by George J Elbaum
St. Luke School teaches more than 330 students in K-8 grades based on the belief that “quality Catholic education teaches the whole child spiritually, emotionally, academically and socially.” The eighth grade Social Studies Curriculum, organized and taught by Rosemary Conroy, is very intensive as it covers both U.S. history and Washington State history, geography, economics, politics, and current events. The curriculum highlights the formative periods of U.S. history: the Revolutionary War, development of the Constitution & Bill of Rights, Civil War, WWI and WWII, including an in-depth look at the Holocaust. Where possible, Ms. Conroy invites outside speakers who witnessed first-hand the events being studied, and the past year has included speakers on the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Nisei relocation program, WWII POW camps and the Tuskegee Airmen. I spoke to 40 of Ms. Conroy’s 8th grade students, and afterwards I received a totally-unexpected and wonderful gift: an old-fashioned red tricycle similar to the one I received 70 years ago on my 3rd birthday, as described in my book. It is shown in some of the photos below. It was truly a wonderful surprise, so I immediately had to try riding it. (Thank you, Rosemary!) The event was arranged by Janna Charles of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center (WSHERC).
LETTERS FROM STUDENTS, ETC.
The day after my talk at St. Luke School I met teacher Rosemary Conroy again at WSHERC’s 7th Annual Voices for Humanity Luncheon, and she gave me a large manila envelope saying it contains letters from her students written shortly after my talk. It did indeed, 40-some letters, some short, some long, but all heartfelt and touching. Short excerpts from most of these letters that particularly resonated with me are listed below, including the first one from Rosemary herself.
- My job as an educator is to touch both the mind and the heart of each student. You did that today by telling your story with honesty, compassion, and a sense of humor.
- Learning about the Holocaust from a survivor’s point of view really opened my eyes. Since today was my birthday, it seemed like a birthday present a bit.
- You taught me the importance of tolerance.
- I was moved by the kindness of strangers, saddened by the loss of so many people, and outraged at the wrong that was done to so many. … I really enjoyed the part about the Russian soldier and the sugar cube. I also have a sweet tooth, so the story was extra “sweet: to me! Your new friend
- A story like yours really makes me think about how lucky my friends and I really are.
- It was very meaningful to me to learn history from a survivor. Your new friend
- You gave us the life lessons you’ve taken from your experiences. Thank you for giving me a new way of looking at life, to never look back and not let bad experiences keep me from doing amazing things. Good luck with speaking to other schools, and I sincerely hope they learn what I did from hearing you speak today.
- I also learned that when I see bullying I need to stand up and stop it, and I learned to appreciate each day. Thank you for coming – you really taught me a lot!
- From your story I knew the importance of family and how lucky I am to be in a safe environment.
- You reminded me of the importance of family and how strong love can be.
- When people like you tell your stories, it gives everybody an appreciation for human life.
- You showed me to not take anything for granted.
- I learned many things from you, mainly not to dwell on sorrowful things.
- Your story gives courage and thought to many people and me. Germany and Holocaust gave you pain but the sugar cube cured your mind and it made you happy. Your new friend
- I learned a few things from you, things like speaking up if you see hatred and racism.
- You have really helped broaden my view on the Holocaust and its survivors, how it effected people after the war and changed their lives.
- You made me realize how fortunate I am to live in a safe place. … My favorite part was to see the big smile on your face when we brought out the tricycle. I’m so glad I got to met you.
- I hope you enjoy your brand new red tricycle. …. God bless you and your wife.
- I hope you continue to speak so others my age can learn to rid the world of those evils.
- The thing I thought most about was my grandfather, who escaped Hungary by pretending to be dead. I am glad you came today.
- I will never forget your story because it is truly a gift to hear from a survivor.
- I felt saddened when you talked about your family and all the shooting stars, and especially about the people who didn’t believe that the Holocaust really happened. I’m grateful to be safe and to live where I do.