KIPP King Collegiate High School, San Lorenzo, CA – May 16, 2018

by George J Elbaum

KIPP King Collegiate High School is a public charter high school opened in 2007, named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and dedicated to getting students from low-income communities to and through college.  Its stated mission is therefore “… to prepare students to live inspired and ethical lives by developing within them extraordinary academic skills, a life-long passion for learning, and the resolve to change their own lives and the world around them through acts of excellence, justice, humanity, and courage.”  Its current enrollment of 620 students shows its diverse demographics:  49% Latino, 27% Asian/Pacific Islander, 15% African American, and 9% Other.  Of these, 62% qualify for federal free or reduced-price meals.

Overcoming its challenges, KIPP King Collegiate produces an outstanding academic record for its students: English test scores 59% above state average, Math test scores 42% above state average, 4-year graduation of 92% vs 82% state average, and 87% of its students meet UC/CSU entrance requirements vs. 43% state average.  That is very impressive!

As part of the World History course Holocaust and Human Behavior, teacher Nora Gannon organized my visit and presentation to her 10th graders and prepared them for it with an impressive hand-out: a 5-page “Holocaust Survivor Visit Preparation” which included a full page of specific and excellent guidance for the students; a short bio on me with an explanation of “Hidden Children”; a map of Jewish ghettos which the Nazis established in Europe; a map of Nazi extermination camps; a map of the Warsaw ghetto; photos from the Warsaw ghetto; and a whole page of possible questions the students might want to ask me.  That is truly an excellent preparation!  Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves arranged my visit to KIPP King Collegiate and gave an excellent introduction to my presentation.

the audience



Taylor Middle School, Millbrae, CA – May 10, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Taylor Middle School first opened in 1939 and is a true historical landmark with its Spanish Mission architecture, prominent dome and red clay tile roof.  Over these 79 years the school has grown with the times and with the needs of an ever expanding and diverse population of families who live in the City of Millbrae.  This is reflected in its mission statement, which calls for “….educating all students regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender.  Our purpose is to provide information and skills necessary for students to become responsible, healthy, young adults.  Our expectation is that every student will succeed, and it is our responsibility to provide a safe learning environment with high academic standards.”

Today the school serves approximately 800 students and has very strong academics, with student test scores 39% higher than state average in English and 58% higher in Math.  The student body is highly diverse: 41% Asian, 21% Hispanic, 21% White, 9% Filipino, 5% two or more races, 3% Pacific Islander, and 25% are from low income families.

To end the school year, all 8th grade students participate in an 8-week Holocaust unit developed by the Language Arts department. This unit begins by exploring the historical context of World War II and includes the study of several allegories such as The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss and Terrible Things by Eve Bunting. The students then examine several supplementary films and stories such as “Life is Beautiful” and Teaching Tolerance’s “One Survivor Remembers.” By this time, students have received ample background and context in order to fully-comprehend, grasp, and empathize with the unit’s core text, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl.

My presentation to 300 8th grade students and several parents was organized by 8th grade Language Arts teacher Stephanie Heaton and arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Program Coordinator.  Attending also were the school’s 8th grade teachers of all core and elective classes. What made this presentation so very different from all of my previous (180+) ones was the surprise entrance that Stephanie Heaton and her students arranged for me: two students with a big red “Welcome, Mr. Elbaum” sign met me outside the auditorium and escorted me, arm-in-arm, inside and down an aisle to the applause of a standing  audience of 300 (see photo below).  Absolutely unbelievable!  Thank you, Stephanie, and I can hardly wait till the next time 😊!

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Tennyson High School, Hayward, CA – May 9, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Tennyson High School is a comprehensive public high school in Hayward, CA, with approximately 1,300 students. The school is extremely diverse (69% Hispanic, 9% Black, 7% Asian, of which 81% are from low-income families) and for many of these students English is a second language.  In both Social Studies and English courses, teachers make use of resources from Facing History and Ourselves to teach about the Holocaust as well as other difficult social subjects.

