Lowell High School, San Francisco, CA – March 18, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Lowell High School is a public magnet school which opened in 1856 and is the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi.  With enrollment of approximately 2,600 students (57% Asian, 15% White, 10% Hispanic, 8% Filipino, and 10% all other) it is one of only two public schools in San Francisco that is permitted to admit only students who meet special admission requirements.  The Lowell admission process is competitive and based on a combination of standardized test scores, GPA, a writing sample, and extracurricular activities.  As a result, its students’ test scores have historically ranked among the Top 10 Public Schools in California.  (Recent SAT scores: Critical Reading 595 vs. 495 CA average; Writing 594 vs. 484 CA avg., Math 636 vs. 500 CA avg.)  Lowell was therefore named a California Distinguished School 7 times, National Blue Ribbon School 4 times, and is currently ranked 96th by U.S. News & World Report in its “Best High Schools in America” for 2018, making it the 2nd highest ranking school in California with over 2,000 students.  Lowell was also ranked 49th by Newsweek‘s America’s Best High Schools 2012 list and 66th by Newsweek’s 2013 list.

In addition to its stellar academic performance, Lowell has one of the most active student bodies in San Francisco, with over 84 academic organizations, athletic teams and student interest clubs.  In athletics,  Lowell has competitive teams in 17 sports plus cheerleading, and these teams claim more city championships than any other public high school in San Francisco.

My talk was part of the World War II unit of the Modern World History Class taken by mostly freshman, and occasionally sophomore students.  For a couple of the teachers, the talk also served as a kick-off for a class project where students went home and interviewed their own family members about the family history related to conflicts which have occurred in the 20th century.  For the majority of the Modern World History students the talk served as a potent illustration that history is about the lives of real people and that the choices which individuals make have long repercussions in the lives of others.

My talk was organized by Modern World History teacher Erin Hanlon, with an introduction by Modern World History teacher Lauretta Komlos.  Attending it also were teachers Amanda Klein, Jason Tuason, Ana Rosa Maldonado-Silva, and Kay Crisman-Petrini. and it was arranged by Brian Fong of Facing History and Ourselves.

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JFCS Day of Learning, San Francisco, CA – March 17, 2019

by George J Elbaum

The Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) has organized an annual Day of Learning since 2003, inviting students and educators from schools throughout California to participate in numerous workshops to gain a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and patterns of genocide, and to inspire moral courage and social responsibility in the future.  This year’s program included separate workshops for students and for educators, each led by a faculty member and each concluding with an eyewitness testimony by a survivor of the Holocaust or genocide. This year’s Day of Learning was held again at San Francisco’s Galileo High School, with 600 students and 100 educators participating, the students in one of 15 workshops and the educators in one of 3.  My presentation was to 30 students in a workshop led by JFCS’s Stevie Greenwell.

JFCS’s Penny Sevryn arranged my presentations as well as being one of the organizers of the event, and JFCS volunteer JoBeth Walt was my on-site guide, ensuring that I found the right room for my presentation and, afterwards, the tunnel to Galileo’s parking lot.


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Bowditch Middle School, Foster City, CA – March 14, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Bowditch Middle School has an enrollment of approximately 1100 students in 6-8th grades and prides itself in being a “diverse community of learners, languages and cultures.”  The student body is currently 53% Asian, 29% White, 8% Hispanic, 8% two or more races, and 1% each Black and Hawaiian Native-Pacific Islander.  To serve its diverse student body Bowditch offers a variety of options for various learning styles.  Starting with the core subjects of English Language Arts, Math/Science and Social Studies, the school offers English/Reading Support, Math Support, and accelerated Math, plus a full palette of electives including Art, Astronomy, Choir, Computer Science, Creative Writing, Drama, Journalism, etc.

Bowditch’s success in academics is shown in its Great Schools’ overall rating of 9/10, with a very impressive 10/10 in Academic Test Scores: proficiency in Math 78% vs state average 39%, and in English 81% vs 50% state average. In advanced STEM course Algebra 1, its participation is 51% vs state average 25%, and pass rate 97% vs state average 79%.

