by George J Elbaum
Founded by the Marist Brothers in 1935, Central Catholic High School enrolls approximately 1,280 students from diverse backgrounds “to form a caring community of faith, learning, and service.” The school prepares its students for college which almost all of them enter, and simultaneously “it teaches and promotes social justice and compassion to make the world a better place.” To this purpose the school offers a one-semester elective course “Facing History & Ourselves: The Holocaust & Human Behavior” in its Religious Studies Department. As taught by teachers Anne Martino and 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.
Anne Martino’s and Tim Hart’s classes of 44 seniors (total) attended my presentation, which was arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves. Also in attendance were social studies teacher John Sears, Guidance Counselor Brother John Kachinsky, and Assistant Principal/Academic Dean Jeanne Burns. This was my 3rd time speaking at Central Catholic, and just as during the previous 2 times, the overall atmosphere was very welcoming and the students well prepared and very enthusiastic. (In fact, one of Tim Hart’s students who attended a previous talk chose my talk for an art project, and the resulting photo-collage is hanging on my office wall.) I truly look forward to return visits to Central Catholic.
Letters from Students and Teachers
Several weeks after my talk at Central Catholic High School I received a large envelope with letters from its students and teachers. As has been our custom for some years, my wife Mimi and I read the letters together, with Mimi reading aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally, and we jointly chose statements from the letters that particularly resonated with us, and we excerpted these for this post. The large number of excerpts and the sensitivity shown in their content reflect the students’ preparation and the class discussion that followed, and thus the quality of teaching.
- From your and your mother’s courageous escape from the Nazis to your admittance into MIT, the obstacles you have overcome in your life have given me a hopeful reminder that no matter how difficult life may get, we can overcome anything if we put our minds to it.
- You have inspired me to show more love and less hate, because nothing good can ever come from hate.
- You have touched my life and I am sure that you have touched many others as well.
- Your story really got to me and made me realize how grateful I am for my life and especially how grateful I am for my mother.
- You have changed my outlook on life and helped me to realize that with hard work anything is possible. Thank you so much!!!
- I hope, as you do, that my generation learns from the past and from stories such as yours to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust could ever happen again. I can assure you that I will try my best to always live by the Golden Rule and respect all people.
- Your story about being given the sugar cube really impacted me. Although it’s a small piece of your life, it taught me a large lesson. It taught me that some of the smallest gifts (or may be insignificant at the time) have some of the largest impacts.
- Your legacy will always live on with me.
- My favorite part was listening to you talk about your wife. Even though that was perhaps not the focus, it’s comforting to know how much love still exists out there. Thank you again for speaking.
- I am so glad there are people like you on this Earth. You taught me so much about the important things in life.
- I appreciate your courage immensely. Your morals even after what you have been through are so inspiring. Thank you so much, never change.
- Your story inspired me greatly, and now I will always remember to keep pushing forward and fighting for what I want.
- Seeing you stand up in front of fifty high school students inspired me on numerous levels. After your talk I sat in silence as I recollected the story you had just presented. You changed my – and fifty other people’s – lives Thursday afternoon.
- When you came to my school and shared your personal experience the Holocaust became more than just a textbook lesson from a dark time in history.
- Your story helps to express the importance of moving forward and not looking back into the past. I left after your talk more focused than ever on my present time and what I can do now. I also left as a more accepting person overall. Please keep sharing your story!
- Not only did your story captivate me and teach me, but it also motivated me. Your message of the Golden Rule resonated heavily with me and motivates me to remain a teacher to those who are ignorant, ignorant of respect and kindness.
- One point you stated that you’ve had a good life made me realize that although life may have its hardships, you can get through them by being positive. You are such a positive and loving person despite what you have gone through.
- Hearing you speak really guides me to another level deeper, to the history and life’s meaning. I felt lucky to be able to hear your story and thoughts. Thank you for doing this and wish our world will be in peace.
- At first I was kind of iffy about going to hear you speak – how could this guy know anything about the Holocaust if he was only 4 years old when it happened?! But I found your story fascinating and amazing. It was truly an honor hearing you speak and is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
- Your talk opened my eyes to a world that no one should ever have to go through.
- I think you were destined to stay alive so you could inspire others and remind them just how precious each moment of life is. I am very thankful that you eventually decided to share your journey with people.
- Before hearing your story the Holocaust was simply a devastating event in history that we all read about in our textbooks.
- I hope that you never stop talking about your experiences because that might be the reason why something like the Holocaust never happens again.
- Your willingness to be vulnerable and share such an integral part of your life caused many of us to consider the impact of our words on society. I am amazed by your strength, resilience, and humility.
- I hope you continue to do these speeches and educate our generation so that we can pass these stories onto the next generation.
- There is just something so unique, so real and authentic about you speaking in person.
- I looked up your book Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows because I was extremely impressed by the way you are able to leave the past in the past and the future in the future.
- Living in the moment has become somewhat uncommon in today’s world, as many focus on the mistakes of the past while being nervous of the future. I will certainly try to live more for “today” rather than live in what could have happened or what will happen.
- The passion with which you speak can be felt by all who listen to any of your stories.
- I experienced your story first hand and can now pass it on to others with much more importance than a history book will ever have.
- You never let the horrific experience of your childhood hinder you or your dreams.
- I am so glad that I had this life-changing experience. I cannot thank you enough!
- Hearing you speak is always inspiring. You remind me how strong we can be. You give a sense of hope to people.
- You also remind me how important it is to teach about the Holocaust. I find it particularly relevant in the current political and cultural climate.
- The responsibility to share your story must weigh heavily on you at times, but I’m grateful that you have the strength and courage to do so.
- I am in awe of your mother’s sacrifices, just as I pray that no other mother will have to do the same for her children.