Natick High School, Natick, MA – March 28, 2023

by George J Elbaum

Natick High School is an urban/suburban public high school serving 1626 students in grades 9–12.  Per Public School Review, it rates in the top 10% in Massachusetts in overall academic performance in standardized test scores (Math and Reading/Language) and top 5% in Graduation Rate. 

 The school also has a strong arts program: in drama it produces two full-length plays each year; it has an award-winning speech and debate team that won the Massachusetts Forensic League State Championship and has had multiple state and national champions; its music program provides students with a rich selection of vocal and instrumental ensembles including Concert Choir and Symphonic Band that have won gold medals in state competition. 

This was my third presentation at Natick HS (also on 4/5/2019 and 5/5/2022), organized again by Social Studies teacher Justin Voldman for students from his Genocide and Human Rights class and from Child Development class of teacher Rebecca Pandolfo, who attended the session with her students and participated actively in the Q & A.  Also present were students from teacher Mackenzie Morgan’s Global Awareness class.  Good preparation of the students was evident by their thoughtful questions during an active Q & A, which is my favorite part of most talks.  

(Attending also was Justin Voldman’s father-in-law, Stephen Katz, who, as serendipity would have it, had been a pharmacist at the Community Hospitalin Forest Grove, OR, where I had lived and attended high school.)  

My talk was arranged by Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves.  

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Holocaust Center for Humanity Survivor Encyclopedia, Seattle, WA – March 10, 2023

by George J Elbaum

The Holocaust Center for Humanity Survivor Encyclopedia project features survivors and eye-witnesses who live or have lived in Washington State.  They challenge us to understand history through personal narrative – to see complex human beings behind the facts. Their stories inspire us to recognize human fragility and resilience and the difference that each one of us can make.

The Survivor Encyclopedia is an ongoing project, so new entries are continually being added.  Whereas I do not live in Washington State, my son does and therefore I’ve been a frequent visitor for 25 years.  In fact, it was on a visit to the Holocaust Center (under its previous name) in 2010 that I first learned the guiding principle for my talks: the audience should be old enough to understand, yet young enough to have an open mind.  It was also the Holocaust Center that arranged my very first talks in high schools (Seattle’s Alternative School No.1 and Tacoma’s Charles Wright Academy) in October 2010, and has been arranging my talks ever since for my visits to Seattle.  It was therefore not surprising that the Holocaust Center asked me to give my testimony for its Survivors Encyclopedia, and March 10, 2023 I experienced a 4-hour emotional roller coaster ride across my Holocaust childhood and the subsequent post-war years.  My gentle expert interviewer was Marcy Bloom, with Domenick Dellino providing the audio-visual recording.

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Sebastian Questa Elementary, Mountain House, CA – March 8, 2023

by George J Elbaum

Sebastian Questa Elementary is a public elementary school K-8 with current enrollment of 843 students of very high diversity: 43% Asian, 16% White, 14% Hispanic, 11% Filipino, 7% Black, and 9% all other.  The school’s academic performance is also very high, earning ratings of 9 (out of 10) for test scores: English 73% vs. 47% State Average, Math 67% vs. 33%, and Science 53% vs.29%.  Also high is the students’ participation in advanced courses (algebra) of 25% vs. <1% State Average.

My presentation was to 100 students in 8th grade English and History organized by ELA teacher Shannon Reed.  In preparation for the Holocaust study the students first completed a background project on Hitler and the progression of events leading to WWII. Then they did a comparative lesson on The Diary of Anne Frank play and her actual journal through the book. This was followed by a review of The Butterfly Project and research on the Nazi concentration camps. The students’ extensive reading was organized in a very efficient and effective way: the whole class read The Diary of Anne Frank and, in addition, they were organized into 7 groups with each group reading one of the following 7 books: Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary, Between Shades of Grey, Grenade, Prisoner B3087, The Boy on the Wooden Box, The Book Thief  and The War Outside.  Then each of the 7 group would make an oral presentation of the book they had read to the rest of the class. In addition, they reviewed the films Genocide and Anne Frank: Parallel Lives. 

In addition to Shannon Reed, the presentation was also attended by Principal George Vierra, Vice Principal Kimberly Clegg, and 8th grade teachers Louis Rivera and Erin Healy.  My talk was arranged by Sadie Simon, Education Program Manager, JFCS Holocaust Center, who introduced me and ably managed my PowerPoint.

