by George J Elbaum
St. Peter’s Elementary School, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1878, is an elementary and middle school with approximately 300 students in Kindergarten through 8th Grade. The school is one of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic Schools and a vital part of the parish, a predominantly Latino community in San Francisco’s Mission District. Since its foundation, St. Peter’s has served all economic levels of the community by providing a well-rounded academic and Catholic education in a partnership with parents, who are recognized as the primary educators of their children. “The school recognizes its important role in the growth and development of students and their families, and it thus promotes Gospel values and fosters peace, justice, integrity, honesty and love for learning.”
As part of that effort, St. Peter’s now has for its 8th graders a month-long study of the Holocaust taught by teacher Nina Martinez, who organized the event with help from the school’s Vice-Principal, Karen Hammen. In preparation for my visit the students read Elie Wiesel’s Night, were very responsive and enthusiastic during my talk, and the next day one of them posted the following message on my website: “Having you share your experience with St. Peter’s 8th grade had a huge impact on us and on the way we thought of the Holocaust…. Thank you so very much for taking your time to talk to us. The 8th graders and I at St. Peter’s appreciate it. 🙂 “ My presentation was arranged by Katie Cook of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
In mid-March I received in the mail a large envelope with 50 matching Thank You cards from the students, each in its own small envelope addressed “To George”. Several of these envelopes were very creative visually: a unique font designed by the student, or artistic spirals along with “To George”, or a tall font of capital letters plus a small script “george” written horizontally across the middle of the capital letters – truly unique and eye-catching!
As we usually do upon receiving student letters, after dinner my wife Mimi read each of the cards aloud while I listened and absorbed the student’s message, and we selected sentences or phrases that especially resonated with us to add to the post on my website. These are listed below:
- You telling me your life’s story has really made me change the way I think of life.
- I have learned that even a small smile could have a great impact.
- Your response to the cube of sugar that the Russian officer gave you made me think how many of us take things for granted. You have helped us learn that we need to appreciate those little things. Thank you for coming.
- When you barely had food to eat and just ate that cube of sugar I was shocked and felt bad because I eat all the food I want, and that makes me feel like I’m spoiled.
- I got to experience a Holocaust survivor retell his story and I am extremely grateful.
- One day my children will talk about what they learned in school about the Holocaust and I’ll be able to tell them that I met you, that you didn’t blame everyone, that you forgave most Germans and only held the ones directly responsible. I will learn to forgive and pass on these values.
- You taught me that some people can hear the truth but don’t believe it because they don’t want to.
- You taught me a valuable life lesson that I will never forget and that is to never look back because it has already happened and you can’t change it.
- What I learned is to show life that I can overcome as many obstacles as I want.
- I have learned that sometimes being odd and cheeky can come into use.
- I know we didn’t ask the most memorable questions, but I hope you will remember us as we will remember you.
- I’ll bet that God wanted you to share your experiences.
- God is with you, God loves you, and God blessed you.