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AHS students bring Holocaust stories to life
ARLINGTON March 17 will mark a day of Holocaust remembrance at Arlington High School.
After the Linda Byrnes Performing Arts Center hosts Holocaust survivor Klaus Stern from 9-11 a.m., AHS French teacher Sherida Taylors students will present a readers theater, at 6:30 p.m., of Le Enfants dIzieu, the story of 44 Jewish children, from ages 3-18, who were taken from the orphanage of La Maison dIzieu on April 6, 1944, and killed by the Nazis.
Retired French teacher Sue Weingarten conducted the trial run of this program five years ago, back when she was still teaching at AHS, and shes assisted Taylor and her students in staging it again, although both Weingarten and Taylor are quick to deflect the bulk of the credit to each other.
I think you have to wait about five years between presentations, to let a new generation of kids cycle through, Weingarten said. You dont want it to become routine.
Because Weingarten was concerned with presenting the material of Le Enfants dIzieu properly, it took her years to figure out how to incorporate the book into her curriculum.
It couldnt just be the subject of worksheets that my advanced class would scratch through, Weingarten said. It had to be performed. I was a drama teacher, too, so I wanted my students up and about. Their activity gives it context.
Weingarten is passionate not only about drama and French language and culture, but also about the Holocaust itself. She praised the Arlington School Districts Respect Program for taking steps in the right direction, but she took steps on her own as a teacher, by presenting stories such as Au Revoir Les Enfants and the French translation of the diary of Anne Frank to her students, to teach them about the plight of Jewish children and the struggles of the French resistance.
Compared to a lot of other teachers in this field, Im just a baby, Weingarten said. When we studied French history, we compared and contrasted the values of the French Revolution with those of the Vichy government.
Weingarten hopes to address another aspect of the French response to persecution of the Jews by inviting Katia Blackburn, granddaughter of Pastor Andre Trocme, to speak during the evening presentation in the PAC. Trocme was the spiritual leader of the Protestant congregation in the village of Le Chambon sur Lignon, and he urged his congregation to give shelter to any Jew who should ask for it, saving the lives of an estimated 5,000 Jews.
He gave a sermon in which he said, normally, we need to obey the law, but whats right is right, Weingarten said. What I taught my students, and what Sherida has taught her students, is that it can happen again. In places like Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, its happening right now.
The first thing our students ask is, How could it happen? Taylor said. Weve shown them some of the steps that lead to genocide and loss of human rights.
While Taylors students were already familiar with the Holocaust, preparing for the readers theater has affected them on a deeper emotional level than they were expecting.
I didnt realize half of what these people went through, a lot of them were my age or younger, said AHS senior Lyan Jones. This really opened up my eyes. Its not just in the past, either. As the survivors get older and pass away, we need to keep their stories alive.
AHS juniors Brittany Olberg and Sophie Logan echoed Jones and Weingartens sentiments that the stories of the Holocaust reflect current events.
We need to pay more attention to whats happening in the world around us, Olberg said. Its not just history. Its whats happening now.
I put myself in the place of these little kids, who were confused and terrified and losing their parents, Logan said. It gives you a greater appreciation of their suffering. It doesnt always hit you how terrible this was.
French exchange student Charles Bonnin admitted that the material has made him uncomfortable. He hopes that Americans will remember the French who resisted Nazi rule, in addition to those who collaborated.
As for Weingarten, she hopes to see more than just the students parents at the March 17 presentation at 6:30 p.m.
Its open to everybody, Weingarten said. We want an audience for this.