Methuen High School, Methuen, MA – May 4, 2023

by George J Elbaum

Methuen High School (MHS) is a public secondary school serving grades 9-12.  It has an enrollment of 1950, of which 48% is minority and 47% from low-income families.  The Holocaust is taught at MHS as part of English Department studies by teacher Jackie Rubino, who organized my presentation at MHS and uses educational materials from Facing History and Ourselves and other sources.  This was my 4th visit to MHS, and 60 of its 9th– 12th grade students were gathered for my talk in 3 classrooms plus attendance via Zoom.  As last year, the students have already studied much of the Holocaust and Human Behavior book from Facing History, Schindler’s List, selections from the The World Must Know, Elie Wiesel’s Night, plus supplemental materials.

As in past years, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the students’ questions, and some of their most thoughtful ones about my feelings, hopes, and concerns.  I’ve long felt that the Q&A is often the most important part of my talks because it represents our 2-way communication, and I was again pleased with today’s session, especially by one “give and thou shall receive” situation.  As frequently during my 360+ talks to date, I was asked how did the Holocaust shape my life, and my answer was the usual, that it is contained inthe title of my book, “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows“.  “The reason for “Neither Yesterdays” is that some of the families who kept me, and thus saved me, were nevertheless not always nice to me, so my wartime yesterdays were not very pleasant and I learned instinctively not to think about my past and to quickly forget it.  The reason for “Nor Tomorrows” is that my tomorrows were very uncertain: I never knew when or even whether I would see my mother again. I therefore learned not to look to the past nor to the future, but rather to focus totally on the present, to survive it (then) and to solve whatever needs to be solved (now). That attitude has remained with me and has served me well.”

Above is how I have answered this question in past situations, but this time it occurred to me that teacher Jackie Rubino is also an enthusiastic coach of MHS girls softball team, and her whole team was in attendance, so I added especially for them: “So when you are at bat, don’t think about what you did in the past or what you might do in the future, but focus totally on the ball that’s coming toward you right now, and smash it.”  The softball team let out a big cheer!  This was surely the talk’s highlight for them, and it was for me also!**

The MHS teachers attending this presentation, in addition to Jackie Rubino, were Jason Smith, Dan Favreau, Aaron Romano-Meade, Jacob Aronson, MHS Principal Richard Barden and English Department Chair Lisa Golobski-Twomey.  My participation in today’s event was again arranged by Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves.

**Two days after our talk I received the following email from Jackie Rubino: “Big game last night AND we had a HUGE win!  I’ve included an awesome team picture with this email. Before the game we talked about your words of wisdom and how we needed to carry them on the field. You inspired them so much! It was their best game of the season so far.” 

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