Las Lomas High School, Walnut Creek, CA – March 23, 2022 (AM) via video

by George J Elbaum

Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, CA, is a 9-12 grades public high school with total enrollment of 1601 students, of which 37% are considered minority and 12% economically disadvantaged.  Las Lomas is ranked 175th within California by US News Best High Schools. 

My presentation to 300 9th grade students was organized by Lynn Schwab, 9th grade World History & Geography teacher. Prior to my visit the students would have prepared by a compact study of the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, Kristallnacht, Nazi concentration camps and death camps, and the ghettos. Some of the students have read Maus.

My participation was arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager, and Veronica Siegel, Administrative Program Coordinator, JFCS Holocaust Center.

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IHE Week of Understanding, Seward Middle School, Seward, NE – March 22, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

The Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) of Omaha, NE, was established in 2001 with the mission to provide educational resources, workshops, survivor testimony, and integrated arts programming to middle and high school students. IHE’s annual Week of Understanding is in its 12th year and brings testimony of Holocaust survivors to over 7,000 students in Nebraska and Iowa each year. This year there are 8 speakers and 12 schools participating.  The 2 schools to whose students I spoke are Seward Middle School on March 22 and Fremont Middle School on March 24.

Seward Middle School in Seward, NE, serves just over 410 students in grades 5-8. The school utilizes the concept of grade level teaming and exploratory classes to offer a diverse curriculum, including instructional programs in art, computer education, language arts, sciences, social studies, Spanish, health, family and consumer sciences, mathematics, vocal and instrumental music, physical education, agriculture education, special education, and high ability learner education.

The activities program for students include football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, and track.  Clubs and other student activity groups include cross country, builder’s club, bully response team, and several vocal and instrumental music groups.

My presentation to 111 8th grade students was organized by teacher Audrey Ahrens, and Seaward’s participation in the Week of Understanding was arranged by Scott Littky, IHE’s Executive Director, and Kael Sagheer, Education Coordinator of Institute for Holocaust Studies.  Attending also were Seward teachers & staff.

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Arroyo High School, San Lorenzo, CA – March 10, 2022 via video

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 11th consecutive year that I have spoken to its 10th grade students studying the Holocaust.  This year I spoke again via via Zoom, but it was to one class in the morning and a second class in the afternoon, both in their classrooms but wearing masks because of the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Looking at my web posts of pre-pandemic 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 two virtual sessions were again organized by teacher Jess Vaughn, as she did last year and several of my previous visits.  Making this visit unintentionally memorable was the total silence of Zoom’s audio at the start of the afternoon session.  However, after a few minutes of frustration, Jess Vaughn cleverly (heroically!) saved the day with a cell phone and some connecting cables.  Whew!

Participating now were approximately 30 students in each 10th-grade English class, who recently finished reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and have been studying background information about Hitler’s rise to power, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust in their History class.

The event was again arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager, and assisted by Zahira Trejo, Pell University Fellow, Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

Letters from students

A week after March 10 and my two presentations at Arroyo I received an email from teacher Jess Vaughn with link to 44 letters from her students.  It took another week+ to find time to read all of these letters, but eventually my wife Mimi and I read them after dinners, highlighting statements or phrases that resonated with us.  I will now excerpt these and add them to the Arroyo post on my website

I very much look forward to visiting Arroyo again next year in person rather than via Zoom

