A teacher at Houston’s Northbrook Middle School begins an emotional Fund for Teachers fellowship today researching the Holocaust in France and Germany. Her mother, a Holocaust survivor, serves as her guide. In her grant application, she shared her inspiration and itinerary:
“The passion that inspires my Fund for Teachers fellowship is that I am a second generation Holocaust survivor, having lost my grandparents in the camps. My mom is a concentration camp survivor and my dad a victim of the ghettos. This fellowship offers me the amazing opportunity to accompany my mother on what will likely be her final trip back to Europe to retrace her childhood as she escaped the Nazis by staying one step ahead of them. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make this journey with her and learn from her experiences.
“I want to learn first-hand about the Holocaust because I teach 8th grade students about the subject. I started teaching it eight years ago and, to my surprise, my students had never heard about it. I want to be able to show the students where I came from and how this subject impacts all of us.
“I tell my students how my grandmother put her daughter on a school bus after hearing the soldiers were coming. (A church sent a bus to pick up children and hid them in a convent.) My mother told me that her mother put her on the bus, kissed her and watched the bus leave. They waved goodbye, never to see one another again. Years later, my mother found out that her mom and dad were sent to Aushwitz. Upon hearing this story, my students get emotional and amazing conversations ensue. Three years ago, when my mother came to school and share her experiences, students became more engaged in her talk than anything I’ve seen in my 25 years of teaching. When the majority of 300 students left the room, eight normally troublesome boys came up to my mom and asked, ‘Miss, may we hug you?’ I will never forget these tough, street-smart boys asking for a hug. It was then I knew I had to continue to be the one at my school to teach students about one of the worst periods in history, the Holocaust.”
The mother/daughter team begins their research in France: reviewing artifacts at the Oruvre de Secours in Paris; visiting the convent that hid her mother in Pau; and touring the concentration camp where her mother and grandparents were held in Gurs before her grandparents were sent to Drancy and, ultimately, Auschwitz.
The French leg of the fellowship continues at the Tour de Pin farm belonging to the family that sheltered her mother, saving her life. After meeting the family’s descendants for the first time, the teacher and her mom then plan to revisit a castle in Gueret, where her mother also was kept. Their final stop is the town of Oradour, where her mother and aunt hid and the site of a church where Jews were slaughtered.
In Germany, the Houston teacher and her mother visit Hameln and Joshbach, cities in which her father lived as a child, as well as the ghetto where he lived before escaping to New York. The fellowship concludes in Ladenburg, where her mother and grandparents were born. She will tour the town on her mother’s arm and read the registry with names of those killed in the Holocaust.
“My students will benefit by learning these lessons of the past as warnings for the present and future. Many times, my students feel they are the only race that’s experienced prejudice and injustice,” said the Fellow. “As we start learning about the Holocaust, their whole attitude changes. I see compassion and understanding. This fellowship experienced with my mother will strengthen my ability to implement the Holocaust unit, especially as time goes on and the survivors die. My mom is 80 years old and tells me it is up to me to be the generation that never lets anyone forget. Being a teacher is the greatest way of doing this.”