Legacies: High School Visits is the only program of its kind in New England. A cohort of 9th-12th graders learn about the Holocaust by meeting with a survivor four times over the course of the year to talk about life before, during, and after the war. An important component of the year is the group project where all three group members conceive of and create a meaningful tribute to their time spent together.
Reagan and Shayna met with Gabrielle, a child Holocaust survivor. Decades later Gabrielle was sent a letter by her mother in German, a language Gabrielle no longer knew how to speak and was unable to read. Her mother has since passed away and even though Gabrielle cherished this memory, she was always curious what the missive said. When Reagan and Shayna heard this, they were very inspired to help her and were also curious to know what the letter said. Coincidentally, Shayna’s family had invited a German exchange student into their home for the year. They worked with the German exchange student to translate the letter and then framed it for Gabrielle so she could always remember her mother’s last words as well as the experience Reagan, Shayna, and Gabrielle shared together.
Nathan and Alex also found a meaningful way to remember the past with Tania, a Holocaust survivor who fondly remembered a wool blanket that a local farmer gave her before leading her back to a hiding place in the nearby forest. The blanket was not only a source of heat during the freezing Polish winters but gave her a sense of comfort during such a traumatic time. Nathan and Alex were so moved when they heard this story that they felt compelled to create a special blanket for Tania to have today. They created a work of art Tania said was “beautiful, meaningful, special, and will always be a much cherished reminder of Nathan, Alex, and my wonderful time together.”
Jonah, Dan, and Max, a survivor from Latvia, designed a project that will never be forgotten by the attendees. Max had one suitcase that he took with him to America after the war. Everything he owned was found in this small trunk and Jonah and Dan not only commemorated Max’s experience of coming to America but modernized it into a lasting tribute by filling a suitcase with modern versions of the items Max carried. For instance, an MBTA pass symbolized Max’s train ticket to freedom, a piece of plywood to represent his family plywood factory, and a beach toy reminded Max of the beach house he went to as a child. All three participants found this experience of bringing the past into the present to be cathartic and significant.
One of the goals of Legacies: High School Visits is to help students understand the importance and relevancy of remembering the past. The six students who successfully accomplished this goal far surpassed our expectations and created important memorials that will be cherished by the Holocaust survivors they worked with for many years to come.
If you are a high school student who would like to participate in the program for the 2016-2017 school year, please apply online. All high school students regardless of religion are invited to apply. For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-693-1201.
Elyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.
Originally published on the JF&CS blog.