College Park High School, Pleasant Hill, CA – April 21, 2021 via video

by George J Elbaum

College Park High School has a current enrollment of 2036 students of which 56% are minority and 26% are economically disadvantaged.  Despite these demographics, it is far above California state average of college and career readiness, such as student test scores (English 74% vs. 51% CA average and Math 48% vs. 40% CA average) and 97% graduation rate.  It is therefore rated 9/10 in college readiness and test scores by GreatSchools.org.

This presentation to College Park 10th-12th grade students was again organized by World History teacher Lauren Weaver, as she had done last year and in 2019.  Her students have studied WWII and the Holocaust, and were therefore aware of governmental persecution in Germany in the 1930s, including targeted boycotts, the Nuremberg Laws, planned stages of identification and separation in Ghettos, acts of violence such as Kiristallnacht, and eventual removal of Jews to concentration and death camps.   My presentation once again was via Zoom because of continuing Covid-19 restrictions, so my main contact with the students was via their typed-in questions but unfortunately no real-time feedback.  I missed that feedback and look forward to returning to College Park and Lauren Weaver’s class in person next year.

Arrangements for my talk at College Park were made again by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager of the JFCS Holocaust Center.

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Otay Ranch High School, Chula Vista, CA – April 19, 2021 via video

by George J Elbaum

Otay Ranch High School is a 4-year high school with somewhat unusual demographics: its 2372 student body is comprised of 59% Hispanic, 18% Filipino, 8% two or more races, 6% White, 5% Black, and 4% Asian.  Nevertheless, it has Great Schools Rating of 8/10 overall, College Readiness rating of 9/10, Equity 7/10, and Test Scores 8/10.  Its 4-year high school graduation rate is 97% vs. California state avg of 85%, and the percentage of graduates who meet UC/CSU entrance requirements is 65% vs CA state avg of 51%, and low-income (34% of students) are not far behind with 59% vs CA State avg is only 43%.  This is a remarkable academic performance.

This presentation was also organized by World History Teacher Robert Tilburg specifically for his other 10th grade class that missed my April 14th presentation.  As the other class, they also studied WW2 and included events prior to 1939 that discriminated against the Jewish population of Germany such as the Nuremberg race laws, Kristallnacht etc.  The students then studied the Holocaust for 3 weeks, including the flood of refugees to surrounding countries and the response of those countries, the establishments of Jewish ghettos and then the “Final Solution”.  Subsequent to my talk the students will analyze primary source text and images from the Holocaust and will also work on a research presentation in one of two areas: Jewish resistance to the Holocaust, or comparison of the Holocaust to other events of genocide in the world. 

The credit for introducing Robert Tilburg and me, and “incubating” this introduction into a successful presentation goes to Kael Sagheer, Education Coordinator of the Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) of Omaha, who recently organized my presentation at IHE’s Week of Understanding.

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The Achieve Program, San Francisco, CA – April 18, 2021

by George J Elbaum

The Achieve Program is a year-round, four-year high school scholarship and academic enrichment program for underserved students from low-income families.  By providing tuition grants plus quality educational and extensive individual support, Achieve increases the options and opportunities for its students, all of whom are selected based on demonstrated academic excellence and high motivation to change and improve their lives.

Currently, achieve serves 94 students and has a staff of six, including three educators, all dedicated to supporting and mentoring the students.  Although Achieve’s tuition grants enable students to attend private schools in the San Francisco Bay area, the most important aspect of the program is Achieve’s active support to students throughout their four years of high school.  Mentoring, tutoring, cultural excursions, summer internships, community service programs, extensive college counseling, and parent support are some of the services provided to ensure that Achieve students are informed, educated, service-minded, and well-prepared to succeed in college and beyond.  Achieve thus opens a world of possibilities for its students.

One of Achieve’s students, Mia, is also a participant in the JFCS Holocaust Center’s The Next Chapter program.  She attended my talk to The Next Chapter last month and, through the JFCS Holocaust Center, she invited me to speak to her community at Achieve.  Mia wrote, “I wanted to be able to share this wonderful experience with my other Achieve mates. I wanted to share (his) inspiring stories with all of them, to help them reflect on their own lives just like I have.”  Starting with Mia’s invitation, Achieve’s Sarah Jiménez and Penny Savryn, the Center’s Education & Marketing Manager, organized my talk.