  • Your words about not to let anyone discourage me if I truly love something resonated with me. I have been previously told by some friends that my interests were weird to them, and that made me slightly dislike the things I used to enjoy. Eventually I came to find their opinions did not matter, the only thing that mattered was that I was interested in what I loved.
  • Your mom reminds me of mine because of all the things she went through so that you wouldn’t grow up in a terrible neighborhood. My mom would do anything in her power to get us out of that state.
  • Your words touched something in me that changed the way I view life and inspired me to go to college to find a passion in something that I could make my career. Thank You George for sharing your story.
  • I’m sure in the beginning it was very hard to share your experience since it was traumatic for you. You turned it into something positive by sharing, and I can assume that you are still healing.
  • I can’t imagine your entire life, and the lives of your family, depending on something as flimsy as a piece of paper. The fake IDs and dyed hair makes this seem almost like it’s out of a spy movie; you and your mother both are incredible.
  • To see someone else who didn’t really fit in but became successful makes me more hopeful for my future.
  • You said “Be for things, not against things”. I think a lot of people define themselves by what they’re not, proof by contradiction.  However, I’ve heard the sentiment that people need things to live for, not die for, and your quote reminded me of that.
  • To live in the present and to stand up for what you believe in is an important lesson in life, and I’m glad you taught us so.
  • I hope that I can help preserve your legacy by having the courage to stand up to them.
  • Your story impacted me because you inspired me to chase my dreams and do what I want career wise.
  • I have already told some of my family and friends about your story and they were amazed by it.
  • I am so grateful to have my family and their support in my life and I know you were glad you got to see your mom again.
  • I was impressed that you felt embarrassed about your English accent when you were 13 years old. My experience is very similar to yours.  I also came to the United States from another country, and my spoken English is not very good.
  • This aspect of your hard work that fascinates me.  The spirit of hard work is worth learning, and I will work hard to achieve my ideal goals.
  • What strikes me is what you went through when you first came to America because now I’m going through it too. I’m an English learner too, and sometimes I’m embarrassed by my spoken language, it makes me not dare to communicate with people. But you didn’t give up despite this and got good grades.  I also will not give up, study English hard and communicate with people boldly.
  • You said, ”Never let anyone discourage you.  If you really love something work hard and go get it.” This was really inspiring because I want to learn how to play soccer and they’re telling me that they don’t think I’m going to be dedicated but after hearing this I’m going to try hard and prove to them that I could learn how to play soccer.
  • I am inspired by you following your dreams, by those families who put themselves in danger to save you, and what you said about prejudice fading in the light of day. I feel that it is our responsibility to keep these stories alive so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
  • Your story has been very inspiring to me to keep going even during hard patches.
  • I was really happy when my teacher said that we were going to talk to you because I wanted to know how it felt back then. What were you thinking about the most?  I was thinking about when I moved away I missed my family so much and I would only think about when am I going to go back to see them.
  • The thing that stood out was when you showed how many Jews were killed in a month.  You explained that it was like everyone in San Francisco being killed every 8 months, it really showed how that seems almost impossible, but it did happen just to one group of people.
  • I think it is very important to keep your story alive because it is very inspirational.
  • Something that stuck out to me was about your coping mechanism. I was curious about it because I didn’t know if it was like falling asleep or if it was like your brain shutting off to not allow you to feel the pain of the impact.
  • I think a lot of what you said was very inspiring and I feel like it could change a lot of people’s point of view on life.
  • I am also an English Learner. Sometimes I also feel embarrassed by my accent and stutter.
  • I can’t believe what kind of life you have experienced.  Inspirational and very sad at the same time.
  •  I will tell my children in the future that I met a brave man who was alive while terrible things were happening in the world.
  •  It really inspired me when you said, “Never let anyone discourage you. If you really love something, work hard and go get it.”  Thank you for that. I really need to believe in myself more.
  • I just want to say thank you for being brave and inspiring us to stand up and speak up to injustice, to help others and follow our dreams of working hard and not listening to people who discourage us.
  • It was unbelievable how you were so close to death but so far from peace.
  •  Your story really impacted me greatly whether it was to appreciate my life more and be grateful for what I have.
  •  This story made me want to go out and do some good for this world. For example, help my community by donating to families in need in my community and all around the world.
  • Learning about your mom and all that she risked to keep you and herself safe was so inspiring.
  •  “Be for things, not against things.” I really resonated with this.
  •  I appreciated it so much for you to share your story that once was closed deep inside you for over 60 years.
  •  I heard from the eastern world and now I hear from the perspective from you representing the western world.  Your story helps me balance the view of WWII that everyone goes through the same crisis due to the evil fascist empires.
  • When you mentioned how you stayed in several Polish families’ care, it made me realize that there were people who opposed the Nazis and wanted to assist the Jews.
  • I am going to keep your story alive by telling family and friends of your amazing story because of how much it impacted me and hopefully how much it will impact them.
  • You saw the good things of life instead of the bad and because of that it is really inspiring. I just wanted to say thank you.
  • After listening to your story, I took some time to think about how amazing it was to be able to hear about an experience like yours.  I think there is a huge responsibility for me in keeping your story and others like it alive because I believe that everyone should be aware of the Holocaust.
  • Your story impacted me because it made me more appreciative of my parents and I really thought about all the sacrifices my parents made for me and my brothers.
  • What struck me was how intelligent your mother was. She had the great idea of dyeing her hair to blend in and come up with Catholic identities. I love how she continued to stay strong for you and herself.
  • You stated, “Never let anyone discourage you. If you really love something, work hard and go get it.” It encourages me to do the same and keep my grades up in school even if it gets challenging.
  • You came from an amazing mother that escaped with a lot of luck and kept you safe from genocide.
  • It stood out to me that you still were amazed by the plane. I took it as a spark in your future and instead of looking at it with fear, you looked at it in awe. Little did you know that in that very moment of seeing a Nazi plane it shaped your future and when you grow up it would forever be a part of you. That is what amazed me.
  • You were an English learner and embarrassed because you didn’t know how to speak English very well. I had the same experience moving to America when I was 10 years old. I was scared to attend school and was afraid I was gonna get bullied for my culture and my height.  I got bullied for my race/culture and how I say different words.  The more I grew older, I realized not to think too much about what the haters think of me.
  • A quote that I kept thinking about since the day you talked to us was, ‘’Never let anyone discourage you. If you really love something, work hard and go for it.”
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Escuela Popular, San Jose, CA – February 24, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

