two years later.

Peperzak was a teenager in The Netherlands when Nazi troops invaded in 1940. She later became involved in the Dutch resistance movement.

“Really what happened is I sort of grew into this. It started off as an uncle and then I got very much involved with the resistance and they asked me to do all those things," she said. "One of the things they asked me to do was cleaning guns and I told them no, I don’t like guns.

"Almost weekly we put out a pamphlet about the news. We still had newspapers but only the news from the German side," Peperzak said. "The radios were confiscated. The resistance, we had a few radios. We didn’t turn them in, of course, and we listened to the radio in the closet so that nobody else would hear. So we would listen to Radio London and, by the way, all the radios were confiscated. At 6 o’clock in the afternoon we would have a program in Dutch and so we would make a pamphlet and take the highlights from what happened from the Allied side and I got involved with printing those and also distributing.”

Peperzak says she was also involved in helping Dutch Jews get ID cards that actually helped to hide a part of their identities.

“Everybody had an ID card, but mine and all the Jewish people had an ID card had a 'J' next to the picture and my father managed, through an attorney and got a new ID card without the 'J' and because of that I had much more freedom. Jewish people were not allowed on trains or buses or any form of public transportation. All the cars were confiscated. When people went into hiding, I made new ID cardsfor them without the J, but actually, they were printed in England and sometimes they were dropped by airplane, most of the time by small airplane somewhere in the countryside.”

Then resistance members would go pick them up and then bring them back and distribute them.

Much of Americans’ knowledge about the Dutch resistance role is limited to the story about Anne Frank, the young woman who wrote a diary about her time hiding with her family for a couple of years.

“You know, I knew Anne Frank," Peperzak said. "We lived only a block apart. This was before she went into hiding, the family went into hiding. Anne was about four or five years younger than I was. Her sister was only one year younger. We went, actually, to the same temple and also to Hebrew lessons with the same rabbi and we got together for the lessons and so I got to know them. We frequented the same stores because they were so close by and I had been in the home. It’s amazing the maturity she shows in writing the book. She was remarkable.”

You could say the same about Carla Peperzak, who says she is working to turn the talks she has given to school children and others into a book so that her stories and experiences can be shared after she’s gone.

By the way, she says the Spokane School District will hold a formal dedication ceremony for Peperzak Middle School on October 21.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.