College Park High School, Pleasant Hill, CA – May 1, 2020

by George J Elbaum

College Park High School has a current enrollment of 2022 students of which 50% are minority and 22% are economically disadvantaged.  Despite these demographics, it is far above California state average of college and career readiness, such as student test scores (English 74% vs. 51% CA average and Math 48% vs. CA average) and 97% graduation rate.  It is therefore rated 9/10 by GreatSchools.org and USNews.com.

This presentation to College Park 10th-12th grade students was organized by World History teacher Lauren Weaver, who also organized last year’s presentation.  Her students have studied WWII and the Holocaust, and were therefore aware of governmental persecution in Germany in the 1930s, including targeted boycotts, the Nuremberg Laws, planned stages of identification and separation in Ghettos, acts of violence such as Kiristallnacht, and eventual removal of Jews to concentration and death camps.  The main difference in my presentation this year was that starting in March, all classes were held online rather than on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I spoke to 70+ students via Zoom vs. several hundred last year.  The main contact with the students was via the typed-in chats that Zoom allows, but unfortunately no real-time feedback from the students, and obviously no photographs.  I missed that feedback and look forward to returning to College Park and Lauren Weaver’s class next year.

Arrangements for my talk were made by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator at the Holocaust Center of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

Emails from students

Following the Zoom session several students responded with short messages, and I’ve excerpted the comments which most strongly resonated with me and listed these below.

  • I am really happy that you turned an awful memory into a turning point to inspire others.
  • Your story about a high school counselor telling you that you were not smart enough to pursue your dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer really resonated with me, because I have been told something similar.
  • What I learned from your story is that you should never feel sorry for yourself because you never know what someone else is going through, which could be worse.
  • It is such a blessing that you are still here today to share your story.
  • (from an immigrant) Even though I survived, I would not be able to be as calm as you and share with others. It’s a grey memory that I don’t want to remember.  Thank you very much for sharing.  Hope you stay safe.
  • It was inspiring to hear how you were able to survive as a young child and still stay optimistic after seeing the horrors you have been through. I hope life brings you many joys to come, and you continue to share and bring awareness to your story.  Again, thank you for sharing something that this generation will hopefully never have to face themselves.
  • I don’t think I realized how families were affected by the end of the war and the return of the soldiers after the Holocaust, and just the state of cities and towns they returned to.
  • It’s truly incredible the amount you’ve seen and been through and to come out and speak of your experiences. I want to let you know that it opens my eyes to a perspective of life and death that makes me so appreciative.  Thank you.
  • I feel very grateful that I was able to listen to you. It really helped me to hear what you personally went through and made it easier to connect what I had learned in our readings.  I feel more educated about the Holocaust now than by just reading and watching the films.
  • It opened my eyes and said ” wow this man made it through the worst thing in human history”.
  • I really liked how you put us in your shoes, even though you were very young and don’t remember much. It must be hard to talk about it
  • Your presentation opened my eyes about how living in secrecy and fear changed your views on life. I admire how you look at the positive side of all the negative that had happened and stayed true to yourself.
  • My Polish great, great grandfather was sent to Auschwitz, and then transferred to Mauthausen. Eventually, he was liberated by Americans, and he thanked an American in a tanker. The crazy thing was my mother actually worked with a relative of that American.

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