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Educator comments 2012

I am an 8th grade language arts teacher in Syracuse, Indiana. My classes have recently had the incredible opportunity to meet with Simone Liebster via Skype. Prior to our “visit” with Simone, Mr. and Mrs. Keller visited the classrooms to share Simone’s story with my students. The presentation was very insightful, and it provided the students with another aspect of the horrors of the Holocaust.

The message of hope and love that Simone shared with my students is one that will forever be remembered. The students now have a real person to associate with the Holocaust. I think this, more so than just the teaching, reinforces the importance of never forgetting what happened. Thank you so much to the Arnold Liebster Foundation for this amazing chance to meet Simone.

I look forward to working with your foundation in the coming years as we continue to teach the Holocaust to students.

Thank you for so much for this service you are providing,

Chris Noel
8th Grade Language Arts
Wawasee Middle School
9850 State Road 13 North
Syracuse, IN 46567

To all of you at the Arnold Liebster Foundation,

Collinswood Language Academy of Charlotte, North Carolina would like to thank Mrs. Simone Liebster and the Arnold Liebster Foundation for providing our middle school students with the opportunity to hear a first-hand account of the Holocaust, as told by Mrs. Liebster.

Our middle school students learned about World War II and the Holocaust through multiple resources including reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (grade 6) and Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer (grade 7). One of our staff members mentioned the possibility of having Mrs. Liebster speak about the Holocaust with our students via Skype. As a language arts teacher, I jumped on this in hopes of making it a reality. Collinswood Language Academy encourages diversity and the opportunity to learn about other religions and cultures. After only minimal communication and a very short turn-around (this was all in a 2 week period), we were able to establish a date and a time to speak with Mrs. Liebster.

Prior to the Skype conference, the students prepared questions for Mrs. Liebster. The Skype conference gave the students the chance to learn about the Holocaust from someone who experienced it, and reinforced the knowledge they already had about World War II and the Holocaust. Students also learned the importance in remaining steadfast to their beliefs. This message was extremely important for our middle school students, being that they are regularly faced with peer pressure and difficult decisions.

This experience was extremely well-worth it, and I’m sure it will be one that the students keep with them forever. Thank you again!

Jacqueline Oleksiak
6th Grade Language Arts
Collinswood Language Academy
4000 Applegate Drive
Charlotte, NC 28209

One of the most challenging jobs I have as a history teacher is to breathe life into events that are far removed from  my students’ experiences. When teaching the twentieth century, so rife with totalitarianism and violence, I challenge students to form a personal connection with the past and the individuals whose agency shaped history for the better.

The chance to Skype with Simone, a Jehovah’s Witness and survivor of Nazi persecution, ranked among the most extraordinary lessons I have participated in. Students were familiar with the history of the labor and death camps, and yet I got the sense that they were so overwhelmed by the enormity of the number – an estimated 6 million dead – that they could not hone in on the human experience.

Jeffrey Dubuisson, whose connection to Janet Lemus afforded us the extraordinary opportunity to Skype with Simone, planned and led introductory lessons that focused on the power of individual choice. As a Witness, Jeffrey had an intimate stake in this history. He introduced students to the plight of the Witnesses and other minority groups persecuted under Hitler, highlighting the unique choice that the Witnesses were offered: to renounce their faith by signing a contract with the Nazi’s. Jeffrey skillfully personalized this decision by asking students if they would acquiesce to such a demand, and led a class discussion focused on the implications of such a decision. In the end, our class realized the incredible resolve displayed by the Witnesses as they refused the contract — and of other persecuted groups whose very survival was testament to the power of individual resistance to tyranny.

Thanks to Jeffrey’s teaching, students were primed for their Skype with Simone, though wholly unprepared for the emotional effect. Simone spoke for forty minutes, and as she answered questions written by teens in Boston she did a remarkable job of relating her story to the teenage context. She spoke of the isolation she felt in the camps when she was separated from family. She stressed the importance of standing up to bullying and highlighted the personal resolve needed to confront and resist persecution. She spoke of the universality of hatred and racism, addressing the history of segregation in Boston in a way that empowered students to believe in positive change.

While Simone talked, I noticed a different sort of focus in my students. As they listened to her they let her in to their own experiences, minds and hearts. At the end of the session, I picked up the computer and walked it around the classroom to introduce Simone to each student. This impromptu moment ended up being most touching as Simone, within mere seconds, formed a personal connection with every student. The session ended with smiles, laughter, and in more than one case, tears, as students were overjoyed and charmed by their virtual visitor. 