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Otay Ranch High School, Chula Vista, CA – April 14, 2021 via video

by George J Elbaum

Otay Ranch High School is a 4-year high school with somewhat unusual demographics: its 2372 student body is comprised of 59% Hispanic, 18% Filipino, 8% two or more races, 6% White, 5% Black, and 4% Asian.  Nevertheless, it has Great Schools Rating of 8/10 overall, College Readiness rating of 9/10, Equity 7/10, and Test Scores 8/10.  Its 4-year high school graduation rate is 97% vs. California state avg of 85%, and the percentage of graduates who meet UC/CSU entrance requirements is 65% vs CA state avg of 51%, and low-income (34% of students) are not far behind with 59% vs CA State avg is only 43%.  This is a remarkable academic performance.

My presentation was organized by World History Teacher Robert Tilburg whose 10th grade class studied WW2 and included events prior to 1939 that discriminated against the Jewish population of Germany such as the Nuremberg race laws, Kristallnacht etc.  The students then studied the Holocaust for 3 weeks, including the flood of refugees to surrounding countries and the response of those countries, the establishments of Jewish ghettos and then the “Final Solution”.  Subsequent to my talk the students will analyze primary source text and images from the Holocaust and will also work on a research presentation in one of two areas: Jewish resistance to the Holocaust, or comparison of the Holocaust to other events of genocide in the world.  In addition to Robert Tilburg’s 10th graders my presentation was also attended by teachers Patti Heredia and Allie Sanders with their classes.

The credit for introducing Robert Tilburg and me, and “incubating” this introduction into a successful presentation goes to Kael Sagheer, Education Coordinator of the Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) of Omaha, who recently organized my presentation at IHE’s Week of Understanding.

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Jewish Family and Children’s Services, San Francisco, CA – April 8, 2021 Yom HaShoah via video

by George J Elbaum
My very first talk was on Yom HaShoah 11 years ago, April 10, 2010, organized by MIT Hillel at the Boston Holocaust Memorial. It was a painful experience, but immediately afterwards I was encouraged by the audience to “Keep doing this! Keep speaking so that your story is not forgotten.”, and today, 11 years later, this is my 293rd talk. It was organized by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager of the JFCS Holocaust Center with assistance from Shayna Dollinger and Aliza Mayer, both Pell University Fellows at the JFCS Holocaust Center, as part of the Center’s Yom HaShoah Days of Commemoration (see program below). The audience of this Zoom presentation included over 200 community participants from the Bay Area, New York, Canada, Oregon, Marbury Middle School in Alabama, as well as all of the middle-schoolers from Brandeis School of San Francisco.

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California High School, San Ramon, CA – March 29 & 30, 2021 (2 groups) via video

by George J Elbaum

California High School (CalHigh), San Ramon, CA, has an enrollment of 2777 students in grades 9 thru 12 and a truly excellent academic record: while attaining a 4-year graduation rate of 99% vs. state average of 85%, it did so while receiving Great Schools ratings of 10 for college readiness and 9 for test scores.  Its ACT college readiness rate is 88% vs. 55% state average, reflecting student proficiency of 77% in English vs. 55% state average and 61% in math vs. 40% state average – an enviable record of both, high student quantity and high quality.  Its demographics are White 44%,  Asian 31%, Hispanic 12%, two or more races 7%,  Filipino 4%. and Black 2%.  Such performance has been maintained over many years, such that CalHigh was ranked No. 250 in the top 500 US high schools by Newsweek in 2011, placing it within the top 1.5% of the over 18,000 high schools in the United States.

My 2 presentations (March 29 and March 30) were to approximately 140 10th grade students (and some of their family members) who have been studying World History between the two World Wars.  The students’ preparations included reading Art Spiegelman’s  Maus, watching The Lady in Number 6, and analyzing art of David Olere, a Polish-born French painter best known for his explicit drawings and paintings based on his experiences as a Jewish Sonderkommando inmate at Auschwitz.  This unusual use of Holocaust art is described by CalHigh teacher Regina Lyon as follows: ‘We always look at art in conjunction with literature in the course, and in this unit we talk about different ways of processing grief and trauma, and Olere’s art is our jumping off point for that conversation.”  This Holocaust unit is followed by one which addresses the question: “How can we empower ourselves and others to make positive social change”

The 2 events were organized by Regina Lyon and Hannah Cheng, who teach Global Studies English & History, and supported by Tucker Farrar, and the Cal High PTSA and Academic Boosters.  My participation and other arrangements were organized by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager of the JFCS Holocaust Center

1st group – March 29, 2021
2nd group – March 30, 2021
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The Bay School, San Francisco, CA – March 25, 2021 PM via video

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.  With almost 400 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 4th visit (albeit virtual due to Covid-19) to The Bay School, and it was again organized by Humanities teacher Hannah Wagner.  The online audience was approximately 90-100 students in 10th-grade Humanities class who have recently studied the aftermath of WWI, the Treaty of Versailles, and Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s.  Shortly after my talk all 10th graders will read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Finally, all students will undertake a WWII research project, some of which will involve learning about the Holocaust in depth through primary source analysis.  