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Twin Falls Middle School, North Bend, WA – February 27, 2023

by George J Elbaum

Twin Falls Middle School, located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains with an enrollment of 850 students in grades 6-8, considers its mission as being based on “Relationships, Rigor and Relevance” as a “professional learning community which provides instruction for all levels of learners.”  Twin Falls MS has a high academic record, with student proficiency in English of 76% vs. state average of 60%, in Math 77% vs. 50% state average, and in Science 72% vs. 52% state average.  This is reflected in its Great Schools’ overall rating of 7 out of 10 and 9 out of 10 for Test Scores.  School events which encourage learning include Distinguished Honor Recognition evening for parents and students, and participation in curricular fairs showcasing art, science, and social studies.  The Science Fair involved 100% of Twin Falls students.

Twin Falls MS is using materials and speakers from Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity to introduce its 8th grade students to the topic of the Holocaust, including reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank.  I believe this week was similar to the last week in January 2021 when all 8th grade students participated in one of 5 sessions, each with a different speaker from the Holocaust Center, and I was one of these speakers.  The 2021 program was organized by teacher Karen Waters, as was the current year’s program and my presentation on 2/27/2023.  However, after that date all my subsequent efforts to communicate with the school were unanswered, so unlike 2 years ago, this paragraph will remain unfinished. 

The Holocaust Center’s support for my presentation was provided by Lexi Jason, Education Program Manager, and technical support with Zoom and PowerPoint was provided by the Holocaust Center’s volunteer Jeff Greenberg. 

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Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – February 15, 2023

by George J Elbaum

Thornton High School is a public, alternative school with current attendance of 104 students, primarily in grades 11-12, of which 91% are minority and 45% are economically disadvantaged.  The school’s program is designed to provide the opportunity for its 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.

This was my fourth talk at Thornton and the second since Covid-19 constrained personal interaction, so regretfully it was once again via video.  As before, the talk was arranged and organized by English teacher Fernanda Morales for 11th and 12th grade students.  I very much hope that, despite my immuno-compromised condition, I will be able to return to Thornton next year in person rather than via video, and thus be able to interact directly with Fernanda and her students. 

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The Bay School, San Francisco, CA – February 13, 2023

by George J Elbaum

Founded in 2004, The Bay School (Bay) is an independent, coeducational college preparatory high school in the Presidio of San Francisco, and ranks among the top 20% of private schools in California.  With 374 students in grades 9 through 12, Bay balances challenging academics and innovative thinking with a mindful approach to learning and life – its goal is to see students unlock their individual and collective potential so they begin to realize their roles in a dynamic world.   Bay believes that a broad range of perspectives and experiences play a crucial role in achieving its educational mission, thus it intentionally recruits students and teachers from diverse cultural, racial, economic and geographic backgrounds.

Emphasizing depth of content, Bay’s curriculum focuses on problem solving, promotes critical thinking and encourages students to connect academic study with their extracurricular lives. Bay’s 9th and 10th grade courses build a broad foundation of basic skills, focusing on the relationships among traditional academic disciplines. Students’ interests and talents increasingly drive the academic program in 11th and 12th grade.

This was my 5th visit to The Bay School since April 2017, my first in-person presentation after 88 talks via Zoom since the start of the Covid pandemic, and it was again organized by Humanities teacher Hannah Wagner.  The audience of approximately 200 was comprised of 100 students in 10th-grade Humanities class plus 100 guests from the students’ families and the larger community.  The students will have recently studied the aftermath of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, and will follow my presentation with a two-month study of WWII and the Holocaust, including an in-depth look at how Hitler rose to power, the authoritarianism of the 1930s, and undertake WWII research projects, some of which involve learning about the Holocaust in depth through primary source analysis.   

My talk was arranged by Sadie Simon, Education Program Manager, JFCS Holocaust Center.

Letters from Students

Shortly after this visit to The Bay School, my first in-person presentation after 3 years of Covid and 88 talks via Zoom, I received a large envelope with 77 notes & letters from the students, including two drawings: one “thank you” that was striking in its elegant simplicity of stars and : ), and one sketch of me in the shed (see below after the photos).  However, a busy schedule kept me from reading these notes & letters for over a month till a couple days ago as together with my wife Mimi we read them all and excerpted those statements that truly resonated with us.  These excerpts are listed below.  I thank you, Bay students, for your notes & letters, your thoughts, and your “thank you’s” – they make me feel that I am making a difference.

