by George J Elbaum
Twin Falls Middle School, located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains with an enrollment of 820 students in grades 6-8, considers its mission as being based on “Relationships, Rigor and Relevance” as a “professional learning community which provides instruction for all levels of learners.” Twin Falls MS has a high academic record, with student proficiency in English of 76% vs. state average of 61%, and in Math 77% vs. 50% state average. This is reflected in its Great Schools’ overall rating of 7 out of 10. School events which encourage learning include Distinguished Honor Recognition evening for parents and students, and participation in curricular fairs showcasing art, science, and social studies. The Science Fair involved 100% of Twin Falls students.
Twin Falls MS is using materials and speakers from the Holocaust Center for Humanity to introduce its 8th grade students to the topic of the Holocaust, including reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. This week all 8th grade students participated in one of 5 sessions, each with a different speaker from the Holocaust Center, and I was one of these speakers. The whole program was organized by Karen Waters and Rachel Labrasca, 8th grade Language Arts Teachers. After these presentations Karen wrote that “the students were shocked and moved by what they read, heard and saw” and that “Our focus is to make sure that we never become bystanders, and that we are alert to bullying. In addition, the Holocaust became a reality to the students by interacting with people who had survived the reign of terror, or are a family member of a Holocaust survivor. The students were intrigued with George’s story of what he called “luck”, and they emotionally connected with his story of being a child during the Holocaust.” Twin Falls Middle School will make the Holocaust Center Program of Speakers a yearly event.
The Holocaust Center’s support was provided by Julia Thompson, Education Program Manager, and Morgan Romero, Education and Museum Assistant.
After my presentation the teachers asked the students to complete a “Padlet” online questionnaire with some half-dozen items, such as: what did I learn? how did the speaker’s story made me feel? about what would I like to know more? what will I most remember? and personal note to the speaker. I’ve excerpted the students’ replies that most resonated with me and listed these below.
- I learned how sad and horrible it was for the survivors: to have lost most of their family and to have almost died themselves must have been very depressing.
- I learned a lot more about the ghettos and the horrible living conditions within them that led to the death of many. I had always thought the concentration camps were most Jews were killed and that the ghettos were just a way to get them together in one place and to the camps. I now know the ghettos were also a terrible place
- I feel like I understand more that loss was simply something that happened to everyone all the time during the Holocaust, and you’re considered lucky to have surviving members of your family.
- George Elbaum’s story made me feel angry, but mostly sad. I can’t imagine how it would be to know that all of your siblings died, except you. I also felt really lucky to have heard it from him
- 6 million is incomprehensible.
- Elbaum’s story made me feel sad, but also made me realize how lucky I am to be able to spend every day with my family and the people I care about.
- Almost the entirety of the story made me feel of course sad, but I also felt disgusted. It’s so vile that one group of people could do this to another.
- Elbaum’s story brought sadness to my heart, along with terror, and bitter disgust. I cannot believe the things that went on during this time. It was absolutely horric.
- Elbaum’s story made me feel very sad and angry but also very spoiled because of how little they had.
- Something that stood out to me was his story from when he was hiding in the shed and the dog was killed in order not to reveal their hiding place. I can’t imagine the trauma of having to do that to your own dog.
- I would like to know more about what kept him motivated.
- Being completely honest, I don’t know what I would do if standing against injustice could cost me and others our lives.
- I will try to break free of the safety of being a bystander and help to the best of my abilities.
- I really liked the life lesson he portrayed through the title of his book, to not focus on the past, to not look forward to the future, but focus on the present and the time you are in.
- I also find his mother’s smart decisions after escaping the ghetto to be quite memorable. To have a smart and skillful parent as a child in a horrible event such as the Holocaust is a great thing and if it was me despite all the bad things happening I would be grateful for that.
- In the very beginning, Mr. Elbaum gave us advice, that we should be for things rather than against That stood out for me because people tend to spend a lot of time pointing out the negatives and the hate, when you could be supporting something positive instead.
- The Holocaust is something we need to know about, and your story helped us gain knowledge at a much deeper level. Hearing a personal story gives us empathy and compassion for those who have experienced a horrible thing like the Holocaust.