“Of the 12 million people killed during the Holocaust, six million were Jewish and 1 1/2 million of those were children,” said Amy Macera-Snyder, addressing wide-eyed, attentive fourth grade students at Tommie Barfield Elementary School (TBE).
Last Friday, Macera-Snyder’s presentation was the culminating activity to a unit of study on the topic of discrimination and prejudice. She is the education director of the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida.
The reality of the horrors of the Holocaust resulting from discrimination were brought into sharp focus as students sat riveted and silent during a power point presentation and display of authentic artifacts from the reign of terror of the Third Reich.
“I learned that discrimination is not fair and it is wrong. The Holocaust was a bad time for the Jewish people and it taught me that we need to treat everyone with respect,” said student Sterling Spitzer.
Macera-Snyder explained that in 1933, when Hitler and his political party came to power, he wanted to create the perfect, or master race – the Aryan race.
“Hitler, in an effort to rebuild his country after losing World War I, which was then also suffering under the great depression, made a plan to eliminate those who didn’t fit into the master race. He said in 1,000 years they would have a perfect race,” said Macera-Snyder.
“Handicapped persons, who were described as having ’a life unworthy of life,’ Jews and gypsies did not fit into the master race and were an easy target. Only those who had light hair blue eyes were considered acceptable and became those who held upper level positions.”
It all began when fourth grade teacher Sarah Palmer started the unit with books like ’Someone Named Eva,’ ’The Diary of Anne Frank,’ ‘The Upstairs Room’ and other stories about the Holocaust.
“At the beginning of the unit, I first sent secretly noted to our blond haired, blue eyed girls that I would be purposely ignoring them for the entire morning,” said Palmer.
“Then, by time we began social studies, the students noticed that I was treating the girls differently and asked why I was being ’mean’ and ignoring them. This was a leeway into the unit.”
The teacher then asked the girls to describe their feelings about being ignored and discriminated against because of their eye color, hair color and gender.
Next, Palmer taught about World War II, Hitler, the Jewish people and the Holocaust.
“After the lesson, we studied the unfair laws that Hitler and the German people imposed on the Jewish people, like demanding they turn in their bikes and radios and the requirement to wear stars with the word ’Jood’ at all times and other bans,” explained Palmer.
The class read the story of Anne Frank and her family and examined her diary entries that revealed her love for people and life, even though she was being discriminated against for things she could not control and for things that were completely unfair, said Palmer.
“Afterward, I stripped the students of all their rights and told them they were going away for a long time and could only pack three items. We discussed the importance of these items, what they chose and why,” Palmer said.
The class also discussed the reasons for Hitler’s charismatic appeal, why people chose to follow him and the reasons he was wrong.
“Every day, we discussed the effects of the Holocaust on our own lives and the students recorded their observations in daily diaries that contained quotes from the Anne Frank diary that impressed them. They even named their diaries as Anne did–hers was ’kitty’- with names like ’Tink,’ ‘Polka Dot’ and ‘Tyler’,” Palmer said.
“The discussions led perfectly into the reasons for being a leader versus a follower, which led into a discussion on bullying versus discrimination. We discussed how discrimination affects us at TBE and how we experience bullying and discrimination.”
The class also wrote a pledge to help stop discrimination at their school and also dedicated a board in the classroom, entitled “A Penny for Your Thoughts on the Holocaust,” where students record their thoughts, comments and feelings, she said.
“We made a butterfly monument dedicated to the 1.5 million children that died during the Holocaust and will send the butterflies to an actual monument in Texas to be displayed with another million, for a total of 1.5 million butterflies,” said Palmer.
“The butterflies are symbolic of the poem called ’The Butterfly,’ written by Pavel Friedmann, a Jewish boy imprisoned in 1942 during the Holocaust.”
“This unit has been interesting and the best thing we have done all year. It has taught me how much we should give thanks for our freedom. It has also taught me how much the Jewish people suffered and endured so that we know not to discriminate,” said student Abigayle Lundquist.
“I have never seen my students so interested and engaged. They really understand the suffering and humiliation the Jewish people went through. They have been deeply touched and want to learn more about how people were affected from this tragic time in history,” added Palmer.
“I would also say they have learned to think before they speak and also they are learning to be leaders and not followers.”
Beverly Sukonik, parent of 10-year-old student Jolie Sukonik, attended the presentation and said that it is important for her child to know what happened in the past.
“I don’t know if the details of the Holocaust are taught as much as they should be in the schools or in society. We say ‘never again.’ I want to keep that alive in the next generation,” she said.
Palmer provided a copy of the poem by Holocaust victim, Pavel Freidmann. The pledge, written by the class follows the poem.
By Pavel Friedmann (April 6, 1942)
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone...
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.
Pavel Friedmann was born Jan. 7, 1921, in Prague and deported to Terezín, a Nazi concentration camp, on April 26, 1942. He died in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) on Sept. 29, 1944.
The poem is preserved in typewritten copy on thin paper in the collection of poetry by Pavel Friedmann, which was donated to the National Jewish Museum during its documentation campaign.
The pledge written by TBE fourth grade students:
“We pledge to help stop discrimination at TBE by following the 3 R’s in everything we do. We will follow through with this by being nice to everyone, by doing our part to keep TBE a bully-free zone and by accepting every student for their unique differences that make TBE so great.”