1. Berlin, Germany
Last year, we had an exchange student at NMHS from Germany. Her name was Sarah Lauterbach. I got to know her in the first semester of the school year and encouraged her to take the Holocaust course second semester. Sarah became an excellent contributor to class discussions, bringing to the discussions a perspective on Germany that only she could have as a citizen. As Sarah returned to her hometown in northern Germany, she spoke of her experiences in America and the Holocaust course. Her high school principal contacted me recently and we are arranging to meet with Sarah, her classmates, and the principal in Berlin. We are hoping to spend a day together at the Wannsee Villa near Berlin which today is a museum that deals with a meeting of high ranking Nazi officials in 1941 when they crafted the Final Solution. There were many moments in class last year when Sarah taught us incredible lessons about the guilt her generation deals with in terms of the Holocaust. In particular, when we Skyped with survivor Peter Feigl, Sarah revealed her background to him and asked how he felt about Germans today. It was the only time I have ever seen Peter Feigl get choked up and he told her that he can't hate her or anyone else who had nothing to do with the crimes that led to the Holocaust. Sarah later reflected upon this experience in writing and I have saved her index card response in Peter's diary as a bookmark - here is Sarah's reflection:
"For me, the most outstanding thing in the conversation with Peter Feigl yesterday was when I asked him if he would go back to Germany and he said he actually went back for a couple of times. For me it is important to know that he is forgiving Germans. He said there is a difference between actual Nazis and today's German generation. This is important to me because I can identify myself with Germany, but not with the Nazis. The experience that someone called me a Nazi was very hard for me because I felt like people don't understand me and the German culture. People still blame Germany for what happened more than 60 years ago, but Peter, the one who was actually involved in the Holocaust as a Jew, is forgiving."
I thought including this example would demonstrate the value of this exchange with German students in Berlin and the continued potential for our students to learn important life lessons.
2. Prague - Olomouc - Trsice
The students this year will have two extraordinary opportunities in the Czech Republic. First, Alexandra Zapruder, the author of Salvaged Pages (a book of diaries we use in the course and a long time friend and colleague from USHMM) will be traveling with us from Prague through our visit to Trsice. Alexandra's research first led me to discover the Otto Wolf diary and our connections with the Jewish Community of Olomouc and the rescuers in Trsice. Alexandra has never been to Olomouc or Trsice and has always wanted to be present when we dedicate the memorial to the underground hideouts that hid the Wolf family for three long years. Secondly, we have finally acquired enough funds to build the first memorial in the forest and Alexandra will be present with us during the dedication! You may recall last year that, for the first time, I made contact with Eva, the daughter of Lici, Otto's sister, who lives in Prague. She came to meet us in Prague last year and spoke to our students. This year Eva and her husband will be traveling to Trsice to witness the dedication. Finally, a few years ago when we conceptualized the memorial project, the Mayor of Trsice wanted a second stone in the center of town honoring the rescuers and providing directions to the memorial in the forest. We just found out last week that the mayor of Olomouc, which is the 5th largest city in the Czech Republic, has agreed to personally fund the second memorial, which will cost $6,000! Therefore, it appears that in 2013 we will finally dedicate the second memorial in which we feel extremely proud that our efforts have caused the local community to take ownership of its own important history.
3. Zakopane, Poland
You may recall during our extended stay two years ago that we had spent a day in Zakopane, a mountain region about 1.5 hours from Krakow. While we were stuck there and planning our visit, Mr. Barmore told us of some places we could see associated with the Holocaust along the way and a rescuer we could meet who lives near Zakopane. In 2010, we didn't have the resources or the time to plan these meetings overnight, so we decided we had the time in our schedule this year to make the trip and the meetings a reality. Thanks to Mr. Barmore, we will visit some obscure Jewish cemeteries in the mountain region of Zakopane and meet with a rescuer associated with hiding Jews in this region.
This past summer Colleen was one of a handful of teachers selected by the USC Shoah Foundation to work on iWitness, a searchable database that gives students and educators access to watch and learn from more than 1,000 video testimonials of Holocaust survivors. On January 23, 2012, I was fortunate to travel with Colleen and NMHS students to the United Nations in New York City to be a part of the official unveiling of iWitness. All in all our incredible Holocaust program are the direct result of an incredible educator who truly sees the value in authentic learning.