“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.