by George J Elbaum
I first spoke at St. Luke School almost 3 years ago (November 7, 2011), and I truly looked forward to returning. My key memories were of a very enthusiastic teacher, Rosemary Conroy, and her 8th grade students who reflected her enthusiasm, and of the wonderful surprise they gave me: a red tricycle like the one I received on my 3rd birthday as described in my book Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows. My visit today only reinforced those memories, especially of Ms. Conroy’s infectious enthusiasm.
St. Luke School teaches more than 300 students in K-8 grades based on the belief that “quality Catholic education teaches the whole child spiritually, emotionally, academically and socially.” The 8th grade Social Studies Curriculum, as organized and taught by Rosemary Conroy, is very intensive as it covers U.S. history, 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, and it includes an in-depth look at the Holocaust. Where possible, Ms. Conroy invites outside speakers who witnessed first-hand the events being studied, such as the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Nisei relocation program, WWII POW camps and the Tuskegee Airmen. After my talk Ms. Conroy’s class gave me a cap of the champion Seattle Seahawks, which I wore for the subsequent photographs, to the amusement of the students.
The event was arranged by Amanda Davis of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.
Letters from Students
After returning from Seattle we traveled to the East Coast for two weeks, and the mail that greeted us on our return included a large envelope with a wonderful note from teacher Rosemary Conroy and three dozen letters from her students. As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it, mentally and emotionally. We were touched by the students’ openness and sensitivity as reflected in their letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story. Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with me are excerpted below.
- We both had similar childhoods, hard to overcome. This made us stronger people. I hope to meet again.
- I liked how you intertwined your personal events with the historical events.
- You have inspired me to try and try and try to raise awareness about the Holocaust and to teach the next generation about how one can accept others.
- Your story was so moving and really touched my heart and mind. It gave me another perspective on what happened in the Holocaust.
- As you were telling your story I could picture it in my head: you and your mother going to separate homes and not being able to see her for periods of time.
- I have a cousin who is four years old and the thought of her being separated from the family breaks my heart.
- Since you told your story I thought of this poem by Sylvia Kelly: “Strength and Courage. It takes strength to be certain, it takes courage to have doubts. It takes strength to fit in, it takes courage to stand out. It takes strength to share a friend’s pain, it takes courage to feel your own. It takes strength to hide your own pain, it takes courage to show it and deal with it. It takes strength to stand guard, it takes courage to let it down. It takes strength to conquer, it takes courage to surrender. It takes strength to endure abuse, it takes courage to stop it. It takes strength to stand alone, it takes courage to lean on a friend. It takes strength to love, it takes courage to be loved. It takes strength to survive, it takes courage to live.”
- Everything is going to be OK in the end, and if it’s not OK it’s not the end.
- I can’t even believe how much courage and bravery it must have taken for the people in the ghetto to stand up against the Nazis even though they knew that they would die.
- You taught us that there are bad people and good people in this world. Some are so mean we think we can never forgive them, but there are also ones who are so kind and loving that they would risk their life for your own.
- You inspired me to be a better person.
- I learned that in life you take what you’re given and make something of it, and when you don’t like it you change it.
- Your story made me feel like I was there. It brought pain and joy to my heart.
- Conroy told my class about your tricycle story. It was heartbreaking. Then she told us about how she got you an almost replica of it (for your previous visit to St. Luke), and how you loved it and rode the tricycle around the classroom. If I was there in the room, watching you ride the tricycle, I would break into tears. It is such a touching story.
- Jeszcze raz dziekuje bardzo za przyjezd i za przemowe. (Thank you in Polish.)
- It is inspiring and saddening to learn about those who stood up to the Nazis and went down fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto.
- You taught us to keep going.
- One of the main lessons I learned is to treat others with dignity and without hate. If our society can learn to accept others, a situation like the Holocaust can be prevented.
- You taught us to do what is right. We need to choose the side that helps others, not the side that is easiest. These lessons will help us become more just and loving people.
- You taught me the true meaning of what family is and how, no matter what, they will be by your side and love you unconditionally.
- I learned some great family lessons. Just the way you spoke about your mom made me want to go home and hug mine.
- I realize that it must have been hard for you to talk about this topic, and this to me was the most inspiring aspect of your speech.
- Another inspiring part of your speech was the hope – the darkest part of your life and you still had hope. That is something in which I’ve not been tested and hope never to be tested, but if it does happen I know that I still will have hope.
- Keep doing what you’re doing, spreading the word, inspiring people that times will get better, and what to them seems like a hard time, like peer pressure for me, it actually isn’t that bad!
- I cannot quite put into words how your talk has inspired me to live my life free of judgment.
- I learned that even if someone hurts you, always choose the fair side because it can lead to a much better outcome than choosing the revenge side.
- I’ve had teachers tell me that the reason we study history is so we don’t repeat it. In this case, I truly believe this statement.