Friday, February 1, 2008

Living History

The student of Room 5C revceived a visit today that I don't think any of us will forget for a long time to come. Ms. Schiff, a local Holocaust survivor who volunteers with the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, came to tell her story. She shared her memories of living in a forest for nearly three years as they dodged Nazi soldiers. She told of hunger and cold and still, some 60 years later, not knowing for sure what became of her mother, father or sister. She's the only member of her family to have survived. She explain to my students about how indifferent the world had been as entire towns were rounded up and murdered. To my delight, she also noted that much the same is now occuring in Darfur and the Congo. She spoke of her love for American and the second chance it, and a good education, offered her. Knowing that my students are all, of course, currently detainees, she challenged them to seize the second chance they will all have when they leave and stressed the role of education in making that second chance real.

I think what I loved the most was seeing the thoughtful and respectful questions they had for her. What was it like not knowing the fate of your family? How did you first make it in America without speaking English? Having faced such racial hatred yourself, what did you think of the segregation of whites and blacks in your new country? (This elicited a story of how her husband, who was then in the Army, once refused to be served dinner because the restaurant wouldn't serve some of the other men in his squadron who were black.) Have you met other Survivors? Didn't Jewish people fight back and if not, why not? One student didn't have a question, he just wanted to shake her hand. Privately, some students shared with me their surprise that she didn't mind coming her (to a detention center) to talk with them. Mrs. Schiff was warm and kind and a gifted speaker, able to share vivid details of a living nightmare. To judge by their response writings, what impressed them most was the courage she finds again each time she tells her story to essentially relive it. Along with reading and writing skills, a major goal of mine is to teach tolerance itself, and so I especially enjoyed a young Muslim student of mine referring to Mrs. Schiff (who is, of course, Jewish) as a "godly woman".


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