Eighth Grade Immerses in Study of Holocaust, Attends Virtual Meeting with SurvivorWritten by Andrea Miller
After two weeks of intense study of the Holocaust in Mr. Frazer's history class, the eighth grade took a virtual tour of the Nassau County Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center and met virtually with Ruth Mermelstein, a Holocaust survivor in late September.
Gathered in community socially distanced in the theater, the eighth graders listened to Ruth's testimony of being separated from most of her family and taken to Auschwitz at the age of 14. With great emotion, Ruth spoke of the horrors of concentration camps, the tragedy of losing her home and relatives, and the courage and strength it took her and her sister to survive the unthinkable inhumanity of the Holocaust. Ruth mentioned that she felt she had survived so that she could educate others about the realities of the Holocaust, and encouraged our eighth graders to be "upstanders instead of bystanders."
After hearing Ruth's testimony, the grade engaged in dialogue about the power of Ruth's story and expressed their gratitude in hearing a firsthand account. Mr. Frazer reiterated the significance of learning about the Holocaust and why it's important to speak out against antisemitism and all forms of discrimination.
"We heard Ruth's story and all that she went through. She was your age when she went through all of that," Mr. Frazer said, addressing the grade. "It's not something that we ever joke about."
In their study of the Holocaust, the eighth graders had learned of a story of a woman who saw Jewish children being taken away in a van and at first did nothing. She was so sickened by her own inaction – being a bystander – that she began taking in Jewish children to hide them and recruiting others to help her. The grade settled into silence to reflect on a query:
"In this study of rescuers, Ervin Staub states, 'Goodness, like evil, often begins in small steps. Heroes evolve; they aren't born. Very often, the rescuers made a small commitment at the start, to hide someone for a day or two. But once they had taken that step, they began to see themselves differently, as someone who helped. What starts as mere willingness becomes intense involvement.' How can you take that small step towards being someone that helps? How can you spark your life from mere willingness to intense involvement?"
As the meeting closed, Mr. Frazer expressed the importance of being in community – even if it meant being two rows and three seats away from each other – for experiences like these, and offered the adults in the Middle School community as resources for students to talk to about the emotions they were feeling after studying such difficult subject matter.