Learning From The Holocaust At North High

Sophomores in Ms. Gallagher’s AP World History class present a short multimedia lesson on the South Sudanese Genocide as part of North High’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event. Other students in her class created short-form video lessons on other genocides and atrocities that people may not have known about. (Photos by Adam Sanders)

Almost 74 years after the Holocaust, students at Great Neck North High School commemorated the tragedy during the school’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day event on March 26.

Removed from the standard learning environment of a lecturer and a grid of desks, students in the 10th and 11th grades created multimedia displays and workshops and worked with multiple school departments to create a moving tribute to the more than 11-million total people killed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.

The presentations ranged from discussions of art, music and poetry inspired by the tragedy of the Holocaust to video presentations of its legacy and other genocides around the world.

“Having each of the stations created and facilitated by students makes for a greater impact on the lesson of what went on during the Holocaust,” Principal Daniel Holtzman said. “It brings a sense of importance—greater importance than just reading it in a textbook or just learning it in class.”

Sarah Smith, a 10th grader in Ms. Ostrover’s U.S. History course, presents a lesson on the War Refugee Board during the Holocaust to an audience of fellow students. Smith, along with other students in the Community School program, created multimedia “museum boards” to teach lessons on the Holocaust.

Through these hands-on learning methods, students, both on the presenting side and those visiting the makeshift museum, learned about the Holocaust in a way that may have inspired them to see it from a new angle, with a focus on expanding perspectives in today’s modern, polarized world.

“The event developed my view on tolerance,” sophomore Nina Phillips said. “It brought together the school not only to educate students about the Holocaust, but also [the] specific factors and trends that allowed intolerance to develop into genocide.”

These student-made workshops and displays were accompanied by a small exhibit donated by the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, available in a room adjoining the school library. The exhibit explored the British Kindertransport initiative and how the heroism of ordinary British Jews saved the lives of more than 11,000 Jewish children in Germany and beyond.

Outside of the standard Social Studies class, other subjects throughout the school also commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“It’s really important to take that time to honor something that was a really important part of world history and if we can make a rich connection with science content, then it’s been a worthwhile use of our time,” science teacher Courtney Knacke said. “To me, it felt worthwhile, even if we took a day off from learning about cell signaling, to show our respect, pay homage and in some way acknowledge Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

Students enrolled in AP Biology with Knacke had a discussion on the Nazis’ use of eugenics and racial segregation during class to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. Other classes, including Chinese, Spanish and chemistry, also connected lessons to the Holocaust and the key points of inclusivity and tolerance.

Tenth-grade students discuss a poem related to the Holocaust and its relevance today with English teachers in a round-table setting in the school library during North High’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event. This was just one of the many interdisciplinary events that took place as part of the memorial.

Later in the day, the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, located in Glen Cove, brought in speaker Ruth Mermelstein to share her own personal account of how she escaped the Holocaust. Mermelstein, one of six siblings born to a Jewish family in Sighet, Romania, was thrust into uncertainty and danger when her hometown was annexed by Nazi-allied Hungary in 1940. Following Mermelstein’s story, students were able to ask questions. (See this week’s calendar to find out where she’s speaking on May 1.)

That evening, students and families had the opportunity to watch a documentary film, Above the Drowning Sea, that told the story of the thousands of Jewish refugees in Nazi-occupied Vienna who escaped to Shanghai with the assistance of the Chinese consul, Ho Feng Shan. The event was sponsored by the North High Parent-Teacher Organization and aimed to continue the lessons of tolerance, inclusivity and the heroism of ordinary people that had been expressed through the workshops and presentations during the school day. Chinese classes at North High had also given a lesson on the topic of Jewish refugees in China during the Holocaust.

As the number of Holocaust survivors still able to offer testimony declines, events like these become more and more important. Holocaust Remembrance Days such as this one are necessary, not only so that people can learn from the atrocities of the past, but also to ensure remembrance so that catastrophes like the Holocaust never occur again.

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