Honoring Holocaust survivors

John Carroll seniors pay tribute to 14 visitors with a presentation of words and images

March 25, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

It is common for Holocaust survivors to visit schools and make presentations to students.

But at John Carroll School recently, about 30 seniors turned the tables, giving a 40-minute presentation that included a video montage and poetry as a tribute to 14 Holocaust survivors who came to the campus.

"Our presentation is our way of giving back to the people who survived the horrible Holocaust," said John Kline, an 18-year-old Jarrettsville resident. "What I learned this semester about what they went through helped me realize how special life really is. And I think it had a powerful impact on us and the survivors."

The students, all members of an honors English class, created the presentation as part of a graduation requirement that includes writing a comparative analysis paper on Night by Elie Wiesel, a memoir about the author's concentration camp experience.

"I have my students do this project each year because it is filled with so many life lessons that go beyond the Holocaust," said Louise Geczy, who teaches the class.

Geczy takes her class to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and arranges for survivors to speak at the school, where she has taught for five years.

The students' presentation began with Ryan Leeb describing his reaction to studying the Holocaust. He acknowledged that his enthusiasm about studying the Holocaust was low at first. But once he and his classmates got into the lessons, they realized how important it is to see the effects and reactions to prejudice and racial conflicts, he said.

"People plant the seed of prejudice in a community, and it can get out of control," the 17-year-old Bel Air resident said. "I think that the kids in my class are a little more driven than average teenagers. I think we have to understand how important all of our actions really are - that someone may follow our lead."

The presentation included a video montage with an overview of what occurred in Europe from 1939 to 1945. Five students made the video with images of Jewish family life before the war, prisoners packed into trains, life in concentration camps and liberation of prisoners.

The students worked for about a week pulling photos from Internet history sites.

"We did the video because we think it's important for people to not only hear about the Holocaust from people who were there, but to see it as well," Kline said.

Casey Tiefenwerth wrote a poem based on "I Did Not Manage to Save," a poem about the Holocaust written by Jerzy Ficowski. The 17-year-old wrote the poem to show survivors that they haven't been forgotten:

I did not manage to stop one bullet.

I did not manage to give away one ration.

I did not manage to soothe one ailing mother, and I did not manage to work along side one father.

I did manage to learn one story, and another, and another.

Now my job is clear.

Saving a life does not always require rebellion of the times.

I am managing to preserve one life, and another, and another.

Through recounting a tale, a gesture, a feeling, immortality is not only for the supernatural.

"I wrote the poem to show the survivors that they matter," Tiefenwerth said. "One lady came up after the presentation and gave me a hug and a kiss and told me that my poem was beautiful. It means a lot to me to be able to make an impact on her."

The survivors commended the project.

"It shows me that the kids care about it," said Morris Rosen, an 84-year-old Pikesville resident who was born in Poland and spent time in several concentration camps. "Anyone who does such a thing can never be biased. It is my hope that they will tell their children, who will tell their children what hate can do."

The presentation ended with a letter Regina DiPaula wrote to the guests. The 17-year-old Bel Air resident has been interested in the Holocaust since eighth grade. To have survivors come to the school and share their experiences with students wasn't easy, she said.

"Listening to people who lived through the Holocaust is probably the best way to understand the power of human action against people," she said. "So I wrote a letter to tell them what having them at our school meant to us. The survivors should be applauded for the courage it took to relive their story for our sake. It was nice to see that they were moved and affected by my words."

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