Escuela Popular began in 1986 in East San Jose as a community based grassroots school to address a growing need for English instruction in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood, and has been providing educational services ever since.  It has evolved into several schools including Escuela Popular High School Academy Under 19, a public charter school for grades 9-12.  Its student body is 97% Hispanic, 76% Low Income, 78% learning English, 63% female, 37% male.  Because of these unusual demographics, the High School Academy Under 19 provides intensive English Language Development so that students are able to meet their goal of graduating bilingual and biliterate.  Students benefit from the individual attention afforded by a 20:1 student-to-teacher ratio.  Per its website: “What sets this school apart from other high schools is that it accepts students regardless of whether they are at grade level.  It thus meets the student where she/he is at academically and accelerates learning from that point forward. Many of our under age 19 students have not done well in traditional schools.”  Perhaps as a result, academic progress is markedly lower than state average, and advancement thru the grade levels 9-12 is slower. (It’s not clear from public data, but it appears that there are considerably more students in the 9th grade than subsequent grades, indicating slow advancement.) 

My presentation to a dozen+ 9th  and 10th graders was organized by history teacher Jenee Donner and arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager,  and Veronica Siegel, Administrative Program Coordinator, of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

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Luther Burbank School, San Jose, CA – February 17, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

Luther Burbank School is a K-8th grades public school in with approximately 500 students.  A combination of demographics, economics, and language of the student body presents a major challenge to the school’s faculty and staff in providing academic advancement of the students.  Based on information, the demographics are 90% Latino, 3.5% Asian, 3% White, 2.5% Black, and 1% other, but 84% of the students are from low income families and 63% are now learning English.  The result of this combination is that the students’ test scores and their academic progress is markedly below state average, even though students/teacher ratio is at state average, the percentage of teachers with 3 or more years of experience is above state average, as is their salary structure.  While the difficulty is evident, its solution remains elusive.

My presentation to 55 7th graders was organized by teacher Sandy Brooks as part of the collaborative program Holocaust & Resistance of the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM’s Ron Glait) and the Jewish Family and Children Services (JFCS’s Penny Savryn.)

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Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – February 16, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

Thornton High School is a public, alternative school with current attendance of 124 students, primarily in grades 11-12, and its continuation program is designed to provide the opportunity for students to earn academic credits and meet the requirements for a high school diploma.  In a broader sense, Thornton’s mission is to build an educational community which would reintegrate at-promise students into educational, social and community activities and to develop feelings of self-worth, tolerance and community awareness, thus becoming productive and responsible citizens.  To foster community involvement, for example, students must complete at least 75 hours of community service and earn elective credits.  Students are referred to Thornton for a variety of reasons; each has his or her own story on what obstacle(s) got in the way of staying on credit track to graduate on time. With collaboration between the students themselves, families, staff, and community, the majority thrive at Thornton and earn enough credits to graduate on time. Several even end up graduating early, helped by smaller class sizes, increased teacher-student-family contact, individualized instruction, and the ability to earn credit in a variety of ways.

This was my third talk at Thornton, but the first one since Covid-19 constrained personal interaction, so unfortunately this talk was via Zoom.  As before, this talk was also arranged and organized by English teacher Fernanda Morales for 11th and 12th grade students. Before starting I had a very pleasant chat with math teacher Dan Nevo, whose father was also born in Poland in 1938, as I was, and after the talk I received a very nice send-off from teacher Morales and her students (photo below). I look forward to returning to Thornton next year in person, not via Zoom. 