This was my third annual visit to Tennyson, and it was preceded by preparatory sessions by Jack Weinstein, Sr. Program Advisor for Facing History and Ourselves, for the school’s English and World History classes.  They had reviewed the basic historical narrative of the Holocaust, were reading “Night”, and are working towards writing first person narrative monologues from the point of view of different Jewish partisans/resistors.   The Q & A, my favorite part of any talk, started in a quite restrained mode, just as it did last year, but then it blossomed into a rollicking back-and-forth on my Holocaust childhood and also my current life.  It was a truly fun experience for me and hopefully a useful exchange for the students.

My talk was organized by World History teacher Jaynee Ruiz and English teacher Charlie Stephens, and arranged by Facing History’s Jack Weinstein.

with teachers Jaynee Ruiz and Charlie Stephens

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Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA – May 4, 2017

by George J Elbaum

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) exhibit, Tour and Talk: Resilience, Holocaust, and the Architecture of Life, asks the question: “How do we move forward from the past while vowing to never forget?”  The architecture of The CJM is a testament to history and resilience: it is a celebration of life and strength designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, a child of Holocaust survivors, with deeply embedded Jewish symbolism and meaning.  A first-hand testimony by a Holocaust survivor (me on this day) is at the heart of this 2 ½ hour Museum experience, which includes an exploration of the symbolism of The CJM’s architecture through the lens of resilience and artistic reflection.

This is the second year of CJM’s program of student tours, which are paired with talks by Holocaust survivors arranged with the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS).  These talks offer the students a unique opportunity to connect art, architecture, and history, to humanize historical events and cultivate empathy and to strengthen links between past and present, and it is the third time that I have spoken as part of this program.  Today’s participants were high school students from Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy in San Jose, CA.  After my talk CJM’s Museum Educator, Lisa Rosenberg, led the students on an exploration of the symbolism of the CJM architecture followed by a hands-on project related to memory.

Today’s event was organized by Cara Buchalter, CJM’s Tour & Education Associate, and my participation was arranged by JFCS’s Program Coordinator, Nikki Bambauer

with students from Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy

with CJM’s Lisa Rosenberg and Cara Buchalter

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Arroyo High School, San Lorenzo, CA – April 27, 2018 PM

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 7th  consecutive year that I have visited and spoken.  This year the audience was approximately 250 10th grade students studying the Holocaust based unit taught by teachers Kaeden Peters, Jill Jacobs, Angela Kerubo, Jess Vaughn, and Jorja Santillan, who again organized my visit.  Based on my previous visits, I knew that the student audience would be enthusiastic and well-prepared, and once again I observed how Jorja Santillan’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.”

During my last visit to Arroyo in June 2017 I saw and was impressed by the creativity, sensitivity and effort that the students applied in building the table-top memorials of the Holocaust.  Several students told me enthusiastically about their creations and I look forward to receiving from them photos when the projects are completed.

Each visit to Arroyo reminds me that it is the dedicated, enthusiastic, energetic teachers such as Jorja Santillan who truly teach our next generation, and thus on whom America’s future depends.  It’s both sad and ironic that our public officials, while lauding in speeches and proclamations the critical value of education, do so little to provide America’s teachers a compensation that’s commensurate with this value to our country.

My visit was again arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who gave his usual excellent introduction and the importance of hearing this history from those who lived through it.

After the Q&A and the 3 dozen photos (below), two students told me that as part of the Holocaust project each of them had written a poem inspired by it and they wanted to share these with me.  I thanked them for the copies they gave me and told them that I would include it on my website.

Red Flower by Renad Banana

A red flower trying to rescue a little daisy by feeding her seeds.                                                Rescuing her from death, murdered and bloody.                                                                            A red flower trying her hardest to secretly feed her little daisy.                                                  Surviving from all the death around them.                                                                                        To not be burned.                                                                                                                                      To not be killed.                                                                                                                                        To not be murdered.                                                                                                                                 Having a positive mood that tomorrow will be better.                                                                   A red flower with her little daisy.

