by George J Elbaum
Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, across the bay from San Francisco, has a high diversity student body of approximately 1,800 students. It is organized into several “schools within a school,” and this is the 9th consecutive year that I have spoken to its 10th grade students studying the Holocaust. This year, however, it was unfortunately not face-to-face but via the internet and Zoom, with each student at their computer at home, because the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restricted all of us to our homes. Looking at my web posts of previous visits to Arroyo, with dozens & dozens of photos of students and remembering the brief but memorable chats with students & teachers, I look forward to a real rather than virtual visit to Arroyo next year.
This year’s virtual “visit” was organized by teacher Jorja Santillan, who organized my actual (non-virtual) visits to Arroyo since 2012, so this was the 12th annual “visit” in a row. Although this “virtual” class was much smaller than her classes to which I spoke directly in past years, I still observed how Jorja’s enthusiasm and energy transfer to her students, whom she prepares and guides through the history and ramifications of the Holocaust. In her own words: “It’s so important that they understand how complex the Holocaust is through different stories, and how crucial it is that this history be kept alive. I tell my students that now it’s their responsibility to carry it on along with their own histories.”
Letters from students
A week or so after the virtual session I received a dozen++ letters from the students who attended it (and several who didn’t), read the letters, excerpted statements which resonated with me, and these excerpts are shown below.
- I was not in the virtual meeting and it’s such a shame. I wish I had the chance to hear your story but reading some of your memoir, I can kind of get a preview to who you are. Your story is remarkably inspirational. Was the feeling of escaping and coming to the United states too good to be true?
- Getting insight and details from someone who was actually there is so different from reading in books. You feel like you were actually there and it terrifies you how horrific it truly was. You find yourself treating life better because it’s something not to be taken for granted.
- It’s good to see that instead of hiding what you went through and keeping it to yourself you are teaching people about the Holocaust and bringing awareness to it so that something like that never happens again. That is very inspiring and it makes me reflect on my life.
- Your story inspired me in many ways, it showed me to never give up.The title of your book has such great meaning to me now. It has shown me to not think about what will happen tomorrow or in a couple of weeks but about today and what I will do today to make it a good day with the people I love the most.
- Life is something to be celebrated and I find it very good that you are using yours to share your experience and story with the world.
- You were able to turn the bad memory to inspire other people.
- I now have a different perspective on my freedom – in our generation right now we tend to take that for granted.
- Your experience made me realize how lucky I am.
- I notice that when it comes to obstacles in life people never forget them but when everything is going smoothly and we try to remember a specific day it seems almost impossible.
- You made me realize that I have a lot to be thankful for and appreciate. I take things such as food for granted when many people are dying from starvation.
- Thank you for sharing your experiences with us as it opens many minds and hearts. I never expected to feel the crush in my chest while reading what you had gone through.
- I couldn’t have imagined the trauma and sadness you have much had buried beneath all your strength.
- I love how you look at the positive side of things even after all the negative things that happened. Thank you for telling your story.
- It was so inspirational to me how you used a dark time in your life to inspire others.
- Your story inspired me because even though you went through hell, you were able to fight and not give up.