Dougherty Valley High School, San Ramon, CA – November 17, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Dougherty Valley High School (DVHigh) was established in 2007, which explains its very apropos slogan “The Tradition Starts Now!”  In these 9 years its enrollment has grown rapidly from 570 students to approximately 3000 now.  Despite this rapid growth, it scored the highest Academic Performance Index in the San Ramon school district and the 27th highest in California, and was awarded a gold medal and ranked in the top 500 schools in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report – an impressive growth in both enrollment and ratings.

Two years ago I spoke at DVHigh to a class in the elective course Facing History: Holocaust and Human Behavior, and I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the students and their teacher, Dana Pattison.  This time, just walking into the classroom with Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, we were greeted with an enthusiastic applause by the students and Dana Pattison.   The classroom was decorated with students’ posters and drawings reflecting the course subject, plus a heart that read “Dana Pattison rocks!”, and some students plus Dana Pattison wore T-shirts emblazoned with “Dougherty Valley High School – Facing History and Ourselves”.  As before, the students were very well prepared, and even after the class ended I was approached and asked additional questions that were timed-out during the Q&A.  It was a very gratifying experience for me, arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who gave an excellent introduction.




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Licton Springs K-8 School, Seattle, WA – October 7, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Six years ago, almost to the day, I told my story for the first time to young students.  It was at Seattle’s Alternative School #1, the 7th & 8th grade classes of teacher Jo Cripps, and that talk is the very first post in this weblog.  Since then, Alternative School #1 had morphed into Pinehurst K-8 which in turn morphed into Licton Springs K-8 School in Seattle’s Broadview neighborhood.  I spoke there today, once again to 7th & 8th grade classes of teacher Jo Cripps!  In the intervening 6 years I have spoken at more than 100 venues, yet today’s event felt a bit like homecoming.

The stated mission of Licton Springs K-8 is to provide its students with “a creative, holistic, experiential learning environment which nurtures respect, self-discovery and integrity, preparing the whole child to engage our global community.”  To accomplish its mission, it uses “an alternative method of teaching that emphasizes hands-on learning, culturally responsive curriculum, and community engagement.”

Conscious of its Northwest location, the school emphasizes the area’s Native experience, culture, and history while serving a diverse, multicultural student community, and connecting learning in the classroom to real-world context.  Its curriculum is therefore “Native focused, honoring Northwest tribes and the diversity of Native people throughout the Americas, and includes social justice education, an individualized approach for different types of learners, frequent field trips and community speakers, and shared decision making.”

The same enthusiasm that teacher Jo Cripps transferred to her students 6 years ago was again visible today.  I was especially touched when signing autographs after my talk – the students wanted not only their notebooks signed but also hats, cell phones, arms, and even a forehead…a request which I negotiated downward to the boy’s forearm!  Assisting Jo Cripps was instructional assistant Muniba Mushtag.

Today’s talk was arranged by Julia Thompson of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.

Letters from students

We were away for several weeks, and a few weeks after we returned I received via Julia Thompson an envelope with notes and letters from Licton Springs students and a teacher.  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 and sensitivity 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.

  • I’m going to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do. I’m going to put your presentation in a deep place in my heart.  Thank you.
  • These are the actions I will take to make the world a better place. I will stand up for people who are bullied.  I will make sure everyone is treated fairly.  I will tell people your story and about the Holocaust so we can prevent another one.  I will pay attention to the world so I can learn more about the world we live in.
  • I’d read in books, memoirs, and biographies about the Holocaust, but you telling us personally about your experience somehow made it more real.
  • Hearing your story made me appreciate everything more, and made me realize that at any point it could be taken away.
  • I learned that sometimes people don’t believe things because they are scared to.  Next, I learned that we are all people with flaws, but our religion is not one of them.  You have given me some courage to tell my wild story.  Thank you.
  • Even with the bad luck you had, you also had incredible good luck that made you able to survive the Holocaust.  Your mom had wits, smarts, and skill, but you had luck, which still is very good.  You changed the way I look at the Holocaust and history, and you changed the way I will act!
  • From you I learned something big, and now I know what to do with my life. I will listen to my parents.  They are the true guides to surviving everything.
  • Your mom was a caring person. I never met her, but by your story I know what kind of person she was.  (I wish my mom was alive to read these words about her.)
  • Your story was exciting and sad and scary. I will never forget your story.  (Thank you for the fanciful drawing on the back of your note.)
  • Thank you for the 4 drawings on your note (including my book cover, and my mom & me in Paris)
  • It’s horrifying what you’ve gone through, being born into war, having to go into hiding your whole childhood.
  • When I grow up and have children, I will tell them your story. I will never forget it.
  • (From a teacher) It is upon our shoulders to avoid repeating the travesties of the past. It is upon us all to act, speak and live our lives with humanity, deep respect, and loving kindness towards one another and our Earth.
starting the talk, with teacher Jo Cripps on the right

starting the talk, with teacher Jo Cripps on the right


starting Q & A



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University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA – Sept. 29, 2016

by George Elbaum

This was my 3rd consecutive year speaking at the University of San Francisco (USF), a Jesuit Catholic university.  Founded in 1855, USF was the city’s first university, and it is the third oldest institution for higher learning in California.  Its student body numbers approximately 10,000, with 63% undergraduates and 37% postgraduates, and its faculty numbers approximately 1,000, of which 41% are full-time and 59% are part-time, or adjunct.  Religious and spiritual organizations on campus include the Muslim Student Union, the USF chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the USF Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

My talk at USF this year was for students in an undergraduate course entitled Modern Jewish Thought: The Jewish American Experience Through Graphic Novels, which is one of the selective subjects in USF’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies.   It was organized by its teacher Oren Kroll-Zeldin, Adjunct Professor in the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice and Director of Beyond Bridges: Israel-Palestine.  It was arranged by Nikki Bambauer of the Jewish Family and Childrens’ Services.




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Charles Wright Academy, Tacoma, WA – September 26, 2016

by George J Elbaum

This was the seventh consecutive year that I spoke at Charles Wright Academy (CWA) Global Summit, which this year consisted of the 75 students of the CWA freshman class plus 34 high school students and 8 teachers from China, Colombia, England and Poland, the visitors staying with CWA host families during their visit, as usual.  The annual Global Summit is a 10-day program designed to promote peace and social justice by exposing the visiting students to and developing their understanding of the concepts of universal human rights and justice, fair trade and sustainable life styles, and by demonstrating how the choices that each of us makes every day can impact the world. The core of the Summit is a series of speakers whose personal experiences reflect directly on these subjects, and their presentations are followed by group discussions on these very concepts. My presentation was the first time that most of these students heard directly from a Holocaust survivor, and their subsequent questions were very interesting and thought-provoking, some asked of me for the first time in the 100+ talks I have given.

This year’s Global Summit was organized and managed by Ann Vogel, CWA’s International Student Coordinator, whose son had graduated from CWA and her daughter is currently a CWA student.  Ann was assisted by teachers Laryssa Schmidt, Christine Telal and Tom Cramer and students Piper, Sarah, Emma, and Alexys.




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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.


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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.
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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.)

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