Highlands Blog: Bringing the Holocaust to Life for My Eighth Grade Students
by Mrs. Stephanie Fonseca
The philosopher George Santayana wisely stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Although she said it in her own words, this was the underlying message behind the testimony of Holocaust survivor Mrs. Eva Libitzky who spoke to the eighth grade English class in the Grace auditorium this week. While sometimes a difficult truth to understand, this is the answer I frequently use in response to my eighth grade English students (specifically the boys) who sometimes struggle to see the value in reading one of our assigned books, The Diary of Anne Frank.
In hopes of making the struggles and fears of the young teenager Anne Frank relevant and real for my students, I contacted the Holocaust Education Department of South Florida. They are an association whose mission is to do this very thing–educate our generation about what could happen when hate reigns. They put me in contact with Mrs. Eva Libitzky who graciously shared her testimony and answered my students’ questions about her own survival experience.
Mrs. Eva will be ninety-four years old this year, and has a throat condition which has brought her days of public speaking to an end. When I picked her up at her condo in Pompano Beach, she explained in a shaky voice that while she used to speak on a weekly basis about her experiences, today she had considered cancelling due to her illness and weakening voice. With a smile she told me that despite these difficulties, she decided to speak to my students anyways because she feels a deep responsibility to the world, just like Anne Frank, to share her story. According to Mrs. Eva, “The world needs to know the power of hate. Because I survived, I made a promise to myself to share that message with everyone I can.”
Born near Warsaw Poland in 1924, Mrs. Eva told the tragic story of barely surviving in the Lodz ghetto, watching loved ones (including her own father) starve to death, and dealing with the loss of her mother upon the arrival at Auschwitz death camp when she was only fifteen years old. In a shaky voice, and using her notes so as not to lose her place, Mrs. Eva explained how she was miraculously saved from the gas chamber by being chosen in a group of twenty women to work in a German ammunition labor camp right before the end of the war. She also shared that not everyone involved was evil, and she gave examples of those who tried to help her even in her worst situation.
As one student asked about forgiveness, Mrs. Eva confessed that while her heart had once been filled with hatred towards her enemies, she learned that every person is a human being deserving of life. Mrs. Eva told us that although it still brings her deep pain to talk about her experiences, she feels blessed by God to live in America, to have life, to have a large family, and to have a story to share with the world.
Questions of why do we have to read this? And why is this important? are questions that I often have to face when my middle school students have any required reading. However, it is one of my greatest joys as an educator to help my students relate to the humanity of the characters we read about. While the story of Anne Frank and Mrs. Eva Libitzky are tales of heroism and bravery in the midst of probably the greatest tragedy in human history, Anne’s diary and Mrs. Eva’s story can bring to light the very common and human struggles that all of us face.
As a teacher at Highlands, it is my privilege to always present the truth of God’s word and provide my students opportunities to dynamically learn, cherish, and personally experience the stories they read about outside of the classroom.
Mrs. Stephanie Fonseca, our blogger of the week, teaches middle school and high school English at HCA and is also an HCA alumni. Her love of English, books, and teaching came from her years as a student at HCA and also from her English program at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. She is grateful to have the opportunity to give back and pour into students at her alma mater.
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