Letters from students

Several weeks after my presentation I received letters sent by teacher Fernanda Morales from her students.  My wife Mimi and I read these letters together after last night’s dinner, highlighted statements or phrases that resonated with us, and I’ll now excerpt these and add them to the Thornton post on my website  I look forward to visiting Thornton again next year in person rather than via Zoom

  • What you shared is significant because it shows how ignorance led to catastrophic events, so spreading awareness about this topic may prevent another tragic event.
  • After you shared your story I noticed the little things in my life and now cherish them more than before.
  • What was most memorable to me was the message that no matter the situation, life threatening or not, you can still be a strong and great person.
  • Hearing your story and Elie Weisel’s book gave me a much better understanding of the Holocaust because both showed us the living conditions, how the Nazis treated people, and how heartless they were to Jews.
  • Everything that you shared with us was important because it showed how cruel the whole thing was.  I could feel how difficult it was.
  • I am grateful for what you were teaching us.
  • My favorite part was hearing about your time spent at different houses.  I connected with that the most because my great grandmother hid the same was.  It was memorable because my grandfather and his side of the family are Jewish.
  • Your story is important because we must learn to recognize the signs of future atrocities, and your story is one part of that solution.
  • My favorite part was that you continued to move past everything that happened in your life and became successful.
  • I somewhat connected with having a rough time in the past when I was younger and learned from it.  I became someone better.
  • We must stand together to go against the evil out there, that is what I take away from your (and Elie Wiesel’s) stories.
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Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Skokie, IL – February 2, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

The mission of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is expressed in its founding principle: Remember the Past, Transform the Future.  The Museum is thus  dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Holocaust by honoring the memories of its millions of murdered victims, but also by teaching universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference. As the second largest Holocaust museum in the United States, it not only honors the memory of the Holocaust’s victims but also salutes the courage and resilience of its Survivors. They are the people who rebuilt their lives and awoke the conscience of humanity, working tirelessly to tell their stories, so that none of us ever forget. It is for them that we carry out our founding principle.

The Museum, opened in 2009, is a culmination of 30 years of hard work by Chicago’s Survivor community, and it fulfills its mission through the exhibition, preservation, and interpretation of its collections; and through education programs and initiatives that foster the promotion of human rights and the elimination of genocide.

The Museum hosts approximately 40 programs annually. These sessions cover a wide range of topic areas, including the Holocaust, genocide, and contemporary social justice issues.  One of these programs consists of over five dozen video interviews and stories of Holocaust Survivors, recorded on Facebook and YouTube and available for viewing to the general public. My presentation was a part of this program, and was organized by Amanda Friedeman, Assistant Director of Education of the Museum, and Sierra Wolff, its Communications Coordinator. My participation in the program was arranged by Julia Thompson, Education Program Manager of Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity

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Noblesse International School, Angeles, Philippines – January 27, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

Noblesse International School (NIS) is a private coeducational boarding school with grades PK-12 whose stated mission is “to maintain a positive learning environment that enables all students to become successful learners, confident individuals, and respectful, responsible ‘world citizens’ who contribute effectively to a competitive global society.”  To fulfill this ambitious mission NIS endeavors to create a positive learning environment that encourages all students to be lifelong learners and achievers.  Creating and maintaining a “positive learning environment” is actioned by NIS through

§  Offering small class size where English is the main language of instruction, with native English-speaking teachers from the United States, Canada, & Australia

§  Providing individualized instruction plans to accommodate individual learning styles

§  Offering ESL classes for English language learners plus foreign language classes

§  Providing an academic program qualified by the IB (International Baccalaureate) World School, which strives to educate life-long learners with a focus on international-mindedness and real world application of the skills they learn in school

§  Encouraging students to think critically and work collaboratively

§  Providing opportunities for students to appreciate the cultural diversity of the student body

§  Providing community service and leadership opportunities for students, both at the school and in the community

§  Providing extra-curricular activities, including Art, PE, and Music (including lessons in piano, violin, and various wind instruments)

This approach, not only to education but also to a social, balanced lifestyle, is aimed to produce not only successful learners who demonstrate enthusiasm and motivation for lifelong learning, but also confident Individuals who demonstrate self-respect; secure values and beliefs, ambition, and a sense of emotional well-being.  NIS thus strives to produce responsible world citizens who demonstrate respect for others; and a growing appreciation for the role they can play in the political, economic, environmental, and social stability of the world in which they live. 