  • I was reminded to live on my own terms.  In my short life I have had the misfortune of experiencing much pain.  Sometimes it’s difficult not to give up.  However, seeing you go through the worst there is, I feel hope.
  • Your strength and willingness to share about the Holocaust to the younger generation is very inspiring.
  • We all felt inspired by your resilience and perseverance, and see you as a role model for ambition and strength.
  • Your message about being an upstander was especially meaningful to me.
  • Thank you for visiting and for your vulnerability & powerful narrative.
  • I am a second generation immigrant and listening to your story helped me better understand the struggle of having to leave a place and start again.
  • Your words and stories of your first hand experiences painted a very human picture of the war.
  • I found myself very moved by your message of perseverance in the face of oppression.
  • I am gay, and even in San Francisco I have faced much hate.
  • Much like you, airplanes fascinate me and one day I would like to soar across the sky in one.
  • My great-grandparents died in the Holocaust, and my mom chose not to raise my brothers and me Jewish, so I never fully understood the trauma behind it and what they went through.
  • It is so easy to disconnect yourself from these events in the past and just simply view them as ancient history and plots for movies.  But to see someone who could easily have pictured myself to be, just in a different time period, was really amazing.  Thank you.
  • Thank you so much for sharing your journey.
  • In the future, I want to approach life the way you do, and continue living life to the fullest.
  • I struggle to stay positive, and I hope that when I feel down I can think of you and remember the beauty in life.
  •  I hope you continue to change lives.
  • I tend to be stuck in the past or the future, as well as a pessimist by nature, but what you talked about has helped give me a new outlook on how to deal with my own experiences.
  • I was especially touched by how you had to hide in silence away from family, as my great-grandmother had to do a similar thing.
  • The fact that you are willing to share your life’s story with people is incredible, and you have no idea how appreciative people are to hear you.
  • PS: I wish Covid wasn’t a thing so I could have given you a hug.
  • I was so impressed that even though you grew up in those conditions you could still have a good attitude about it, and I am so glad that all the people who said that you could never do anting with your life were so wrong.
  • (Re your baseball story) I know it’s embarrassing to be so sure of something and then to be wrong.  I think it’s funny to look back on moments like that.
  • Your entire story gave me hope for not only for my life but for humanity.
  • Thank you for allowing us to see a different perspective on these events, and for being more personal than a documentary or video.  I really felt connected.
  • I was especially struck by your mention of the sugar cube, and how something so small can have so much meaning.
  • I’ve read a lot and learned a lot about the Holocaust before, but hearing you tell us what it was like for you personally really gave me a better idea of how it was.
  • Your story really gave me a fresh view of the Holocaust, and it felt a lot more powerful and authentic hearing it from someone who was part of it.
  • Your optimism and passion made me feel empowered to continue to pursue my passions like animation and music.
  • I was inspired by how you chased your dreams of studying engineering and piloting.  It taught me to follow my dreams in life even if they seem unreachable.
  • You inspired me to continue working towards my goals and to never doubt myself.
  • Your story is ever so much more human than any Wikipedia article or history book I read.
  • I found your optimistic outlook on life extremely inspiring, and I loved the stories you told.
  • In my life I have touched what happened during the Holocaust though never this close, and I once again thank you for opening my mind to the more personal effects something like the Holocaust can have on a person.
  • It was so interesting and so powerful, and I know I learned so much.  You have so much wisdom and I’m glad we got to hear some of it.
  • I have learned about the Holocaust many times, but your story was the most personal and most memorable.  I also watched the Paperclips film and it was great.
  • I really appreciate that you’ve shared your story about 350 times.  I’m quite surprised you haven’t grown tired of speaking, but I’m glad you haven’t.
  • My entire family who remained in Europe (near Lviv) were killed by the Nazis and we knew very little what happened. It is always fascinating to hear others’ stories, as we can have a better idea of what could have happened to them.
  • I was struck by your mother’s resilience and love.
  • The part of the presentation where you asked the audience if they would theoretically take you in was incredibly thought-provoking and stuck with many people.
  • You taught me to believe in myself and to not take opportunities for granted.
  • I’m writing this on Friday as I am still thinking about your moving testimony.
  • My great-grandfather was in a similar situation as your mother, as he was only kept alive to make Nazi uniforms.
  • I really appreciated the message you gave us, to persevere and adapt through hardship, and to follow your dreams.  I will take your advice with me as I face challenges in my own life.
  • I was taken aback by your bravery and your mother’s determination.
  • I felt so inspired by your perseverance throughout your life and was moved by your mother’s sacrifice in order to keep you safe.  I learned so much in that short amount of time.  Thank you again!
  • I admire your ability to be an optimist, even in the darkest of times, and your ability to focus on today and not tomorrow.
  • I will probably remember your speech for the rest of my life.
  • I am going to try to live in the moment and avoid worrying about yesterdays and tomorrows. 
  • I wish you the best and I hope your wife will let you eat dessert for dinner 😊
  • Being Jewish myself I have ancestry that shares some of the things you experienced, however I never got to hear their stories first hand so I am truly grateful for your testimony.
  • I particularly enjoyed the lesson behind it that you need to focus on being for rather than against, and standing up for what is right.
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California High School, San Ramon, CA – February 3 and February 6, 2023

