As the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida’s traveling boxcar made its way to Manatee Middle school, eighth grade students were busy preparing a Holocaust Museum of their own. During the week of May 7th, students and their families visited not only the boxcar, but also a museum made up of unique projects by the eighth grade class.
“During eighth grade Language Arts, the students spend a unit focusing on the Holocaust. Most of our eighth graders have read ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and have done some research by reading ‘The Boy inthe Striped Pajamas,’ ‘The Devil’s Arithmetic’ and different books of that nature,” explains Reading teacher, Sherrie Siers. In developing the museum, each project “depended on what their teacher and what the students decided to do.” In some cases, students studied specific children who perished in the Holocaust, creating biographies and photos of them. Other students focused on the use of propaganda during the Holocaust and created their own propaganda posters. One wall featured paper links that demonstrated the number of Jewish citizens killed by the Nazis in various countries throughout Europe.
Another class studied theinfluence of Dr. Seuss during World War II. Seuss-like posters were created, imitating his political cartoons published in PM Newspaper between 1941 and 1943. According to a print-out explaining his impact during WWII, “Dr. Seuss said he had ‘no great causes of interest in social issues until Hitler’ and that he published his cartoons in PM because they ‘were against people who pushed other people around.’”
“The projects are a culmination of literature study. It’s also a cross-curricular activity throughout the entire eighth grade,” adds Siers. Eighth graders learn the history of the Holocaust throughSocial Studies, Language Arts focuses on literature, Science teachers bring the students to the boxcar and the Math teachers take the eighth graders through the museum they have created.
The students also heard survivors of the Holocaust speak. “Hella and Heinz Wartski came in on Monday to speak with the students,” explains Siers. Both survivors of the Holocaust, Hella and her entire family were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Hella and her two older sisters survived, but the rest of her family perished in the death camp. Heinz and his family escaped to Italy, wherethey spent several years in hiding. Hella and Heinz eventually relocated to the United States, where they met and were married. Hella later became a school teacher. Her message, above all, to the Manatee eighth graders on that day was to, “Stay in School.”
Students were in awe of the couple’s harrowing stories of survival. The 200-plus eighth graders sat in pure silence as the Wartski’s shared their experience. “You could hear a pin drop,” adds Siers.
During the presentation, Sara Gottwalles, Education Program Manager of The Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida, also spoke with thestudents. Sara posed a question at the assembly – how many genocides have taken place since the Holocaust? A number of guesses led to the real answer – thirteen. After all we have learned from the Holocaust, the torture and killing of people of particular race, religion or creed is still being repeated.
The Boxcar, itself, echoes the sentiment of genocide throughout time. Posters lined the boxcar, describing the term, “genocide,” along with atrocities similar to the Holocaust. A Polish-Jewish lawyer by the name, Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1944 from “the Greekword for tribe or race, geno-, and the Latin word for killing, -cide. Lemkin felt the term described ‘a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.’”
Other posters outlined genocides from across the world. Countries such as Bosnia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Paraguay and Darfur, Sudan have experienced genocides since the Holocaust.
Prior to the Holocaust, millions of American Indians were murdered during the European settlement of North America. They were removed from their land, forced on death marchesand killed off both directly and indirectly due to exposure to diseases such as smallpox, influenza and measles.
During World War I, over 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Turkish government. According to the boxcar’s poster, “Using forced marches and the newly established Istanbul-Baghdad railway, the government deported hundreds of thousands of Armenians from their homes into the Syrian desert, where they were left without shelter, food or water. Hitler used the lack of outrage about Armenia as his justification for the invasion of Poland in 1939; ‘who after all, speaks today of theannihilation of the Armenians?’”
Today, the boxcar speaks of the Armenians, Native Americans and the Jews. It tells the story of the killings of millions of people around the world due to indifference. As students throughout Southwest Florida have a chance to see the traveling boxcar and hear from survivors like the Wartski’s, the message of hope begins to spread. Through education and involvement, students at Manatee Middle School will be able to say that they are no longer indifferent to these sufferings.