The audience at my talk was 330 mostly 8th graders enrolled in a unit of English Language Arts curriculum entitled Finding the Light in the Darkness/The Challenge to Make a Difference.  Students  started this unit by searching the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website for topics to explore, reading passages from Night and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, also scholastic articles on people who resisted Hitler, plus an independent book related to the theme of the unit.  The broader themes on which they focused included ethics, perseverance, difficulty of noticing warning signs, all leading to selecting and doing their own multimedia project on subject of personal interest.  The students’ preparation was especially impressive for 8th grade level, and it became evident in their excellent questions during the Q&A, and even more so after the Q&A with several small groups of students who remained to continue our discussions.

My talk was organized at Bowditch by Jasmine Amar, Language Arts & Social Studies teacher, with active participation of Heather Morgan, the school’s Principal.  Attending also was Assistant Principal Caleb Bowers.  The talk was arranged by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator at the Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center.


Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA – March 12, 2019

by George J Elbaum

This is the third year of The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) program of student tours organized around a current exhibit and paired with talks by Holocaust survivors arranged by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS).  These talks offer the students a unique opportunity to connect art, architecture, and history, to humanize historical events and cultivate empathy and to strengthen links between past and present, and it is the 5th time that I have spoken as part of this program.

The CJM current tour and talk, Resilience, Holocaust, and the Architecture of Life, asks the question: “How do we move forward from the past while vowing to never forget?”  The architecture of The CJM is a testament to history and resilience: it is a celebration of life and strength designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, a child of Holocaust survivors, with deeply embedded Jewish symbolism and meaning.  A first-hand testimony by a Holocaust survivor (me on this day) is at the heart of this 2 ½ hour Museum experience, which includes an exploration of the symbolism of The CJM’s architecture through the lens of resilience and artistic reflection as well as a gallery experience and an art workshop.

Today’s participants were 10th grade students from the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA, led by teacher Ekta Shah.  Before my talk, The CJM’s educators led the students on an exploration of the new exhibition Show Me as I Want to Be Seen focusing on the photos of Holocaust resistance fighters Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. Today’s event was organized by Cara Buchalter, CJM School Programs Manager, who, prior to introducing me, engaged the students in an excellent dialogue on the meaning of social resistance and encouraged them to speak up and resist when faced with prejudice and injustice in our society.  Luz Brown, CJM Technician, managed the audio-visuals of my presentation including 2 recalcitrant projection screens 😊 and took all the photos (below).  My participation was arranged last December by JFCS’s Program Coordinator, Adrian Schrek and Penny Savryn.  Attending also were Lisa Rosenberg, Ron Glait, Tamara Suarez-Porras, and Suzanne Reich—CJM Educators, plus Quarry Lane teachers Lance Miller, Ron Bialkowski and Marcelo Aranda.

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Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – March 1, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Thornton High School is a public, alternative school with current attendance of 121 students, primarily in grades 11-12, and its continuation program is designed to provide the opportunity for students to earn academic credits and meet the requirements for a high school diploma.  In a broader sense, Thornton’s mission is to build an educational community which would reintegrate at-promise students into educational, social and community activities and to develop feelings of self-worth, tolerance and community awareness, thus becoming productive and responsible citizens.  To foster community involvement, for example, students must complete at least 75 hours of community service and earn elective credits.  Students are referred to Thornton for a variety of reasons; each has his or her own story on what obstacle(s) got in the way of staying on credit track to graduate on time. With collaboration between the students themselves, families, staff, and community, the majority thrive at Thornton and earn enough credits to graduate on time. Several even end up graduating early, helped by smaller class sizes, increased teacher-student-family contact, individualized instruction, and the ability to earn credit in a variety of ways.

