Fenway High School, Boston, MA – Dec 2, 2010 afternoon

By George J Elbaum

Fenway High School is a unique Pilot school next to Boston’s Fenway ballpark.  Its stated mission is to create a socially committed and morally responsible community of learners, and its slogan is: “Work Hard.  Be Yourself.  Do the Right Thing.”  One of Fenway’s unique and key features is its humanities curriculum, which rather than using the traditional chronological format is taught instead as an interdisciplinary course on a 4-year cycle, with each year focused on an essential question that frames that year’s inquiry: 1) Who built America? 2) How do we govern ourselves? 3) What does it mean to be human? 4) How do you do the right thing in the face of injustice?  Another unique feature is how well this academic approach works, and works very well: student test scores, graduation rates and college admissions data are all above Boston and the state averages, and even more above other schools of similar demographics.   

My presentation, arranged by Jan Darsa and Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves, was to the 9th grade class of humanities teacher Meredith Hubbell, imaginative, empathetic, and focused on students’ active involvement: one pair of students met us at the front lobby and escorted us into the classroom, another pair presented me with a great gift (Fenway HS coffee cup!) after my talk, and a third pair escorted us out.  The next day she had the class discuss how the presentation impacted them personally and asked the students to reflect on the following: 1) What did you learn?  2) What will you remember? 3) What will you share?  The students’ responses, shown below, speak for themselves.

With student greeters


Welcome by teacher Meredith Hubbell

Headmaster Peggy Kemp, teachers, and guests

Thanks for a great memento: Fenway HS cup

Smiles all around

What did you learn?
How the Nazis attacked people.
How he survived.
Jews weren’t the only people the Nazis killed.
Some Jews found safe places to hide from the Nazis.
That he didn’t call himself a hero.
That you should appreciate what you have.
There were people in the ghetto who tried to fight even with no experience.
That there were some good people who helped Jews survive the Holocaust. 
I learned that people have stories to tell and it’s good to listen to them.
I learned how difficult it was for him and his mother.  He was very lucky, and that he is a strong man.
How bad life was back then and how it is best to remember the good stuff.
I learned what his mother had been through and had seen a lot of things no one should see.
How important it is that everyone has a story to define who they are.
I learned to appreciate what I have in United States because not many people have the chances we do.
I learned that even though it may hurt, it is good to share your story with the world.
What will you remember?
I will remember how many times he was away from his parents.
I will remember that 10 of his family members were killed by the Nazis.
I will remember everything.  Also how for every falling star a person died and he thought of his Dad.
I will remember how heartless the Nazis were.
I will remember what George went through growing up during the Holocaust and how lucky he is to still be alive.  I will also remember how hard it was for his Mom to work and keep him in a nice family.
I will remember from his story how there were so many instances where  he could have died, but he managed to survive.
I will remember when the German soldier looked at him and he wasn’t scared – he continued eating his soup.
I will always remember how emotional he got when he mentioned his father. 
I will remember when I walked him out.
I will remember how he said that he thought his father could have been a falling star and how he thought of his father a lot.  I can kind of connect to that in a way, so it will always stay in my mind.
Six million Jews died.
When he threw the bomb over his shoulder and it landed in a ditch.
Times were very had for all who lived at the time.
Everything, and the sadness he felt.
What will you share?
I will share everything that happened in class, especially about his father.
I will share his book and his story.
My memories of his emotion, his mood, and how it changed throughout his talking.
That he was lucky enough to throw the bomb over his shoulder, which then exploded.
I will share everything.
I will share the great experience I had hearing someone’s story from the Holocaust and what it meant to me.  I will share that I got to introduce someone I revere.
I will share my story as well as his story because it has influenced me deeply.
I will share that I met a Holocaust survivor.
I am going to share that some people did escape, although 6 million Jews died – 2/3 of Jews were killed.
I will share that he called himself lucky and not a hero and that he got through because of luck.
I will share his story with others and let them know how someone survived the Holocaust.
About a week after my visit I received a touching “thank you” note from teacher Meredith Hubbel together with letters from her 9th grade students.  I was truly moved by these letters, and their most memorable phrases are excerpted below.
  • I have never thought about the Holocaust and honestly I really didn’t care about what had happened… but I decided to listen to your story and I learned a lot.  I learned that there isn’t only one type of racism, “blacks and whites.”  I realized how painful it was to be alive during the Holocaust.  You can change the world by telling your side of the story.  I know you changed my perspective.  Thank you for visiting.
  • I understand what & how you feel about your past and at first not wanting to talk about it.  I can connect, since I have grown up through some hard times as well.
  • With my family I hope to share your story.  You inspired me to not give up on anything.
  • You made me feel very inspired to share my story and to pass on yours.
  • One of my friends was killed and I had a very hard time dealing with it, so I can’t even imagine what I would do if 10 of my family members were killed, as yours were.
  • I learned that at any time a German soldier could barge in and force you out of your house and into a concentration camp.  Your life can change in a blink of an eye and you can’t do anything about it.
  • Learning about the Holocaust was something new to me, and I learned that everything you have you should appreciate. 
  • I really appreciate your telling us your story because this helps me value the life I have.
  • A person can be sitting next to you with a big important story without your knowing it, so you cannot judge someone right away.
  • I know how hard it could be to talk about something that had a huge impact and changed your life because I just got out of something tragic in my life.  From you I learned it’s OK to share your story.  I was always scared to share what I witnessed and for so long and until this day it’s been hard for me to talk about it.  From you I realized everyone does have a story that makes them the person they are today, and sharing stories makes an impact on the people around you.  
  • I wish that all the things that happened to you didn’t really happen, and that it was all a nightmare.
  • In the future you and every other Holocaust survivor will pass.  Then there will only be stories and books, but nobody to speak personally about them as you did to our class.

About gelbaum

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