Holocaust Center for Humanity, Seattle, WA – July 11, 2016

by George J Elbaum

The Holocaust Center for Humanity (HCH) arranged my very first two talks to students in October 2010, and has continued to arrange many more for my subsequent visits to Seattle.  Through the lens of the Holocaust, the Holocaust Center educates students to think critically and inspires them to become champions for positive change. The Center reaches 40,000 students a year in their schools and communities with educational resources and programs, and provides immersive learning experiences to thousands of additional students at their museum and education center.

The Holocaust Center’s impressive one-year-new facility provides not only space for offices but also for a small museum and, most importantly, for changing exhibitions and educational seminars.  A wonderful example of the former is the March-May exhibit Anne Frank – A History for Today which drew audiences of up to 500 per day, while the seminars are exemplified by the talks I’ve given at HCH last summer and again today.

As last summer, today’s talk was also focused on student groups from summer camps, this time 45 students from the Stroum Jewish Community Center (Mercer Island), the Southwest Boys and Girls Club (Seattle), and several other students from schools where I’ve spoken in prior years.  (It is always a pleasure to see these “repeat” students, and always a surprise that some have grown by a head and now tower over me!)  In addition to these students, HCH emailed invitations to adults who have participated in related HCH events, and more than two dozen of them were in the audience, including several Holocaust survivors.  I was also very pleasantly surprised to see David Chivo, Associate VP of American Technion Society, in which I am quite active.

The talk was organized by Julia Thompson, HCH’s Education Associate, and attended by Karen Chachkes, Strategic Director; Amanda Davis, Development Associate; Richard Greene, Museum Experience Director; and Dee Simon, HCH Executive Director, who introduced me to the audience.

starting

| Leave a comment

Arroyo High School, San Lorenzo, CA – May 26, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, across the bay from San Francisco, has a high diversity student body of approximately 1,900 students. It is organized into several “schools within a school,” and this is the 5th consecutive year that I have visited and spoken to its Future Academy for Social Change.  The audience was approximately 125 10th grade students taking the Facing History-based unit taught by teacher Jorja Santillan, who again organized my visit.  Based on my previous 4 visits, I knew that the students would be enthusiastic and well-prepared, and I was definitely not disappointed – once again I observed how Jorja Santillan’s enthusiasm and energy transfer to her students, whom she prepares and guides through the various aspects of the Holocaust.  In her own words: “It’s so important that they understand how complex the Holocaust is through different stories, and how crucial it is that this history be kept alive.  I tell my students that now it’s their responsibility to carry it on along with their own histories.”  What particularly struck me and pleased me about this visit was the lengthy Q & A and the number of questions that have never been asked of me in the 100+ talks I’ve given so far during the last 6 years – the Arroyo students were thinking!

Each such positive interaction emphasizes for me that it is the dedicated, enthusiastic, energetic teachers such as Jorja Santillan who truly teach our next generation, and thus on whom America’s future depends.  Thus it is ironic that our public officials, while lauding in speeches and proclamations the critical value of education, do so little to provide America’s teachers a compensation that’s commensurate with this value to the nation.

My visit was again arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who gave his usual excellent introduction plus skillfully expanded on some of my answers during the Q & A when the questions went beyond my focus on the Holocaust.  Attending the event were also Arroyo teacher Jess Vaughn.

Letters from Students

We were away for several weeks, and several more weeks after we returned a large envelope arrived in the mail with 80 letters from Arroyo students.  As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it, mentally and emotionally.  We were touched by the students’ heartfelt openness, sensitivity and thoughtfulness reflected in these letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story.  Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us are excerpted below.  Furthermore, the sheer number of such statements spoke of active and penetrating discussions that teachers Jorja Santillan and Jess Vaughn must have conducted with their students after my talk.

