Lanetra Bennett, WCTV News
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Chaires Elementary School in Tallahassee is honoring Holocaust victims and survivors.
Friday, students, staff, administrators, and Superintendent Rocky Hanna hosted a dedication for a memorial garden.
It’s inspired by a poem written by a holocaust survivor who described not being able to see butterflies while in a concentration camp.
Teachers say the garden will not only be a place to learn how to grow things, but also to remember lessons learned from the Holocaust.
Fifth grader, Anna Caulkins, said, “Butterflies are special. They should be free. So should humans be.”
Jordan Whittier, 5th grade, said, “Nobody should ever not see a butterfly in their lifetime.”
Naomi Buchanan, 5th grade, said, “It’s very pretty and amazing, that honors people that have been through the Holocaust and also people that have survived.”
Rance Grace, 5th grade, said, “Trying to get all of that stuff in order took very hard work. But, it all paid off.”
Chaires Elementary started a Holocaust workshop last summer.
Superintendent Hanna says next year, other schools will do the same.
Next Saturday night, the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, joined by FAMU Concert Choir, will tell the inspiring story of the historic performances by Nazi prisoners of Verdi’s “Requiem” at Terezín concentration camp.
This event has special meaning to me, because Terezín is where my grandparents died. It was a terrible place where Jews from Europe were herded before being sent on to their death in other concentration camps. In Terezín itself, Jewish prisoners were killed or died of hunger, disease and despair.
This place of genocide is located in a beautiful region of the Czech Republic, surrounded by green hills and quiet rivers. My grandparents were among the first group of Jews to be transported there from western Germany.
Ultimately, 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, who were meticulous about recording how and when they killed their victims.
According to records I found, my grandmother survived about a month after arriving at Terezín. She died on Oct. 16, which also happens to be my daughter’s birthday. My grandfather, for whom I was named, lived a year and a half longer in unimaginable conditions.
My father, at age 16, was the only one in his family to escape Germany before the Holocaust. The loss of his parents and most of his family was too much to bear, and he never revisited his home country, nor was he able to visit the site of his parents’ deaths. I became the first in my family to see where and how my grandparents died.
On a trip to Eastern Europe several years ago, in my capacity as chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, I visited Terezín. A Fulbright scholar from Minnesota, whose work and study in Terezín embodies the importance of foreign educational exchange, was my guide and companion.
The day we visited was cold, windy and gray. The gloomy weather stood in stark contrast with the green foliage and peaceful countryside in this area 35 miles north of Prague. It is difficult to reconcile the horrific murders committed here with the pastoral surroundings.
Passing row after row of headstones near the memorials and monuments, we entered the large crematorium where my grandparents’ bodies were incinerated. Against one wall was a series of ovens. Near one oven, I lit two candles in their memory.
After they were cremated, their ashes were placed in paper urns and were stored in a dark brick building nearby. As the war neared its end, the Nazis attempted to discard the ashes in the river near the camp, in an effort to conceal 35,000 or more murders at Terezín.
In Prague, I had met, by chance, an 84-year-old survivor of Terezín. She wept as she recounted to me how, when she was a young prisoner, she was forced by the Nazis to dispose of the Jewish ashes from the urns into the Ohre River. Near the site is a modest memorial. From there, the Ohre flows into a larger body, and then, appropriately, back into Germany.
As I stood at the river bank, it struck me that the Ohre is much like the rivers near my home thousands of miles away. The smell of the mud, the smoothness of the rocks at the shore, the graceful ripple of the slow-moving water – these things can all be found in North Florida rivers. It is a comfort to know that my grandparents found their repose in such serenity, and that a fellow prisoner, rather than a Nazi, may have seen to that.
My grandparents’ ashes have long since become one with that river, so at the riverbank, I crouched down, selected several small pebbles and slipped them in my pocket. As I turned and climbed on granite steps up from the riverside, the pebbles tumbling together in my pocket, I thought of my grandparents’ other two grandchildren.
My two first cousins, Peter and Sam, are among the youngest survivors of the Holocaust. I decided I would share a pebble with each of them. They might find a small measure of closure in our grandparents’ final resting place in the Ohre River, and how their ashes may have washed over these same pebbles 60 years ago.
Finally, I had been able to make the trip to Terezín that was too difficult for my father, and pay respects to his parents as he was never able to. My father would be comforted to know that the memory of his parents – and the lessons of the Holocaust – will never be forgotten.
Steve Uhlfelder, a Tallahassee attorney, was the chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and chairman of the Florida Board of Regents. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Requiem of Resistance: A community event to remind us of our humanity and connectedness
The Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, joined by the FAMU Concert Choir and other community chorus members, will tell the story of Verdi’s “Requiem” at Terezín. An opening narration by Jack Romberg and Laura Johnson, with powerful visuals from the concentration camp, will bring the Terezin story to life.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25
Where: Ruby Diamond Concert Hall
Cost: $37-$80. Proceeds benefit the Holocaust Education Resource Council, the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra and Temple Israel.
