by George J Elbaum
College Park High School has a current enrolment of 2054 students of which 48% are minority and 20% are economically disadvantaged. Despite these demographics, it is far above California state average of college and career readiness, such as student test scores and 97% graduation rate. It is therefore rated 9/10 by both GreatSchools.org and USNews.com.
My presentation at College Park to approximately 350-400 students in 10th-12th grades was organized by World History teacher Lauren Weaver. The students have studied WWII and the Holocaust and were thus aware of governmental persecution in Germany in the 1930s, including targeted boycotts, the Nuremburg Laws, planned stages of identification and separation in Ghettos, acts of violence such as Kiristallnacht and eventual removal to concentration and death camps. Most of the students read Elie Wiesel’s Night.
Arrangements for my talk were made by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator at the Holocaust Center of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
Letters from students
A few days after my talk at College Park High School I flew to Seattle and gave 3 talks there, then a few weeks later to Poland and 8 talks. On returning home we were “welcomed” by a huge stack of mail that accumulated during our absence and, while working through these to-do tasks and posting the Poland talks to my website, I came upon the Thank You notes that teacher Lauren Weaver sent me from her students. Thus it was only a few days ago that I finally had the time to read these notes together with my wife Mimi, as has been our habit over the years of reading students’ letters. On reading these, we would highlight those phrases and sentences that most resonate with us, eventually adding these highlighted excerpts (below) to this post.
- You helped me to understand the tragedy of the Holocaust to a whole new extent. Before this, I had known what happened and how bad it was, but I had not felt it as it was just words in text. But listening to you made me truly realize the full extent of how much pain you all went through and what you would do to get away from it.
- I really appreciated what you said about living without your family for years because it made me realize that I need to be more grateful and spend more time with my family.
- The Holocaust is a period of time that interests me. I think it’s because I can’t imagine living like that, and how Hitler had so much hate over so many people.
- It shows that you had to be super lucky to survive that war, and that you used your life in great ways after surviving. Thanks.
- I truly appreciate hearing a first hand account from the survivors themselves as it reminds us that the losses were actual people, something not easy to feel when told numbers, statistics, and mostly secondary sources.
- You gave us more insight into how hard life was during the war. I thought I understood what life was like, but I was completely wrong. You went through a lot, and I thank you for enlightening me about that horrid topic.
- Before your presentation I had never thought about how difficult it would be for a young child to be without their mother for up to 6 months.
- The story about the hand grenade made me realize that being a curious child could have cost you your life.
- I never knew people could be so sick to kill people the way they did in the Holocaust, and I’m glad you made it out alive to tell your story.