My talk was arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager, JFCS Holocaust Center.

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Institute for Holocaust Education, Omaha, NE – Week of Understanding, Fremont High School – March 25, 2021 AM via video

by George J Elbaum 

The Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) of Omaha, NE, was established in 2001 with the mission to provide educational resources, workshops, survivor testimony, and integrated arts programming to middle and high school students. IHE’s annual Week of Understanding is in its 11th year and brings testimony of Holocaust survivors to over 7,000 students in Nebraska and Iowa each year. This year there are 6 survivor speakers and 27 schools participating.  Two of these schools to whose students I spoke are St. Mary’s Catholic School of Omaha on March 24 and Fremont High School of Fremont, NE, on March 25.

Fremont High School is located in Fremont, NE, a 30-minute drive west of Omaha, and has an enrollment of approximately 2,000 students in grades 9 thru 12.  This is the first year Fremont has participated in the Week of Understanding, facilitated by using Zoom, and I spoke to their entire student body and many of the staff. Fremont’s participation was organized by Ashley Bignell, English Teacher and Multicultural Club Sponsor.

My participation in Week of Understanding was arranged by Scott Littky, IHE’s Executive Director, and assisted by Kael Sagheer, IHE’s Education Coordinator.

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Institute for Holocaust Education, Omaha, NE – Week of Understanding, St. Mary’s Catholic School – March 24, 2021 via video

by George J Elbaum

The Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) of Omaha, NE, was established in 2001 with the mission to provide educational resources, workshops, survivor testimony, and integrated arts programming to middle and high school students. IHE’s annual Week of Understanding is in its 11th year and brings testimony of Holocaust survivors to over 7,000 students in Nebraska and Iowa each year. This year there are 6 survivor speakers and 27 schools participating.  Two of these schools to whose students I spoke are St. Mary’s Catholic School of Omaha on March 24 and Fremont High School of Fremont, NE, on March 25.

St. Mary’s Catholic School of the Archdiocese of Omaha has approximately 200 students in pre-Kindergarten thru the 8th grade, and it has participated in the Week of Understanding every year.  I spoke today to their 6-8th graders, as arranged by St. Mary’s teacher Carol Sheridan.

My participation in Week of Understanding was arranged by Scott Littky, IHE’s Executive Director, and assisted by Kael Sagheer, IHE’s Education Coordinator.

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Arroyo High School, San Lorenzo, CA – March 16, 2021 via video

by George J Elbaum

Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, across the bay from San Francisco, has a high diversity student body of approximately 1,800 students. It is organized into several “schools within a school,” and this is the 10th consecutive year that I have spoken to its 10th grade students studying the Holocaust.  This year was again via the internet and Zoom, with each student at their computer at home, because the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has still prevented in-school classes.  Looking at my web posts of pre-pandemic visits to Arroyo, with dozens & dozens of photos of students and remembering the brief but memorable chats with students & teachers, I look forward to a real rather than virtual visit to Arroyo next year.

This year’s virtual “visit” was again organized by teacher Jess Vaughn, as it was last April and several of my previous visits.  Participating now were approximately 80 students in 10th-grade English, who were reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and have studied background information about Hitler’s rise to power, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust.  They’ve also viewed a video about Jewish partisan resistance fighters.

As last year, I was again impressed by the quality of the students’ questions: they were perceptive, sensitive, and mature.  I view students’ questions as a reflection not only of the students themselves but also of the teaching, so it was obvious that Jess Vaughn prepared her class very well. 

The event was arranged by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator of the JFCS Holocaust Center.  Penny’s familiarity with my talk allowed her to “steer me back on track” seamlessly when I inattentively skipped over a couple parts of my usual talk.  Thank you, Penny!

Letters from Students

Ten days ago I received an email from teacher Jess Vaughn with letters from her students written after our March 16th presentation.  However, a very busy schedule kept me from reading these until yesterday, when together with my wife Mimi we read them all and excerpted those statements that truly resonated with us.  These excerpts are listed below.  Thank you very much for your letters, your thoughts, and your “thank you’s”.