 The Time Shall Pass by Malanie Doi

They are all many leaves but one tree                                                                                                For we suffer different things as individuals                                                                                    We are all together united and strong                                                                                                Against a common enemy that never shall be forgotten

The moment has come to seize the day                                                                                                To fight for freedom, liberty, and justice                                                                                            With dignity, pride, and hope                                                                                                                Of a better future to come to the day

The reality was revealed                                                                                                                        Everything he possesses that was once part of him                                                                        Suffered the destruction with no dignity left, no humanity                                                          But the will to gain the initiation to be known once again is stronger than ever

Letters from Students

Several weeks after my talk at Arroyo High School my wife Mimi and I left for a long trip abroad, and shortly after our return I received a large envelope with 100+ letters from its students.  After taking care of all the accumulated chores, bills, and other to-do’s, we started reading the letters.  As has been our custom for some years, Mimi and I would read the letters together, with Mimi reading aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally, and we would jointly choose the statements that particularly resonated with us and excerpt these – see below.

  • Listening to your story made me realize that life is not a game, and too short to play with.
  • Had it not been for the stars aligning the way they did, who knows if you would be able to share your story.
  • I think stories like yours bring sensitivity to our lives, and we lack that more than anything now.
  • You are so strong and have such a kind soul.  I appreciate how you spoke about the events – your words contained no hate, only pure love and loss.
  • George, you’ve made me believe in myself.  You’ve made me see a light that I never thought to look at before….. I’m so thankful for that.  Thank you for our conversation, for your thoughts, advice, and hugs.  You don’t understand how much that has helped me.  I wish you nothing but the best that this world has to offer.
  • Getting to hear this from someone who was there personally and experienced it at a young age, and to survive this tragic moment was really heart touching.  What I learned was to keep hope alive.
  • You inspired me to be a better person in general.
  • I learned that it takes courage to do what you just did, telling us your story.  To be honest, I am focusing on my shyness and I don’t want to be shy anymore.  I’d rather be brave or full of courage than being shy all the time.  Thank you for giving me the courage and inspiring me to be brave.  I want to be able to keep your story alive and living.  To do that, something good will happen.
  • Your story opened my eyes more and now I realize why history is important.
  • When we learn about this dark time in history, it does not even seem like something so horrific could have happened.  But as you stand in front of us and share all the details of your very own experience, everything seems so much more real, so much more emotional, so much more gruesome.  I felt so many emotions listening to you speak.
  • Your talk to our sophomore class has already opened my mind so much.
  • I took every word you said to heart.  You seem really kind, I want to just talk and hang out with you.
  • I will keep your story alive by telling my relatives and friends.
  • To keep your story alive I’ve already started sharing it with close family and friends.
  • When I got into my mom’s car after school I immediately began to share your story and kept asking her how she would have reacted and if she would have done what your mom did.
  • This experience is one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life and pass on to as many people as possible to keep it alive.  It’s so important to keep survival stories from slipping through the cracks and being forgotten.
  • Carrying this piece of history onward not only shines light on the tragedy of it, but also allows us to recognize the brave souls that were there.
  • Keeping your story alive is important because in a way it’s like remembering all those people who are didn’t survive.
  • I promise to keep your story alive.   I never want something like the Holocaust to happen again, so I will be an educator to younger and future generations, until my time is up.
  • I want to make my promise to teach the younger children what I know about your story when the time comes.
  • Next generations will not be able to hear from Holocaust survivors, so my idea is to make Holocaust survivors holograms to teach the next generations so nobody with such hate and power will be able to repeat such history.
