North Naples Middle School
NAPLES — Hella Wartski’s face has more lines but one can see in her smile the mischievous girl she once was.
She can remember a time when her gregariousness could have cost Wartski her life.
“I wanted to run, I wanted to do things,” she said. “When they took my mother and father away and the two younger (siblings), I wanted to run to them, but my sister grabbed me and held me. I never saw them again.”
Wartski was 14 years old in 1944 when she was taken with her family from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps in Poland.
“Nobody should live the Holocaust experience,” she said. “It makes me shaky just to remember. But I want to (talk to the students) because then they will understand.”
As she sat in front of a room of more than 100 eighth-graders at North Naples Middle School Monday, Wartski recalled being loaded into a boxcar, similar to the one that is sitting in the school’s parking lot.
“To me, the worst was the boxcar. I always remember that. It was so dark,” she said. “Even now, I don’t like to be in the dark.”
Wartski, her husband Heinz and other survivors of the Holocaust are part of a two week study of the Holocaust at North Naples Middle School.
“I think everyone is aware we had an incident at our school this year. With the help of the anti-defimiation league, our campus has become ‘No Place for Hate,’” said Principal Margaret Jackson.
The incident Jackson refers to is known in the community as Kick a Jew Day, when a student complained of being kicked because she was Jewish and several North Naples Middle School students were suspended for kicking other students based on differences.
The school had planned to have the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida’s boxcar on campus before the incident occurred but decided to make the end-of-the-year event something larger for the students.
“We want them to become aware,” she said. “I’m not sure at this age they understand what the Holocaust means.”
Amy Snyder, the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida’s education director, told the students they were the last generation that would have the opportunity to hear first-hand from people who survived the Holocaust.
“It is our job to move these stories forward,” she said.
All of the students went through the boxcar, which is from World War II and was used to transport people to concentration camps. They also got a chance to experience one of the Holocaust Museum’s traveling exhibits, The Holocaust: History and Memory and Genocide Through the Eyes of Children, which was displayed in the school’s media center. The exhibits feature a timeline of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust through historical fact and personal testimony, as well as genocide that has occurred since the Holocaust, with emphasis on Bosnia, Rwanda, and the current situation in Darfur.
The Wartskis’ stories touched eighth-grader Alex Dulikravich, 14, who spoke to Hella Wartski after the presentation.
“When I got into that boxcar, it was indescribable,” he said. “I can’t believe our school got a hold of them to speak to us. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The study culminates with an event that allows the public to tour the boxcar from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the school, 16165 Learning Lane.
One of the school’s math classes calculated a path for luminaries, which will be lit Wednesday night with the names of children who perished in concentration camps. The school will also display its mosaic, made by the seventh- and eighth-grade students in Gina Rose’s art class.
Rose said the mural is supposed to illustrate that something positive has come out of something negative.
“It was a very emotional project,” she said.
Seventh-grader Elizabeth Roux, 12, worked on the project and was admiring her work with some of her classmates Monday, shooting photos of the mosaic with their cell phone cameras.
“It signifies a lot,” she said.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.