  • Hearing your story filled me with many emotions, some indescribable, some not. I couldn’t help but feel sad, amazed, angry, but also hopeful that we’ll never let such a tragedy happen again.
  • You asked us to really think if we would risk our lives to house a Jewish child. I thought that was a really powerful question, and I makes us think.
  • I learned that a tragedy should not define who you are.
  • I hope to make a promise with you, a promise that will forever remind me that I can make a change. I will fight for what I believe and be heard.
  • I had always considered myself a kind and tolerant person, but hearing you speak has sparked even more of a fire in me to fight for others, fight for what is right.
  • Your story makes me want to be a better person, honestly. There is so much hate and bad vibes in the world and I don’t need to add to it.
  • I hope above all in life to keep a fair attitude and to grow up in a functional society, or at the very least be able to help fix our society & make it a better place to live.
  • I will pass this experience onto my children, so they can pass it onto theirs.
  • Because of your “lecture,” I have become a different person. I think about your story all the time, and it affects my thoughts positively.  I have learned to feel thankful for all the things I have, because life here in the U.S.A. is a blessing.
  • Although pure luck definitely helped you survive, I feel that you should also give credit to your bravery and ignorance. (Thanks for the drawing!)
  • Although you say that you are here because of luck, I want to tell you that you are here for a reason, not just because of luck.
  • I learned a lot from you, that it’s important to treat everyone with respect and kindness, even if they are a little different.
  • I hope you continue changing the views and perspectives of young minds as long as you can.
  • You said that speaking to people about your story takes a lot out of you. I am so, so, so happy to say I got this wonderful experience.  My heart is full of gratitude that people like you still actually exist, so thank you again, very much.
  • Hearing your story made me really thankful for what I have. Thank you for opening my eyes and seeing things I didn’t before.
  • I’m blessed to live in my generation and I’m blessed to live in America. It’s important that my generation doesn’t let history repeat itself.
  • I admire your attitude and will strive to live with the same outlook, always keeping equality and love alive as much as possible.
  • It is up to us to keep your story alive and to choose who to be in life.
  • Now that I know about your history, it’s my turn to continue keeping it alive.
  • I will try to maintain positivity and be FOR something rather than AGAINST something.
  • What really struck me in the heard was when you described the photo of a Nazi soldier aiming a rifle at a woman’s head while she was holding her baby. All of your anger and sadness flowed into me.
  • Honestly, there were a few times during your talk when I definitely started tearing up.
  • I aspire to be a film maker one day and WWII is one of my favorite topics. I hope to make a movie depicting the devastation and atrocity of the Holocaust.  You have really inspired me to do this.  (Thanks for the flower you drew!)
  • You are right, it is important to stand up for what we believe in and what is fair and right, and to hold onto your humanity.
  • I realize that education is very important, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t have any kindness in your heart.
  • I wish I had the power to go back in time and erase all of it from history.
  • Your speech reminded me how our daily choices can change the future.
  • My mind has been opened with your guidance, and I’ve learned to put more value into the things I have taken for granted.  (An airplane, I think?)
  • You lost your family but you didn’t lose yourself.
  • I know myself and I couldn’t endure that kind of situation – I get very anxious when a teacher walks beside my chair.
  • I don’t think you lived just because of luck, but because you were meant to live your life the way you are right now.
  • Your story really inspires me and makes me feel grateful for the things I have and the life I live.
  • On the photo you showed of you and your mother, she was a very beautiful woman. May her beautiful soul rest in peace.
  • I wish you nothing but love and happiness for the rest of your life.
  • It is not easy to talk to anyone about these sort of things, especially to teenagers who do not know how good life is for them, so you coming and telling us really shines a light into our eyes and lets us realize how life was back then. I want you to know that I really appreciate you.
  • Your mom left you at a very young age and later came back. I could really relate to that because my mom left to give us a better life and provide for me and my brother.
  • Another thing I took away from your talk was that your mom was very resourceful and smart. That reminded me about my mom.  She is like my Google, whenever I need something I just call or ask her.
  • Family is a once in a lifetime thing, it’s part of you. It is also quality time that you can’t take back.  Family or family time is precious.
  • Not being able to see your mother for such a long period of time has made me appreciate the moments I have with my mom.
  • You have motivated us to make good choices.
  • I hope you come back next year so I can hear your stories once again and reflect again on what you said like I’m doing now.
  • I will never forget your story about going to school and having to speak a new language and having an accent, because I can relate to you.
  • I know this letter will get lost, with all the other letters being sent. (Your letter didn’t get lost, and my wife & I read every letter!)
  • You truly are an inspiration to not give up and not to focus on so many negative things, even if they are all around you.
  • I learned a few new things from your discussion, but more importantly, I experienced more of an emotional connection. Seeing you speak about this issue really affected my viewpoint.
  • Hearing your experience has not only changed the way I view the Holocaust, but it has also changed the way I see people in general. Throughout your presentation there were many times when I caught myself reflecting on my own life and musing about what I would have done if I were in your shoes.
  • People forget that the past is something like a lesson; however, it is a lesson too often ignored. From listening to your presentation, I learned just how important it is to learn about world history and the impact it can leave on a person.
  • Every time I learn about the Holocaust and what happened my heart breaks a little bit more.
  • I believe because our generation is so young, the Holocaust does not directly affect us, therefore we have to learn even more from survivors. It is our job to honor and retell their stories.
  • You said that your past is not your life now. That is what I usually tell myself: don’t let the past wrap you around your life.
  • When you told us about a school counselor saying you were not smart enough to pursue your dreams, it really inspired me. Although you heard those words, you did not let it shake you.  I will also do my best to chase my dreams, just as you did.
  • My parents were part of the time of the Khmer Rouge, and a lot of family members were lost. I strongly agree with you that these stories must be shared because they are true and should never be repeated in history again.
  • It was horrible how our human race became like that. As a future generation we will try to live up to our worth and promise that this will never happen again.  Alas, history does repeat itself though.
  • I hope your story never gets forgotten and that those who hear it pass it on so that what happened in WWII does not repeat itself, but even with these hopes it is hard to think someone who is speaking like such a fascist is running for the presidency of the United States. How could someone, after so much pain that hating others has caused, continue to speak like that.  I hope that future people do not grow up blind and ignorant but open their eyes and ears and look at the truth of what hating someone for their race or their religion does to the world, because all it does is cause pain.
  • Thank you again! I truly appreciate your selflessness, taking out a piece of yourself to give to the community.
  • You’re a good man – be proud, be brave, be happy (followed by a GIANT happy face)
  • I was not able to hear the story of your experience in the Holocaust, but I heard that it was an amazing story and would love to hear it myself instead of hearing it from other people.
| Leave a comment

Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley, CA – May 18, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with 2920 students of high diversity.  In the 10th grade students study the history of the Holocaust as part of the coverage of World War II, and English teacher Yvonna Shaw takes them on a parallel journey using literature including Maus by Art Spiegelman and adding a presentation by a Holocaust survivor.

This two-pronged, cross-disciplinary approach ensures that students not only have a factual background and an understanding of how the Holocaust evolved in the context of World War II, but also a sense of the psychological and individual toll connected with this history.  For example, Maus is drawn from personal experiences of a child of survivor, a graphic novel depicting the relationship between a father and son deeply impacted by history.  The legacies of the Holocaust are not only global and geo-political, as the students learn from literature, but also personal and rooted in family lore of all who survived.

CVHS has a long-time connection with Facing History and Ourselves through several teachers on staff who have accessed support and materials over many years.  With recent shifts in faculty through retirements and other changes, Yvonne Shaw now represents a new generation of Facing History teachers at the school.  She is introducing the resources to others on the campus, including veteran and newer members of the staff.  Principal Blaine Torpey, who explored Facing History resources himself as a former social studies teacher, plans a meeting for the Fall to acquaint more teachers with the resources and support available.

My presentation to more than 100 10th grade students was organized by Yvonna Shaw and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History.  Other teachers attending it were Danielle Caddy and Stacy Kania.

Jack Weinstein's introduction

Jack Weinstein’s introduction

(More photos to follow.)

| Leave a comment

Tennyson High School, Hayward, CA – May 10, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Tennyson High School is a comprehensive public high school with approximately 1,300 students. The school is extremely diverse and serves many students for whom English is a second language.  In both social studies and English courses, teachers make use of resources from Facing History and Ourselves to teach about the Holocaust as well as other difficult subjects.

My visit to Tennyson on May 10th was preceded by preparatory sessions on May 6th by Jack Weinstein, a Sr. Program Advisor for Facing History.  Some of the topics students had been exposed to before the visit included a study of propaganda; a film study using The Boy in Striped Pajamas; an introduction to themes of conformity and obedience using the story and film, Confessions of a Hitler Youth; a critical viewing of the popular film, Swing Kids; Facing History’s Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust; and an ongoing study of Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night. 

Two Tennyson teachers hosted my talk for their multiple classes: Charlie Stephens and Jaynee Ruiz, who teach English and World History respectively, and they arranged for my talk through Jack Weinstein.  Attending also was teacher Jeff Klenow, and Jack’s Facing History colleague, Sarah Altschul, introduced the session and moderated an active Q & A.

everyone!

everyone!

| Leave a comment

Kehillah Jewish High School, Palo Alto, CA – May 4, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Kehillah Jewish High School is an independent college preparatory high school distinguished by an exceptional academic program and a supportive environment that pairs rich traditions with the best of the Silicon Valley mindset.  “Kehillah” is a Hebrew word meaning “community,” and the school is one of a series of pluralistic (community) Jewish day schools in the United States.  In fourteen years, Kehillah Jewish High School has grown from a 9th grade class of 33 students to a community of 189 students in grades 9-12.  The average class size is 12, and due to the 6:1 student-to-teacher ratio, Kehillah teachers have close relationships with their students. Emphasis is placed both on nurturing and challenging students to achieve and excel.  Students meet twice a week with their academic advisors in an advisory group of 8 to 12 students and the advisors follow their advisees’ progress and guide their academic path.

“Repair of the world,” or social action, is a central Jewish value and a part of student life at Kehillah. Each class takes a unique service-oriented trip. These learning experiences have included a civil rights tour of the American South, hurricane relief work in Mississippi, and a national youth conference on homelessness in Washington, D.C.  Kehillah has several clubs dedicated to raising funds and awareness of global poverty, the health of the planet, animal rights, etc.