by George J Elbaum

California High School (CalHigh), San Ramon, CA, has current enrollment of 2942 students in grades 9 thru 12, of which 61.6% are minority and 6% economically disadvantaged.  Its academic record is excellent: while attaining a 4-year graduation rate of 99%, its 2022 US News/Best High Schools Rankings are #1049 Nationally, #149 California, and #30 San Francisco Bay area.  This is reflected by student scores of 77% Reading Proficiency vs. 60% state average, 61% Math vs. 30% state average, and 50% Science vs. 30% state average – an enviable record. CalHigh’s demographics are White 38.4%, Asian 39.7%, Hispanic 11.9%, two or more races 7.7%, and Black 1.9%.

My 2 presentations (February 3 and February 6) were to approximately 200 10th grade students in English and History who’ve been studying World History between the two World Wars and were organized by CalHigh teachers Regina Lyon and Ben Andersen.  The students’ preparations included reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and looking at art that came from survivors of the Holocaust.  Students also investigated artwork by survivors of other genocides to determine how art and language are used to describe an experience that is beyond the average human comprehension. 

Both events were organized by Regina Lyon and Ben Andersen and supported by CalHigh parent and guardian community donations.   My participation was arranged by Sadie Simon, Education Program Manager, and supported by Andrea Struve, Director of Education, JFCS Holocaust Center

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day – San Francisco, CA  January 27, 2023

by George J Elbaum

International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration was organized and presented by the JFCS Holocaust Center in partnership with the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, and the Consulates of Germany, Israel, and Luxembourg.  My testimony was introduced by California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (see below) and followed by ADL Regional Director Seth Brysk and California State Senator Scott Wiener.  My participation in today’s event was arranged by Sadie Simon, Education Program Manager of JFCS Holocaust Center 

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Riverdale Country School, Bronx, NY – January 25, 2023

by George J ELbaum

Riverdale Country School is a co-educational, independent, college-preparatory day school in New York City serving Pre-K through 12th grade.  It is located on two campuses covering more than 27.5 acres in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York.  It currently serves 1,150 students, of which 575 are in the Upper School (grades 9-12) and whose student-to- teacher ratio of 6:1 is half the national average of 13:1.  According to Niche’s 2023 Private School Rankings, Riverdale is ranked the 2nd best private high school in New York City and the 3rd best private K-12 school in the United States.

In addition to college-preparatory courses in math, science, and humanities, Riverdale offers “maker” programs that combine science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, as well as courses in robotics and coding, plus interdisciplinary courses to encourage students to draw connections across disciplines.

Alumni list includes John F Kennedy and Robert F Kennedy, as well as many other high-level diplomats, executives, well-known actors, artist and writers, such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Carly Simon.

My presentation was organized by Tom Taylor, Head of the Upper School, Julie Choi, Assistant Head of the Upper School, and Charlie Berger, a senior in the Upper School and a member of the Riverdale Assembly Committee, a group of students and faculty deputized to invite speakers for the school’s special assemblies, such as the Commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Charlie heard me speak several years ago in the NY middle school which he was attending and now took the initiative to contact me about speaking at Riverdale.  The audience was the 575 students plus 75 faculty and staff of the Upper School.

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Pacaso, San Francisco, CA – January 13, 2023

by George J Elbaum

Pacaso is a real estate company headquartered in San Francisco with most of its 180+  employees working remotely all across the US, Mexico and Europe.  Established in late 2020, it has grown rapidly to become the category leader by buying luxury homes and selling fractional ownership and management of these properties (rather than the traditional timeshares which are the rights to use a fixed amount of time in a condo).  Pacaso now operates properties in 40 locations.  As a fast-growing startup its staff is a diverse group of people – individuals from all walks of life including salespeople, lawyers, engineers, maintenance personnel, designers etc. – “with a common goal of making second home ownership possible and enjoyable for a wide range of people.” My talk was organized by Jacquie Hines, Pacaso’s Talent Manager, with express purpose to educate and broaden Pacaso’s staff by facilitating their knowledge of and communication with a wide range of people who could become Pacaso’s customers.  My talk via Zoom was arranged by Julia Thompson and Morgan Romero of Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity, with Jeff Grossman moderating and giving a thoughtful introduction.

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