  • My Great-Great-Uncle faced torture in the Philippines, so I can understand the effects of the Holocaust, the death and torture people endured, and how some like your mother and my Great-Great-Uncle never fully recovered from it.
  • I could relate to your story because my family came from Mexico and they as well started from zero, trying to raise me and my sister alone in this country.
  • What I got from your story is that discipline and perseverance will help make your dreams come true.  It got me thinking and boosted my confidence, for which I thank you.
  • Oh, one question: did you ever have a dream or a sign/signal or just a random person tell you that you were going to survive the Holocaust?  No, not that I remember, but I was lucky enough to instinctively focus only on the moment, to forget the bad past (“Neither Yesterdays…) and not look hopefully to the uncertain future (…Nor Tomorrows).
  • I cherish my time listening to you. By hearing your story I learned things about myself.  I learned that I am fortunate to have my family with me and I should show my appreciation.  Another lesson is “do not dwell on the what-ifs.”  This is one thing I will carry forever.  Lastly, you told us of how you don’t remember the bad memories.  That is a reminder to me to stay positive, and to remember and cherish the good.
  • Hearing your story just made me realize that everyone does have power, it’s just that it’s their decision if they want to use it or not.
  • I so dearly admire your courage and ability to speak up and share your story, to reopen old wounds and relive those horrible memories.
  • It’s not only brave but also inspiring to others who are also struggling to keep their strength and willingness to keep pushing.  I know I will never feel the pain you went through as a 6-year-old, having to wait months to see your mother.  Yet you pushed through the sacrifices to become who you are today.
  • I was amazed that you were able to seem so calm and collected.  Even your voice was steady and soothing.  It made your story seem calmer than it was.
  • I find your strength, bravery and confidence talking about it very admirable.
  • I’m glad you made it out to tell your story.  Please live as long as possible.
  • Your story was very detailed and so heart warming that I felt like I was actually there.  I hope your stories continue until you’re gone from the Earth.
  • You’re very passionate and respectful.  I would want to be as good a person as you are one day.
  • I wish you the best for the rest of the journey.
  • I want you to know that I am very sorry for everything you went through.  I can’t imagine a life so scary and I hope you are living the life you wish.  I know my “sorries” won’t help, but it makes me sad to think such things used to happen from the bottom of my heart.
  • No words can explain how your story opened my eyes.
  • Your speech taught me to take the good and the bad in one hand and look to the future and see how our experiences can be turned into a good way, like how you did with your book.
  • Your story was very inspirational.  It inspired me to do better and to be a better person.
  • I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to hear and learn from you.  Thank you.
  • My mind has been more open to everything since your story, and to be genuine and sensitive.
  • You are a complete inspiration to our generation, that you are not scared to be so open and honest about your past.
  • Your story inspired me to do better and look forward to the future, and not look at the negative things, and go for what I really want.  I learned to let things go and not hold grudges.
  • It amazes me how you lived without your mom.  I honestly think I couldn’t go on without my mom by my side, especially during the Holocaust.  Words can’t explain how shook I am by this experience.  I’ve learned many lessons from your experience and most importantly to not take life for granted.
  • I’m having similar experience like you on how you did not see your mom for months.  Right now I’ve not seen my dad for six months, but I’ve talked to him once in a while.  The good thing is that he’ll be home soon.
  • Listening to your life story I learned about the harsh realities of the world during the Holocaust.  I connected with many things you said & it made me feel many emotions.
  • When you were explaining how you survived throughout that time, I admired the intelligence of your mother & the extreme luck you have.
  • I like how you’ve done something good from your bad experiences.  I want to be someone who gives hope like you do.
  • I feel that people need to know that there were other survivors who weren’t in the camps but in hiding.  I can also post about it and more people will be aware.
  • We learned a lot about the Holocaust in class creating desktop projects with powerful meanings.
  • I also liked hearing all the advice you told us, such as to choose justice and fairness over anger and hatred.  Another powerful thing you said that made me think was “You can either choose to be against something or for something.”
  • Thanks for taking the time to read my letter…. and sorry that my handwriting is so bad!!!  Yes, I did need my wife’s help to read parts of you letter, but other students’ letters also.  😊

my talk… without lights!

