Burlingame High School, Burlingame, CA – February 8 (2 classes) + February 9 (1 class), 2021 – via video

by George J Elbaum

Burlingame High School has an enrollment of 1529 students of high diversity: 61% White, 23% Asian, 8% Latino, 5% Filipino and 3% all other.  Per its website, the school’s mission is “to develop in all students the skills, knowledge, and mindset that will prepare them to meet the challenges of college, the demands of career, and the responsibilities of citizenship.”  The school strives to teach its students to “Think critically and solve problems creatively.”  The following statement from its website caught my eye because it goes beyond only teaching and involves citizenship: “Perhaps the best thing about Burlingame High School is the connection and positive relationship we have with our community: we encourage parent volunteerism and support, and have established internship and volunteer opportunities across the county for our students.”

Per the US News Best High Schools rankings, Burlingame ranks #146 of California high schools and #1050 in national ranking, and its student proficiency is a very good 61% vs 30% CA average in mathematics and in reading it’s 81% vs 50% CA average.

I made 3 presentations (2 on February 8th, 1 on the 9th), each to a class of approximately 30 students in 10th grade Modern World History classes taught by teacher Michael Zozos of the Social Science Department.  The curriculum has included the Armenian Genocide during WWI, the rise of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, successes and failures of the Weimar Republic, the Nazis’ steps to genocide (including pogroms, Nuremburg Laws, Kristallnacht, etc.), the Holocaust itself and world reaction. In past years the students viewed Schindler’s List and analyzed primary sources, such as resistance stories from the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation.

My 3 presentations were organized by Carrie Hermann, Burlingame’s Career Coordinator supporting the teachers, and arranged by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator of the JFCS Holocaust Center.

Notes from students

A week after my Zoom talks at Burlingame High School I received from Carrie Hermann, the event’s organizer, an email entitled “Thank you Mr. Elbaum!” containing notes from several dozen students who attended my talk.  As has been our custom for years, after dinner my wife Mimi read aloud each of the notes and we highlighted the statements that resonated with us, which are shown below.  In turn, I thank you all for your thoughtful and sensitive statements.

  • 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.
  • I learned from you that a person can endure unimaginable tragedy and still create a beautiful life for themselves.
  • I really appreciate hearing the story of your life, and those multiple struggles, that unfortunately our humanity made you and other millions of people go through.
  • The fact that you never gave up and kept willing to have a greater future is very inspiring.
  • I’m also an immigrant, so when you talked about your experiences in the USA, I literally cried. You gave me hope to believe in my dreams regardless of my accent, academic struggles or cultural background.
  • From now on, I am willing to help those who need me.
  • I will always remember how you talked about the significance of the picture on the cover of your book – the actual correlation between the German aircraft and the little boy below, looking up.
  • I will always remember what you shared and which reminds me of the quote from Tom Lantos: “The veneer of civilization is paper thin.  We are its guardians and we can never rest.”
  • I learned that you should not listen to those who only want to take you down, but to listen to those who encourage and support you and your dreams.  I hope you continue to share your story and inspire others.
  • Thank you for sharing your private, traumatic memories for our education.
  • I learned that when times are rough you should try to have a positive attitude and push through the bad situation.
  • What I picked up from your speech was that the only person that will stop you from doing what is best is you.
  • We have to learn to listen to the people around us, to listen to their stories because we tend to ignore them.
  • I learned that even if we are embarrassed by something or someone is bringing us down, we should not let that stand in the way of what we want to do in life.
  • I will always remember that your mother arranged to hide your grandmother where she thought it would be safe but that spot was not a safe place.  I will always remember this because it shows that nowhere during the Holocaust was safe for anyone.
  • Thank you for your honesty.  The stories you’ve shared have been at times heartwarming, heartbreaking, inspiring, unsettling, and even shocking.  We appreciate that you’ve trusted us enough to share the truth.
  • My mom sat in on your visit and you were so inspirational that she purchased your books!
  • What you did was very bold, and I deeply appreciate you coming in to share a piece of your life with us.
  • It was interesting to hear your story, to be able to walk in your shoes for a little bit, and to think about what you have witnessed back then.
  •  You were able to bring the past to the present and help influence younger minds.
  • Please continue to share your stories so that more minds can be inspired for generations to come.

The matrix of photos of Zoom participants has been withdrawn pending the parental approval of some of the students, or the deletion of their photos.  We apologize for this misunderstanding and look forward to its speedy resolution and restoration of appropriate photos.   February 23, 2021

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