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Educating Through Personal Story Telling

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With International Holocaust Remembrance Day falling on Jan. 27, educators in the Central High School District commemorated the significant anniversary that holds profound historical importance through education and personal story telling from Holocaust and genocide advocates and survivors.

“HolocaustMemorial Day serves as a poignant reminder to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who tragically lost their lives during this dark chapter in history,” said Robyn Einbinder, the social studies chairperson at Mepham High School.

Einbinder arranged for Holocaust survivor and author Marion Blumenthal Lazan to visit with students and share her story of fleeing Nazi Germany, surviving concentration camps, and emigrating to the United States.

Her tale is documented in the book, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” as well as in a PBS documentary narrated by Debra Messing, “Marion’s Triumph: Surviving History’s Nightmare.”

On Feb. 5, Lazan addressed students with universal messages “that each and every one of us is familiar with to varying degrees.”

“We must build bridges and reach out to one another,” she emphasized to a full auditorium. “We must be true to ourselves and not blindly follow a leader without thinking ahead and searching our hearts and our minds as to what the consequences what might be.”

By listening to these messages, Lazan said she hopes that “you can prevent our past from becoming your future.”

Lazan referred to survival techniques that helped her get through her emigration to the United Sates through the Netherlands in the late 1940s. While her mother lived in Amsterdam finding work as a masseuse and manicurist, Lazan and her brother resided in a children’s home nearby.

She kept her mind and body occupied with simple joys and practiced gratitude for basic necessities such as her own bed and blankets, a warm bath and toiletries and enough bread to never go hungry again.

“No one is spared hardship or adversity in their lives,” We all need to search for our own survival skills and put them to work. It’s not so much what happens to a person, it’s how we deal with it that matters.”

Her inspirational messages continued, urging students to not take their educational opportunities for granted.

Students were able to individually converse with Lazan after her speech, as well as get books signed.

Students at Kennedy High School heard Holocaust survivor testimonies from two individuals.

Renee Silver shared her very personal story of her childhood years in occupied France with ninth and tenth graders.

Shortly after the Second World War broke out, her family was interned in Gurs by the French fearing they - and any other foreigners - were spies.

“After France’s defeat, the family was allowed to leave Gurs and move to Villeurbanne near Lyon,” explained Ann Donaldson, a social studies chairperson.

Silver and her family endured the discrimination resulting from the Vichy government including humiliation in school, being hidden in Le Chambon sur Lignon and ultimately fleeing to neutral Switzerland.

Eleventh and twelfth graders heard from Manny Korman, who was also recently featured in Newsday.

When World War II broke out, Korman and his family were forced from their home in Germany, moving across different places before Manny and his brother were eventually separated from their mother and father through the Kindertransport.

“They lived in the English countryside with gentiles who were kind enough, brave enough, and compassionate enough to take them in when they had nowhere else to go,” added Donaldson. “Hiding their identities along with all the other children hidden amongst the gentile population, Manny spent this formative time in his life in a completely different world from that which he had known on mainland Europe, where both his parents still were at the time.”

The family’s miraculous reunion in the United States is evidence of the good-hearted upstanders who saved countless lives, while far too many stood by and said nothing.

Renowned advocate and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Carl Wilkens, engaged students across four sessions in the Central High School District. 1994, he was the only American who chose to remain in the country after theRwandan genocidebegan.

On Jan. 30, he spoke to Dr. David Goldberg and Tanya Cestaro’s Voices of the Past classes at. Calhoun High School.

He also visited Mepham High School to interact with Jacqueline Geller and Brian Joyce’s Leadership students. The following day, Wilkens presented to Brad Seidman, Teresa Negron and Jack Ryan’s Leadership students at Kennedy High School, concluding his visit with a session at the Meadowbrook Alternative Program.

“Wilkens, drawing from his unparalleled insights and experiences, profoundly inspired and educated the next generation of leaders and scholars,” noted social studies chairperson Christina Cone. “His firsthand account transcended textbooks and lectures, emphasizing the transformative power of empathy and individual action in the face of adversity.”

By sharing riveting narratives and fostering interactive discussions, Wilkens instilled in students a profound understanding of the consequences of hatred while highlighting the importance of compassion and leadership.

Two speakers are visiting Calhoun on Feb. 27. Mireille Taub, a Holocaust survivor, will be speaking to freshmen and sophomores, and Bernie Furshpan, a second generation survivor, will be speaking to juniors and seniors.

Both Merrick Avenue and Grand Avenue Middle Schools provided opportunities to further understand the impact of history as well.

In addition to classroom humanities curriculum, students will see the play, "From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust” in March and April.

“This performance will provide a deeper perspective, allowing us to connect with the past and strengthen our commitment to creating a world marked by empathy, understanding, and kindness,” Grand Avenue Principal Carlo Conte said.

Click here to view the photo slideshow.

Date Added: 2/6/2024

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