Central Catholic High School, Lawrence, MA – Nov 29, 2011 PM

by George J Elbaum

Founded by the Marist Brothers in 1935, Central Catholic High School enrolls approximately 1,300 students from diverse backgrounds “to form a caring community of faith, learning, and service.” The school prepares its students for college which they enter in overwhelming numbers (nearly 100%), and simultaneously “it teaches and promotes social justice and compassion to make the world a better place.”  To this purpose the school has just launched a one-semester elective course “Facing History & Ourselves: The Holocaust & Human Behavior” in its Religious Studies Department.  As taught by teacher Tim Hart, the students explore the history, causes, and aftermath of the Holocaust and reflect on racism, social justice, the importance of global awareness and their own potential for making a difference.  Tim’s class of 50 seniors attended my presentation, which was arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.  Also in attendance were Brother Tom Long, the school’s President; Jeanne Burns, Vice Principal; Brother Rene Roy, Director of Mission Effectiveness; and David DeFillippo, Director of Community Relations. The overall atmosphere was very welcoming and the students well prepared and very enthusiastic – a real pleasure.

LETTERS FROM STUDENTS, ETC.

Two weeks after my talk at Central Catholic High School the late afternoon mail brought a large envelope with 4 dozen letters from the students, including some hand made & decorated cards, and a very kind note from teacher Tim Hart.  After dinner, my wife Mimi and I read them together at the dinner table.  We were truly touched by the perceptive understanding and deep feeling shown in these letters, and Mimi commented that it surely reflected both the teaching efforts of Mr. Hart and the active participation of the school’s administration present at the talk.  Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us are listed below.

  • We have been learning all about the Holocaust and have read excerpts and studied it in detail, but it was different hearing it from someone who lived through it.  I believe 100% that you lived through it so you could change my life and also hundreds of other kids.  I’ll always remember why you named your book by its title because it hurt too much to think about yesterday and tomorrow scared you, so right now this very moment was the place to be.  I can only hope that one day I can be as courageous and beautiful as your mother.
  • Taking this course and reading the stories of other survivors’ experiences opened my eyes to how it happened.  But now that I listened to you speak in person, I know that the duty of my generation and future generations is to prevent something like the Holocaust from ever happening again.
  • Your story made me realize how lucky I really am.  It made me go home and tell my mother that I love her.
  • Thank you for being the topic of discussion at my family’s dinner table that night.  I passed on your stories to my family who also found them inspiring.
  • Your point that we should be for something, not anti-something, struck a chord in me.
  • Your words “To be good you have to be for something” stood out to me and have stuck with me since you spoke to us.  It’s something to live by.
  • I learned things from you that I hope someday to teach my children, that we should never be just anti-anything.  To be against something isn’t a belief, but to be for something is a movement and a love. 
  • I enjoyed your answer concerning your faith.  It amazed me how you were born a Jew, raised a Catholic, stripped of religion completely, and yet you still have the strength to have faith in something.
  • I loved your quote that “I have no organized religion but I have faith” because I love how faith gives us something to hold onto.
  • What stuck out for me is when you said that you don’t have a religion but you have a faith.  To me these words are true.  Many times we get caught up in the upkeep and rituals of religion and we forget the faith and the golden rule to treat everyone in a positive and kind way.  I really think that the golden rule is the best way to live.
  • I know that being able to listen to someone’s personal story of the Holocaust won’t be available to future generations.  I hope to be able to inform the next generation so the memory of that time in history is never lost.
  • The world made a promise to never again stand by as a Holocaust occurred and they are breaking their promise.
  • … most importantly, value the time we have today 🙂
  • Moving on from the past and not worrying about the uncertainties of the future is an incredible outlook on life.  After hearing you speak, I realize that everyone should focus on the present because it is a gift.
  • Your talk is changing my outlook on life.  The idea of neither yesterday nor tomorrow is so inspiring.  Living in the present is very hard to do, but I’m going to try and do it.
  • You challenged us to face the facts of the past, traumatic as they might be, in order to prevent them from happening in the future.  We will internalize this message and apply it to our futures, thanks to you.
  • I always hear about the Holocaust stories from survivors on TV, but hearing it from someone in person, such as you, gave me a whole new understanding of what the Holocaust truly was.
  • I can’t say that I went through what you and your mother did, but I can understand to an extent what it is to be discriminated against simply because of my race.
  • I realized throughout your talk that responsibility of passing on the stories sits on the shoulders of my generation.
  • It was the first time that I heard someone’s story in person.  It made a huge difference from just reading someone’s experiences in a book.
  • By talking about your life you encourage others to value what they have.  Although you explained a few times that you survived by pure luck, I believe it was fate.
  • You told us that some people do not believe that the Holocaust occurred, or they do not want to believe it.  After hearing your story I don’t comprehend how anyone can actually think it did not happen.
  • It takes a lot of strength to stand in front of an audience and open yourself to them.  You have faith in the audience and think optimistically of them, even though you know that you may encounter ignorance and disbelief.
  • I can’t imagine the frustration you feel when someone denies the occurrence of the Holocaust.  It is absolutely absurd to think that something so tragic and wicked did not happen.  Shame on those disbelievers.
  • I especially admire your mother, she reminds me of my own: very loving, protective and smart.  She must have been an extraordinary woman to be able to escape something impossible to escape.
  • I learned that if you are set on doing something, you can do it.
  • Your entire speech made me really value my life and made me learn how to embrace the simple things a lot more than I thought I ever could.  Thank you so much again, for everything.
  • Your story made the Holocaust real for me; I have only read & seen pictures but meeting you brought up a lot of feelings & more passion to help make sure nothing like this happens again.
  • Unfortunately I was absent the day you came to my school.  Usually I don’t mind missing school but I truly regret missing the day you came because all anyone could talk about for days following your visit was your story – it touched so many of my classmates. 

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