Q and A with lights – Jorja Santillan directing and Jack Weinstein listening 🙂

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The Bay School, San Francisco, CA – April 27, 2018 AM

by George J Elbaum

Founded in 2004, The Bay School (Bay) is an independent, coeducational college preparatory high school in the Presidio of San Francisco.  With more than 350 students in grades 9 through 12, Bay balances challenging academics and innovative thinking with a mindful approach to learning and life – its goal is to see students unlock their individual and collective potential so they begin to realize their roles in a dynamic world.  Emphasizing depth of content, the school’s curriculum focuses on problem solving, promotes critical thinking and encourages students to connect academic study with their extracurricular lives. Bay’s 9th and 10th grade courses build a broad foundation of basic skills, focusing on the relationships among traditional academic disciplines. Students’ interests and talents increasingly drive the academic program in 11th and 12th grade.

Bay believes that a broad range of perspectives and experiences play a crucial role in achieving its educational mission, thus it intentionally recruits students and teachers from diverse cultural, racial, economic and geographic backgrounds. Students of color represent approximately 30 percent of the student body. Bay students come from more than 84 middle schools: 77% from independent schools, 19% from public schools, and 4% from parochial schools and homeschooling. Bay’s student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1, and 74% of its teaching faculty have advanced degrees.

Students attend classes in a beautifully renovated, national historic landmark building. The 62,000-square-foot campus features 30 classrooms, three state-of-the-art science laboratories, a 3,000-square-foot library, an art studio, a media lab and a spacious student commons and dining room.  The Project Center, established in 2011, boasts dedicated facilities for engineering, design and robotics, as well as additional fine arts studio space for sculpture and printmaking. The Project Center also serves as the home of Bay’s distinctive Senior Signature Projects program.

This was my 2nd visit to The Bay School, and my presentation to 10th grade Humanities class was organized by teacher Caitlin King, who concluded the Q&A session by asking me a question that I’ve never been asked in my previous 180+ talks: “What is the meaning of life?”  Thank you, Caitlin, for the focus that your question gave me, and in re-thinking it afterwards made me review how I’m using the most precious of our resources: time!

My talk was again arranged by Nikki Bambauer of Jewish Family and Children’s Services and attending it also were Bay teachers Colin Williams and Waleed Abdelrahman.

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American High School, Fremont, CA – April 25, 2018

by George J Elbaum

This was my 4th visit to American High School (AHS), which has an enrollment of 2200 students and, in addition to the usual common core academic program, it has a Sophomore Global Studies program run by teachers Wali Noori and John Creger, which includes the Personal Creed Project.  In the Creed, students are asked to reflect on their main influences, their own values, the qualities they wish to develop in themselves to help their own lives, and the difference they want to make in the lives of others or the world.  This not only gives students an opportunity to share their own stories in the classroom but it also includes an extensive curricular exploration of the Holocaust and through it, a focus on others.  Some of the students have classes with both Mr. Noori and Mr. Creger, and in both classrooms students experience not only the academic leg but also the personal leg of learning.  Mr. Noori conducts his own version of the Creed called the Personal History project, in which students are asked to reflect on and present how their lives connect to historical themes, and describe four specific pivotal events in their own life and the wisdom they have gained from these.

As the culmination of the Holocaust unit of instruction, Wali Noori and John Creger organized my presentation as an opportunity for their students to hear a personal story about the Holocaust.  As an introduction, Jack Weinstein of Facing History & Ourselves (who arranged this talk and had previously guided AHS teachers about the content of this instruction unit) spoke to the students about the importance of learning about the Holocaust directly from the few remaining survivors, and for the students to pass it onward someday when no survivors remain.  My talk resulted in a great Q&A session with many thoughtful and penetrating questions from the students.  In attendance was also AHS Special Ed teacher Sally Schmidt.

post-talk group photo

introduction by Jack Weinstein

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