  • Hearing your story really impacted me in a healing way, oddly. Hearing your story made me feel less alone because I know what it’s like to be moved from home to home. I am a foster child, and having to move and be relocated throughout childhood is a really hard thing to adapt to. And in a way, I was moved from each home for my safety, too.  And hopefully, me being able to relate on a small scale, will help you to feel a sense of healing, too. Your story is truly inspiring and motivates me to carry strength just like you!
  • I feel lucky that I was born in the time that war had ended and not go through the darkest time in life like you and your community.
  • Your story was very meaningful to me when you talked about the question if I would have taken a kid into my home just like how you were taken in, and I thought about it for a bit. It was amazing how kind those families were to take you in even though they knew having you in their household was risking their lives.
  •  Another part of your story that really impacted me was when you talked about only applying to MIT and getting in. You showed me that if I really worked hard for something that I wanted, it could be achieved.
  • What your mom did was really brave and smart. She was really courageous and smart and that really stood out to me.
  • Everything you said was truly inspiring and heartfelt. I’m really grateful for what you shared and hearing it firsthand.
  • My responsibility now to keep your story alive is to tell others who were not able to join the meeting what I learned from it and how things were back then. They will then realize how fortunate we are now.
  • When you were talking about your mother and your bond with her, it really touched me.  It makes me think about all the mothers that were separated from their children. It changed my view on life, I am incredibly lucky to be where I am. Thank you so much for sharing your story, I will never forget it.
  • Now, when I meet different people, I want to use your story as a guide to talk to people about what happened in the past. I think that it is important to keep this story because it is a part of our history and it is what made us who we are today.
  • The most inspiring phrase that I learned from you today was to stand with the people/things, not against them.
  • It’s people like you that inspire and motivate me to do something with my life. I get discouraged so easily over the small things, but listening to your story helped me realize that there are certain things I shouldn’t take for granted.
  • Unfortunately I have a sweet tooth, but that’s something we have in common.
  • Your story about your high school experience inspired me to raise my grades up and be able to do whatever I want, whether to be a mechanic or a real estate agent. I also learned that I can be doing badly in school and still do better if I study more.
  • I have faced many traumas in my life, my childhood, and I want to thank you for sharing your story because it showed the most important thing in the world is respect. Your story will forever stay with me and show what respect and kindness really are.
  • Your story has impacted me in so many ways. You often talked about luck and that is something you and I both can connect to because if it wasn’t for luck I wouldn’t be here either. We all have stories to tell and yours will forever be told through generations because it represents how kindness and respect can save lives.
  • One of the best things I have heard in my lifetime was by you: “The golden rule is a part of every religion.” I will pass this down forever as I remember the stories that you have passed on to me.
  • I like to learn about new things like your story. I also like to paint, write about my life, and cook.  I love them so much because my problems disappear and I only focus on these things.
  • Even through everything that happened, you moved on and that was inspiring to me. Now I know whatever I’m going through, I can move past it. Thank you for sharing your personal life.
  • You taught me that I should never let a bad event affect the way I am today and how I should never dwell in the past.
  • Your stories had a major impact on me because I can visualize how other people would feel who were tortured or suffered during Holocaust.
  • Something that really stuck out to me while listening to your story was the fact that this was all happening without your consciousness. Seeing it from your perspective like growing up thinking you’re just another Polish child and just being moved from house to house with no particular reason was so fascinating to me.
  • I love that you strive for positivity which is definitely something I will keep in mind for my present and my future.
  • When hearing your story all I could really think about is how hard it must have been to be a little boy and have everything taken from you almost in an instant and it is truly wonderful that you made it through that difficult time with no true aftereffects.
  • Thank you for allowing all of us to have this experience first-hand. The danger is never represented accurately through the textbooks we are given.  Hearing the story of your family gave me courage.
  • Hearing how close you were to death as a kid, hearing of the suffering you were too young to understand was saddening, but as someone who grew up sheltered, it gives me inspiration to think that even so young you were so strong.
  • Something that stuck out to me was the many Polish families that decided to help you. Although they knew how much trouble it would get them into, they still cared for you as they knew it was the right thing to do. It shows that even during terrible times, there are still people who stick to their morals and are there to help.
  • It is very inspiring how you still have a great attitude towards the world despite everything you went through. I have viewed life in a more positive way and am motivated to never give up.
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