culture/multiculturalism · Hispanics/Latinos · Holocaust · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · news

The Holocaust Hits Home

“Johancy Torres had never heard of the Holocaust before last fall, but she will soon be tracing the footsteps of Jews at the Dachau concentration camp during a trip for fifth- and sixth-grade students at Public School 86 in the Bronx.

“I think I may cry when I see the ovens,” said Johancy, 11, adding that she planned to take “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young girl” when she leaves later this month.

The Holocaust lessons are part of an unusual effort by P.S. 86’s teachers to expose students to a world far from their Spanish-speaking neighborhoods near the No. 4 train in Kingsbridge Heights. About 95 percent of the school’s 1,700 students are Hispanic or black. More than three-quarters of them are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.”

And so begins a recent NY Times story on elementary school students learning about the Holocaust head-on, “From the Bronx to Germany and Dachau”.

I was 13 when I first learned of the Holocaust. Like Johancy Torres, I had never heard of it before but one visit from Hannelore Marx, a Holocaust survivor, changed my life forever. I didn’t just connect with Hannelore’s story of survival, one that gave me hope that I would triumph against the adversity, against childhood poverty and chronic child abuse at home. Hannelore connected me with the Jewish people.

I decided I wanted to be Jewish at 13. The day after Hannelore spoke to my class, I wore my mother’s Star of David to school. A classmate yelled “Heil Hitler” when she saw it. Obviously, we had taken away different things from learning about the Holocaust. And now, here I am, decades later, a Jewminicana married to a rabbinical student no less.

When a survivor asked my husband’s grandmother how anyone could convert after the Holocaust, she told her that I had converted because of the Holocaust.

I doubt that a visit to the ovens will result in many conversions (so those of you who worry on that account can breathe easier) but it is a powerful thing to feel connected to people of other cultures through literature and friendship and the opportunities they give us to connect to people from seemingly foreign lands.

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