Madam Simone, vous remercier d’être une source d’inspiration pour mes élèves et pour leur enseigner que les individus peuvent faire l’histoire.

Daniel J. Hackett
History Department
Boston Latin Academy
205 Townsend Street
Dorchester, MA 02121

Dear Members of the Arnold-Liebster Foundation:

Stephen Hempstead High School in Dubuque, Iowa, was proud to display “Who Am I? Young Minds Forced to Choose.” This brief story of Jehovah’s Witnesses who suffered because they refused to succumb to the pressure of a world filled with hate and ignorance is an excellent teaching tool connecting the themes of history to our modern day lives. The display is interesting, meaningful, and thought-provoking. In the face of extreme adversity, the Witnesses showed moral courage. This theme connected to our recent reading of Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Both works present the destructive force of racism. The display also serves as a connection to Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, which is required reading for our sophomore English students. And our ninth grade students, who all attend a Youth Frontiers Respect Retreat, could read the stories and answer the probing questions that connect to their own developing moral character. 

I strongly recommend continued funding of projects such as this that offer teachers a chance to continue their own learning and to share different stories with their students. The teaching materials provided a strong background for the display and also offered follow-up ideas, including Facing the Lion, a memoir of Simone which further enhanced text-to-self and text-to-world connections. Through the display presentation, the Hempstead students were engaged in the history of people, who very close to their own age, said no to hate and yes to what was right. What a gift the Arnold-Liebster Foundation provided for young minds that truly are forced to choose every day of their lives.

Peggy Dolson
English and Reading Teacher
Hempstead High School
3715 Pennsylvania Avenue
Dubuque, IA 52002

Patricia Diggins, Logan, IA

Dear Members of the Arnold-Liebster Foundation,

On behalf of the Logan Magnolia Community Schools, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing with us the traveling exhibit “Who Am I? Young Minds Forced to Choose.” Both our students and community members enjoyed viewing the exhibit. In addition, we had many other visitors from western Iowa and eastern Nebraska travel to our school to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

From a teacher’s perspective, I’d like to share with you that not only did my classes enjoy the exhibit, but we also had excellent discussions upon returning to the classroom. We include Holocaust material in various classes at both our junior high and senior high levels, but most students had never studied in depth how Jehovah’s Witnesses were specifically targeted. Many students wondered aloud whether or not they would have the courage to stand up for their faith. What an incredible teaching moment!

I would also like to thank Stephen Gaies from the University of Northern Iowa and Sandra Milakovich for their assistance in allowing our school to share in this event. I am also thankful for the wonderful resources sent to our school. During the exhibit, we had the videos playing, and many took the time to view them. Our library is including copies of Facing the Lion in our collection, and I look forward to reading the book, myself!

Patricia Diggins
High School Social Studies/English
Logan-Magnolia Community School District
1200 N. 2nd Avenue
Logan, IA 51546

Jill Dykstra, Des Moines, IA

Dear Sandra,

I am writing to express how worthwhile and educationally appropriate the Holocaust exhibit, “Who Am I? Young Minds Forced to Choose” was for our school. This exhibit has many good qualities that are important for students to see and experience. I am hoping this letter of recommendation will allow other schools to see the benefit of this exhibit.

The first thing I enjoyed about the exhibit was the fact that it was age appropriate. It was presented in a way that teenagers, and especially middle school age, would be able to understand. Simone was able to recall her experiences and relate them in language that teenagers would understand.

The next thing that I thought was an asset to the exhibit was the pictures. The pictorial evidence was good for young people and adults to see. The purple triangle, contract and pictures from the time period made the period come to life.

Finally, Simone’s personal account with the pictures was probably the most well done part of the presentation. She is able to engage the participant with firsthand accounts of the terror that she felt. She is able to relay the feeling of despair and fear. She is also able to relate the shared sense of pride and strength members of her group shared as they struggled against the Nazis. We were able to get a lot of people from the community in to view the exhibit. People from different Kingdom Halls around the area, parents from the community, members of the press, and Jehovah’s Witness families all came to view the exhibit.

Thank you for allowing us to use the exhibit. I was very much impressed with how many community members we were able to get into the building. I hope that they were able to take away interesting information from the exhibit and that we can bring something back like this again.

Jill Dykstra
7th Grade Literacy
Meredith Middle School
4827 Madison Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50310