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AHS production brings stories to life
ARLINGTON — The Advanced French students of Arlington High School were again able to connect their linguistic studies to real-world events as they presented “Les Enfants d’Izieu,” a reader’s theater production about 44 children and seven teachers who were taken by the Nazis from their school, in an isolated area of France during World War II, and ultimately put to death at Auschwitz.
With some students reading the parts of Nazis or teachers, while the rest read the words of the students, the lessons of the play hit harrowingly close to home, even for those students who had taken part in the reading last year.
“When we saw the pictures from that era, it struck a string in my heart,” said Kayla Wright, a senior in the class.
“One of the children I read for was a little girl with a brother,” said Mika LaSalata, a junior in the class. “I have a little sister, so I wound up really connecting to my part.”
“We focused more on the children this year,” said Kate Hagenston, another senior in the class. “When they were shouting that they didn’t want to leave their school, it was heartbreaking, especially because you remember being a kid and not wanting to leave a place that was your home.”
LaSalata found herself momentarily overcome with emotion during her research on the Holocaust and the French Resistance, when she read about a 17-year-old boy who died resisting the Nazis, but Hagenston emphasized that AHS Advanced French teacher Sherida Taylor and her partner in producing the play, Sue Weingarten, were respectful of the students’ feelings and allowed them to take breaks from the material when they felt especially overwhelmed. Still, Hagenston and Wright had some harrowing lessons of their own.
“Ms. Weingarten went over how mothers of Jewish children had their heads shaved and swastikas tattooed into their foreheads,” Wright said. “They not only had their children taken away from them, but they were tortured.”
“It was scary when it sank in,” Hagenston said.
“It’s hard to express exactly how I feel,” LaSalata said. “You wonder, what would I do if I was there? Would I be able to stand up to that injustice? I hope so.”
All three students agreed that the point of their play on May 22 was to compel people of all ages to speak out if they see such injustices happening now.
“The message is that this should never happen again,” Wright said. “If we want to be the leaders of society as adults, it’s our responsibility to make sure things like this don’t take over people’s lives.”
“This has been a special class made up of intelligent and caring students,” Taylor said. “They went into this project with enthusiasm, and came out with a greater understanding of the history of France during the Holocaust, a greater tolerance for the ‘other,’ and an awareness of fighting for what is just. If we teach kindness and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, the grace of humanity will prevail over the malevolent.”