Tickets: Visit TallahasseeSymphony.org
Jan Munn has been teaching art at Chaires Elementary School for 16 years. In that time, she has designed countless lessons and projects that inspire her students to explore their creativity, express their feelings and ideas, and learn about our cultural history. She has recently challenged her fourth-graders with a new art project. This one encourages them to exercise their compassion and examine the consequences of prejudice, specifically as it relates to the Holocaust.
In 1994, the state of Florida passed a bill that mandated Holocaust instruction for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. To assist in this effort, there are nine Task Force sites across the state that offer intensive training programs, curricula, and resources for teachers. Tallahassee is the location for one of them, the Holocaust Education Resource Council (HERC), and Munn has become one of the organization’s most ardent supporters.
“I started going to the HERC workshops because I was like ‘how do you teach the Holocaust?’ It’s so difficult and it was so horrible.” After years of involvement and training, Munn is not only adept at bringing the subject into her own classroom, she’s helping others do the same. As a member of HERC’s education committee, she’s working to develop teaching trunks that include books and other classroom resources including copies of her own lesson plans for other educators to use if they wish.
Using age-appropriate instructional strategies, Munn has learned to introduce the content to her students gradually. “Kindergarten just gets a little piece of it. I’ll read them a Dr. Seuss book like “Yertle the Turtle,”” an allegory representing the rise and fall of the Nazi party. “As they get older I go more in depth. By the time the kids get to high school, they’re digging really deep into the survivors’ stories, but we have to go very gently for our little tykes and build on it as we go.”
Munn’s fourth-graders have been studying “The Butterfly,” a poem written by Pavel Friedmann in 1942 at Theresienstadt concentration camp. This camp is often referred to as Terezín, the garrison city where it was located. Inspired by that poem, students are undertaking a printmaking project and incorporating a butterfly motif into their designs. After Munn explained the printmaking process, showed examples, and demonstrated the techniques, students were able to translate their sketches into actual prints. In some cases, this proved more complicated than expected.
Grayson Blake found it difficult to evenly distribute the ink onto his Styrofoam printing plate. “I added too much or too little. It’s really hard to get the perfect amount to get the perfect print.” With an attitude of determination, he said, “even though I wasn’t that lucky today, I’m going to keep trying.”
Though Grayson and his classmates have learned about printmaking through this lesson, they have gained much more than that. When reflecting on the essential message of the classwork they’ve done, Grayson explained “kids were taken away and some were separated from their families. It’s important to remember that. Doing this helps us remember that.”
Logan Riedle shared a similar sentiment about the prints she created. “It makes me feel better to make art about it. It makes me feel like people still care about what happened.” After learning about Terezín, Nicole Bean imagined that creating art would have also helped those imprisoned there. “In that camp, they were starving and they had no happy life at all. The kids, they used art to calm themselves down.”
Many artworks were created at Terezín, largely due to the forethought and bravery of Frederika “Friedl” Dicker-Brandeis, an Austrian artist and educator. “Everybody was told they were going to a work camp and they were allowed to bring one suitcase,” Munn explained. “Instead of bringing clothes, Friedl brought art supplies. She knew there would be kids there and that she would need to help them. She knew that things you can’t talk about, sometimes, you can draw about, you can paint about.”
In the spirit of Dicker-Brandeis, Munn is using art to help her students channel their imagination and emotions. She’s even taking it one step further. As an extension of the lessons learned in the art room, Munn has championed a school butterfly garden which has been built and planted as a permanent Holocaust memorial.
Additionally, the artwork created by Chaires students will be on display in the lobby of Ruby Diamond Concert Hall on March 25 for the “Requiem of Resistance” concert featuring the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra and the FAMU Concert Choir. The performance is an homage to the artistic resistance at Terezin and it will tell the story of the historic performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem.
“Through art, I’m teaching tolerance and acceptance. Not just tolerance, but acceptance,” emphasized Munn. “We’re teaching kids to get along, we’re teaching sharing, manners, all the things that they need. If we don’t study history, we will repeat history.”
Amanda Karioth Thompson is the Assistant Director for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (www.tallahasseearts.org).
HERC’s March newsletter is now complete. You may download the newsletter using this link.
While Shimon Gottschalk’s experiences with Nazi persecution ultimately led him to delve more deeply into his faith and become one its educators, for Anne Allen, born, Anna Veronika Berend in Budapest, Hungary, in 1929, the very opposite was true.
“For me, being Jewish meant humiliation.” Today at 87, the youthful-looking, 4’11”, great-grandmother is just as unintimidated as she must have been at 10 and 11 when the Jewish Laws were enacted in German-influenced Hungary.