My presentation at Kehillah was part of its commemoration of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It was attended by all students in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. The program was organized by Rabbi C. Michelle Greenberg, Dean of Students and Susan Packer, the parent of a Kehillah sophomore.

96[1]

| Leave a comment

Foothill High School, Pleasanton, CA – April 21, 2016 (PM)

by George J Elbaum

Foothill High School opened in 1973 and its current student body of approximately 2,300 reflects the demographic and economic diversity of their newly affluent and upwardly mobile community.  Foothill’s rich tradition of both care and accountability is a factor in helping each student reach his or her full potential.  Recognized as a California Distinguished School and a National Blue Ribbon California nominee, Foothill remains dedicated to school improvement.  Scholastically, students excel, scoring above national, state and district averages on standardized tests, high school exit exams and the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Advanced Placement tests.

In an attempt to meet the needs of its diverse student body, the school provides, in addition to standards-based curriculum, numerous academic and service groups such as the Multicultural Club and a rigorous sports selection reflected in the excellence of the athletic programs. At the same time, character education is an integral part of the school’s core mission, emphasizing integrity, honesty, responsibility, respect, compassion and self-discipline.  The mission of Foothill is to nurture and stimulate the intellectual, emotional and physical growth of each student, so that the expected learning emphasizes four growth areas for all students: becoming independent, life-long learners; utilizing essentials skills in current and future situations; strengthening personal character; and practicing active citizenship and concern for others.  One outcome is that Foothill has an award-winning Model United Nations team which has earned over 70 individual and 5 delegation awards, and has been distinguished as one of the best delegations in the entire East Bay.  Participants debate global politics, simulate diplomacy, and travel around the nation at Model UN conferences.

Its focus on good citizenship also involves Foothill’s involvement with Facing History and Ourselves.  Its English teachers use Facing History in teaching Eli Wiesel’s Night and the language of “upstanders and bystanders” to help the students’ understanding of these concepts.  Students also learn about the Holocaust in their World History classes, and an audience of approximately 250 ranging from 10th to 12th grade attended my presentation.  It was organized by English teacher Nadia Moshtagh and arranged by Language Arts Instructional Coach John Ribovich and Jack Weinstein of Facing History.  In attendance were also English teachers Michelle Garlit and Heather Fleming, Social Studies teacher Michelle Jurich and Librarian Patti Stein.  Photography was in the capable hands of Instructional Tech Coach Scott Padway took many of the photos including the 360 degrees panorama per this link: Spherical Image | RICOH THETA

53
72
| Leave a comment

Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA – April 21, 2016 (AM)

by George J Elbaum

Amador Valley High School (AVHS) has set a challenging question for its 2640 students to explore: “How will you A.I.D. your world?” wherein A stands for Academic Achievement, I for Innovative Thinking, and D for Demonstration of Civic Responsibility.  The school success in academic achievement is shown by being deemed a three-time California Distinguished School, a National School of Character, and a two-time National Blue Ribbon School.  The Daily Beast/Newsweek ranked Amador Valley High School 238th in its 2012 list of the 1,000 Best High Schools in America.  This success in academics is paralleled in AVHS’s extracurricular activities such as music, theater, and athletics, as well as the development of civic awareness and responsibility in its students.  In national competitions such as We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution, the Amador Valley team has ranked in the top four places 10 times in recent years, including 2006-2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014.  Eight of Amador Valley’s teachers—Mark Aubel, Debbie Emerson, Jon Grantham, Tom Hall, Debbie Harvey, Brian Ladd, Marla Silversmith, and Eric Thiel—have been recognized as a Pleasanton Unified School District teacher of the year.

In developing the students’ civic responsibility, an integral part of the school’s Sophomore English course includes a strong multi-week exploration of the Holocaust, its historical context and its literature, including Elie Wiesel’s Night.  To augment the Holocaust study, Teacher/Librarian Erik Scherer, Language Arts Instructional Coach John Ribovich and Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves organized my visit to AVHS.  Instructional Tech Coach Scott Padway took many of the photos.  The students were very well prepared, and this resulted after my talk in a long and very gratifying Q&A, a personal exchange with the students which is my favorite part of any presentation.

Because of the unusually strict rules by AVHS, only the 2 photos with 4 students (below) were allowed without special permission.  Missing are 2 photos of the whole audience taken face-on and 19 out of 21 photos of 45 enthusiastic students who joined me for individual or small group photos, expecting to see their photos on my website.   I very much hope that the special permission will be given to add the other 41 students’ photos to those below.

introduction by Jack Weinstein

introduction by Jack Weinstein

starting my talk

starting my talk

| Leave a comment