My presentation was organized by teacher Ms. Alyssa Fry for 51students in grades 8-11.  Depending on the grade level, their preparation can include The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, podcast episodes from ‘Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust’, poetry by Wislawa Szymborska and photographs by Margaret Bourke-White, and coverage of key historical events and developments of World War II during their Social Studies class.Attending also were NIS teacher/staff from their Headmaster, Dr. Vladimir Sousek, to their Social Studies teacher, Mr. Richard Curi, and various other interested teachers, including those from the math and sciences departments. Arrangements for my participation were made by Julia Thompson, Education Program Manager, Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle. 

Noblesse chose January 27th for this talk to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Squire John Thomas Elementary School, Gretna, NE – January 21, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

Squire John Thomas Elementary School (SJT) is a public school with 569 students in grades PreKindergarten-5.  The school has placed in the top 20% of all schools in Nebraska for overall test scores of its students: the percentage of students achieving proficiency in math is 72% vs. state average of 52% and in reading/language arts it is 69% vs. state average of 52%.  It therefore received a GreatSchools Rating of 8/10 for Test Scores and also 8/10 for Academic Progress.

As a point of interest, the school is named for an English nobleman born in 1485 – yes, 1485!

My talk was to the 5th grade class of teacher Alexis Nelson, who has introduced the class to the Holocaust as part of a 2-weeks WWII study unit.  This was followed in more detail by the 3-weeks Holocaust unit, including reading and discussion of Number of Stars by Lois Lowry and my talk.

I was genuinely skeptical about speaking to 5th graders, as my guideline for audiences has been “old enough to understand, young enough to have an open mind” and until now I considered 7th grade as the lower grade limit.  However, teacher Nelson told me that she had a Holocaust survivor speak to her 5th graders in 2020, considered it a success, and therefore wanted to do it again.  I therefore suggested to survey the students from which we both would learn by asking the students 3 simple questions about the good and bad sides of humanity prior to my talk, then afterwards ask 3 related questions to see how their views were influenced (or not) by my talk.  

The 3 pre-talk questions asked the students by teacher Nelson were: 1) What do you know about people helping other people?  2) How or why do you know that?  3)What do you know about people hurting other people?  The follow-up post-talk questions were: 1) What do you know about the ugly side of humanity?   2) What do you know about the good side of humanity?  3) From whom did you learn this? 

The students’ answers to both pre-talk and post-talk questions showed genuine thought.  Quoting their teacher: “Not only did this experience help them to understand better the good and bad side of humanity but it also taught them tenacity.  My students continue to talk about George’s personal pursuit of education and his desire to not give up.  It is my hope that we can continue our World War II and Holocaust education, supplemented with first hand accounts similar to this experience.”  

My contact with SJT and Alexis Nelson was arranged by Kael Sagheer of Omaha’s Institute for Holocaust Education.

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Bayhill High School, Berkeley, CA – January 18, 2022 via video

by George J Elbaum

Bayhill High School serves students with learning differences who are entering grades 9 – 12, and its current enrollment is ?????.   Eligible students have an average to above average intelligence, yet struggle to excel in a traditional classroom or school setting due to a learning difference or a need for a small, personalized setting.  Bayhill accepts students who can benefit from its unique approach to teaching students who thrive when given personalized instruction in a supportive environment.  This is accomplished through individualized curriculum including more time to complete assignments, tests, and projects, and lessons taught using auditory, visual, and hands-on modalities.

Bayhill’s mission is therefore to educate students with learning differences by focusing on their strength, talents, and individual learning needs, and with the goal of maximizing their inherent abilities and their potential to succeed.  For example, many Bayhill students have gifts in the arts and sciences, so the school’s visual & performing arts program allows students to develop their natural abilities in fine art, digital media, music and creative writing.

My presentation to two dozen 10th grade students was organized by Social Studies teacher Osiah Carbonneau, who had prepared his students by studying World War II topics including Hitler, Mussolini, Brownshirts, Kristallnacht, Yellow Star, Nuremberg Laws, Ghettos, Concentration Camps, and readings of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Night, and Maus.

My presentation was arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager of JFCS Holocaust Center.

????? – Awaiting information

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