“Because I was Jewish I was not allowed to go to school anymore with “Aryan” children.” She leans forward, “We would have contaminated them!” Allen recalls the pain of being unable to go to movies or restaurants any longer and worse, that her friends now “looked right through me…as if I no longer existed.” It is a hurt and anger that remains barely banked after all these years.
By late 1939 and 1940, being Jewish in Budapest meant that her father, a lawyer, began losing clients; that her mother, a concert violinist was no longer welcome in the symphony; and that her brother would assume a false identity to keep from being “recruited” to a labor camp. But for 10-year-old Allen, it is one scathing memory that embodies the iniquity of Jewish life in Budapest:
“With the canary yellow Mogen David (star of David) sewn over my heart, I was walking to my grandparents’ when an older man on the street stepped directly in front of me. Gathering a huge gob of spittle, he spat it directly in my face, calling me a “little rose of Sharon,” a term used sarcastically for a Jewish girl.” Allen remembers where the spittle hit and how it ran down into her mouth. She says she ripped the yellow star from her coat and ran home determined to never wear it again.
Hiding in the country
But a kindness given for a kindness received would give her a respite. Some years before, her grandfather, a kindly surgeon, had operated on a Christian farmer without charging a fee. Now, as most Jews were being ordered into ghettos, the farmer appeared at the doctor’s door offering him a place to hide in the country. Spending “half of their savings” on false identity papers, Allen says she and her grandparents went to live for the next few years in the country.
She remembers her name from that time: “I became Aranka Molnar, fourth generation Aryan!” Her parents were spared removal from their apartment because her father had earned a German Iron Cross in the First World War when Hungary was part of the Axis.
Yet, the fighting of this war had spread and now brought Hungary directly into the battles. No place was safe, even in the country. Bombs were dropped from Allied planes onto Budapest, but there were also many questions being asked about the “Molnars” in the country. It was decided they should return to the city before they were betrayed.
But much of Budapest was in ruins and it was the dead of winter. “I tried to repair the windows in my grandparents’ apartment,” says the ever-resourceful Allen. “They were all blown out and it was freezing. I found some of Grandfather’s old X-rays in the closet… the old kind with emulsion on the surface. I scrubbed off the black part and attached them over the windows… like panes, I thought.” Her grandfather, however, was furious that she had lost the important record of his patients. He’d had a fiduciary toward them.
Scavenging on streets
“We were essentially living in the cellar by that time,” says Allen. “There were bombings four times a day leaving animals in the street and nothing to eat.” Food became so scarce that the now young teenager followed a group from her cellar that broke into a soup kitchen. She brought back two bags of “moldy, dried carrots and cabbage” — a prize for the family, though her father was angry at her theft. He presumably was more pleased when Allen had run into the street after a bombing raid and sliced off a tranche of meat from the hip of a dead horse. “I stuffed it in a bag of snow and brought it home!” Their first meat for weeks.
The German Army, which had occupied Hungary in 1944 and sent between 450,000 and 600,000 Hungarian Jews to death camps, were by the end of the year, in a life and death struggle, losing on all fronts. Finally, with the Germans on the run, in December 1944, Soviet troops marched into Budapest. They brought with them, and into the cellar where the feisty 14-year old Allen hid with her parents and other apartment dwellers — the final hell of war.
“The Soviet troops came down into the basement with their gun pointed at us. The first thing they did was scream in Russian, “Watches! Give us your watches!” And when we did, they pulled up their sleeves and laughingly, showed us watches to their elbows!” And then, one by one, they pulled three girls from their mothers, guns pointed at the weeping women’s heads, and took the girls away to rape them.” Allen said she was spared by the foresight of her mother, who had cut the girl’s long hair and made her wear her brother’s clothes and hat.
Loss and survival
After the war, Allen eventually made her way first to London, and later to the United States. She would go on to have three sons, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The war had taken families she knew to gas chambers; resulted in the suicide of her brother, which she believed to be a result of its stress; and her boyfriend shot two weeks after their first kiss.
She also knows of hundreds of fellow Budapest Jews who were marched to the edge of the Danube in front of the city’s elegant Parliament building, stripped of their gold, then their clothes, shot, and shoved into the river by the next row of those about to be murdered. She knows, because her father, the honest lawyer, was later asked to represent the Hitler Youth who had perpetrated the crime. He refused.
An event as sweepingly heinous as the Holocaust, one which invades lives of generations both forward and back, which makes heroes, births villains, and forces ordinary people to question what they stand for, are willing to die for… and what they would do to survive… such an event makes its imprint in many ways.
For Allen, she “gave up being Jewish.” For her, “Jewishness” had not brought security nor safety. For the last 60 years, Allen has been a practicing Presbyterian and reared her children in its faith. Survival means many things to many people, and Anne Allen is, by any measure, a valiant survivor.