by George J Elbaum
Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with 2800+ students of high diversity. In the 10th grade, students study the history of the Holocaust as part of the coverage of World War II, and English teacher Katie Stacy takes them on a parallel journey using literature including Maus by Art Spiegelman as well as a presentation by a Holocaust survivor. Many students in that grade level have also read The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night.
This two-pronged, cross-disciplinary approach ensures that students not only have a factual background and an understanding of how the Holocaust evolved in the context of World War II, but also a sense of the psychological and individual toll connected with this history. Maus is drawn from personal experiences of a child of survivors, a graphic novel depicting the relationship between a father and son deeply impacted by history. The legacies of the Holocaust are not only global and geo-political, as the students learn from their study of history and literature, but also personal and rooted in the family lore of all who survived.
The Q & A session is always my favorite part of any presentation because it often focuses not only on facts but also on personal feelings, and today’s session was no exception. What makes Q & A especially memorable for me are questions which have never been asked of me in the 250 talks I’ve given to date (such as today’s “How do you want our generation to pass on your story and your words?”), which required me to pause and dig deeply into my feelings to answer.
This was my 4th visit to CVHS and my presentation was once again organized by teacher Katie Stacy, who unintentionally gave me a most touching memory as I was about to leave CVHS. She said that she had bought 3 copies of my book, Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows, and asked me to autograph the books for her 2 sons and her niece, adding that she would give these to them when they’re old enough to benefit from my story. A bit surprised by her comment, I asked how old are they, and her reply amazed me and made me feel truly honored: “Dylan is 3 years old, Athena is 17 months, and Carson is 7 months old.“ Thank you for your trust, Katie!
In addition to Katie Stacy, I met again and remembered from my previous visits librarian Dana Adams and school guard Eric, with whom we chatted about our years motorcycle riding. Also attending my talk was Jared Kushida of Facing History and Ourselves.