Holocaust Survivors Share Personal Stories with Luis Muñoz Marin Students, Enhancing Genocide Studies Curriculum

The Newark Public School 7th grade Social Studies curriculum focuses on World History. At Luis Muñoz Marin, the Social Studies teachers, Ms. Quetzy Rivera and Ms. Mimi Rosenbaum, showed students how past history affects the present and how each action causes a reaction. They were shown how the human experience can determine political, geographic, economic and social issues, linking all to the greater global community. The section on Africa coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide and the Day of Remembrance for the European Holocaust where over ten million people were killed. Students in Ms. Rivera and Ms. Rosenbaum’s classes were asked to define the term ‘Genocide’, a term invented for the Jewish Holocaust, and how, even though the cry after World War II was “Never Again”, there have been attempts at genocide in countries like Rwanda, Bosnia, the Sudan, Cambodia. Students worked in teams of two and were asked, based on the eight stages of genocide, to pick one country that showed signs of genocide and research the causes and effect. They submitted research papers and had to present a power point explaining why they chose that particular country.

On June 12th, two Holocaust speakers came to Marin to talk to the students about their experiences. Both Ms. Goldstein and Mr. Obermeyer were children during the Holocaust and survived through horrible conditions.

Ms. Goldstein was eight years old when her father was taken away (her mother had previously died of natural causes) and she and her older sister were forced to care for each other. They survived with the help of a Catholic nun who did not differentiate that these were Jewish children; merely that they were children. Ms. Goldstein explained to the students that we are morally obligated to care for each other and repeated what the nun had said, “ Today they come for the Jews; tomorrow they will come for me if we do not stop them.” This Catholic nun put herself in harm’s way to protect Ms. Goldstein and her sister. Had she been discovered, the Nazis would have killed them all.

Mr. Obermeyer told his story as well. His family had lived in Germany for over two hundred years. Suddenly, they were told they were no longer citizens, were not allowed to attend school and were treated differently by friends and neighbors. His parents realized that things would only get worse after “Kristalnacht”, (the Night of Broken Glass), when Jewish businesses, homes and temples were vandalized. Britain agreed to give visas to 10,000 children including Germany if they had the funds to support themselves and to be schooled. He was accepted as one of the children to go on the Kindertransport and so survived the War. His mother couldn’t bear the thought of parting from her child and did not go to the station. He never saw either parent again. When asked by a Marin student, Mr. Obermeyer told them his biggest regret was not being ‘better’, that he had been a difficult child and that was how his mother remembered him. Students asked questions and wrote reflections on the two Holocaust speakers.