For most school-aged kids, the Holocaust is a completely abstract concept. Eleven million people killed due to intolerance and prejudice? It’s hard enough for adults to conceive.
Students at Foxborough Regional Charter School set out to learn more in a creative, artistic way as part of their community service learning curriculum. Since 2009, children in kindergarten and up have compiled donations of canceled postage stamps to visually honor the memories of the 6 million Jews, so many of them children, and 5 million others who perished under Hitler’s regime, says student-life advisor Jamie Droste, who oversees the program. The Holocaust Stamps Project turns this unfathomable event into a learning opportunity.
“For so many people, this is ancient history, especially students who might not be Jewish. Most of our students are not. Many are ESL. It’s a foreign thing to them. They’d never heard of the Holocaust before,” she says. “It’s age-appropriate, but we have every grade level working on it.”
Younger kids learn about counting by collecting the stamps; older kids create more detailed collages touching on difficult topics relating to the Holocaust. The community has come out in droves, too, donating stamps. Mailings have come from as far away as Israel and Australia, as well as 37 U.S. states.
The stamp collection started as an enrichment activity connected to fifth-grade students’ reading Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars,” which takes place in Nazi-occupied Denmark. As they got older, kids went on to read “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and “Maus.”
But why stamps, you ask? According to Droste, collecting used postage stamps has become a metaphor for retrieving valuable items destined to be tossed out as trash. “The Nazis did exactly this with 11 million human beings,” she says. Droste says that every stamp collected for the Holocaust Stamps Project helps the children to feel that they’re honoring one life thrown away during the Holocaust.
The kids have used the stamps to create 18-by-24-inch framed collage artworks that represent their growing knowledge of Holocaust-related events. They plan to create 18 pictures—to honor the Hebrew numerical value for “life”—and display them throughout the school.
“Every time a student at Foxborough Regional Charter School handles a single postage stamp as part of the Holocaust Stamps Project, he or she is being reminded of how important it is that every single person be permitted to live, without being disrespected, bullied or mistreated in any way, because unique and special differences are what make all people part of our one, diverse world community,” Droste says.
Since 2009, the kids have received more than 7 million stamps to make their collages. To learn more about the project and admire the artwork (and to donate!), visit their site.