Holocaust survivor gives virtual presentation to EIS students.

In recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, students in the Westfield Public School District participated in a series of impactful classroom and schoolwide experiences that provided meaningful context to the school district’s Holocaust and Genocide curriculum.

During a visit via a remote live feed to 7th grade social studies classes at Edison Intermediate School on January 30, Holocaust survivor Eva Safier Wiener - who was 10 months old when she and her parents escaped Nazi Germany - recounted her family’s harrowing journey.

The Safiers were among 900 Jewish passengers to board the M.S. St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner docked in Hamburg and bound for Cuba in May 1939.  Denied permission to dock in Cuba, the United States, and Canada, the ship’s captain vowed not to return his Jewish passengers to Germany, instead finding four countries - Holland, Belgium, France, and England - who were willing to divide up the passenger manifest and welcome the asylum seekers.  Despite having relatives in the Netherlands, Wiener said her father chose to put his family on the list for England “to get as far away from Adolf Hitler as possible.”  The family eventually settled in the United States after World War II.

Many of the passengers who went to the other three countries, Wiener said, were eventually sent to concentration camps as the Nazis continued to invade their neighbors.

“When you see someone in the next 24-hours, I want each of you to repeat the story you hear today,” Wiener told the 7th graders, whose virtual visit was arranged in coordination with the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest New Jersey. “You will become the voice of the survivors.”

As part of a Historical Fiction unit, 5th graders read “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, a historical fiction novel that follows a friendship between a Jewish girl and a Christian girl in Copenhagen and their journey to freedom during World War II.

Eighth grade students experienced a two-week interdisciplinary unit titled “The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do.”  The unit was held simultaneously in language arts and social studies classes.

“The theme ‘why we remember’ was common across all of these experiences,” says K-12 Supervisor of Social Studies Andrea Brennan.  “Reading novels, listening to survivor stories, and experiencing dramatic performances helped students learn and understand the varied experiences people had during the Holocaust.”

At Edison and Roosevelt Intermediate Schools, students in each grade level also attended a special assembly from the Seattle, Washington-based company “Living Voices,” which combines live performances, archival film and sound, and discussion.  Through the accomplished storytelling of a solo performer, the students listened to “Through the Eyes of a Friend” which is told from the viewpoint of a fictional “best friend” of Anne Frank.

Superintendent Dr. Raymond González thanked Mrs. Wiener and all who shared these special learning experiences with the students.

“The opportunity to provide real-life context to our Holocaust curriculum is invaluable,” says González.  “We hope our students come away from these lessons with a renewed determination to always speak out against hate.”