My presentation was organized by English teacher Fernanda Morales for 11th and 12th grade students, and she preceded my talk by leading the students in reciting the Daily Affirmation (see photos below).  Attending my talk were also Karla Talkoff, Guidance Counselor, Ki Gaines, Social Worker, and Thornton’s Principal, Dennie Marenco.  Arrangements for the event were made by Adrian Schrek, Director of Educator Development at the Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

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Antioch High School, Antioch, CA – February 25, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Antioch High School has enrollment of 1947 students of high diversity: 48% Hispanic, 22% White, 20% Black, 3% Filipino, 4% all others, and 73% of the total are from low-income families.  Its teaching staff is 83 full-time teachers of which 91% have 3 or more years of experience.  The school’s academic program is divided into 4 Academies: Engineering and Designing a Greener Environment (EDGE), Environmental Studies, Leadership and Public Service (LEAD), and Media-Technology.

My talk at Antioch HS this year was to the 10th grade students organized by English teachers Lynn Romano and Selena Laine as part of their study of Eli Wiesel’s Night, in conjunction with the documentary film Paperclips.  Both Environmental Studies and EDGE academies collaborated to create a meaningful and lasting learning experience for each student. Mrs. Romano and Mrs. Laine both felt that students would be able to better understand the Holocaust through the lens of multiple survivors.

Attending my talk were also Vice Principal Mike Flosi, who gave a heartfelt add-on to my talk, emphasizing the importance of fairness and tolerance in our behavior (the Golden Rule), plus Dr. David House and Vice Principal Karen Clark.

Arrangements for my participation were made by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves.

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Pacifica-Daly City Democrats Club, Pacifica, CA – February 16, 2019

George J Elbaum

Pacifica-Daly City Democrats Club – It started with a Letter to the Editor which I sent to the San Francisco Chronicle.  It was published January 6, 2019 (photo below) and read subsequently by Connie Menefee, the Club’s President.  A week later she emailed me and invited me on behalf of the Club’s Executive Board to speak at their next monthly meeting.  I informed her that I speak primarily to high school audiences because the students are “old enough to understand, yet young enough to have an open mind,” and learning that, she took the initiative to arrange the 10th grade enriched English class of Pacifica’s Terra Nova High School to attend my talk, even though the Club’s meeting would be on a Saturday morning.  The meeting’s venue at the Sharp Park Golf Course Restaurant and a student-discounted breakfast might have clinched the deal with Alyssa Jenkins, Head of Terra Nova’s English Department.  While Ms. Jenkins could not attend, 40 of her students arrived as scheduled, accompanied by Janet Pon, mother of two of the students.

After ending my talk, two situations occurred that surprised me.  During the Q&A, several of the club members, some my age and some older, stood up and offered their own Holocaust-related memories. One spoke of his father, a tough US Army sergeant in WWII who was fluent in German, served as a translator for Gen. George Patton during Patton’s visit to a just-liberated concentration camp, and the horrors they saw during that visit haunted him for the rest of his life.  Another member, in his 90s, described receiving a post card from a relative in Lithuania shortly before the Nazis overran it, and sadly, no communication thereafter.

A pleasant surprise afterwards was that Connie Menefee and I are both aviation buffs, which led to a very enjoyable discussion.  It started because Connie’s email address includes the names of 2 great airliners, and led to her father who owned and flew several unique and/or antique airplanes, and whose obituary was titled “The Man Who Loved to Fly.” When she identified these airplanes I asked for photos, and 2 of them are shown below.

In organizing this event, Connie (who also took the event’s photos) was ably supported by her husband, Mike Haase, Club “publicist” James Crow, and Pacifica Rotarian, Tom Turek, who provided audio-visual support for the program.  Also attending it were Club Officers, Pacifica City Council members, San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley and Pacifica Tribune Editor & Publisher, Sherman Frederick.

Emails from the Audience 

Shortly after my talk I received several emails from the audience, which I much appreciated.  Below are two excerpts from these emails.

  • Your mother was an amazing woman.  Her cleverness in buying goods that could always be sold in an emergency, being able to shuttle you around to different families to survive, managing to move to America.  Brings a tear to my eye.
  • You have devoted your life to display the evil of hatred & to educate us on how to stop it. You inspire us to do the right thing & not tolerate hatred or prejudice. It’s imperative that “Never Again” resonates with all of humanity.

students from Terra Nova High School

after talk, students from Terra Nova High School