Indian River High School honors the memory of Holocaust survivors

July 14, 2022

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The new “Kitty Tree.”

In the first semester of the 2021–22 school year, I taught my Virginia and U.S. History classes about the Holocaust and mentioned the local survivors and rescuers who had graciously shared their stories with former Indian River High School students in the past. I reminded them about the trees planted near the faculty parking lot to remember the many visits by Esther Goldman, David Katz, Hanns Loewenbach, Dana Cohen, Kitty Saks, and Mary Barraco.

Soon after, Sean, a bright and well-spoken junior who identified with the mistreated, blurted out, “Can we walk over and see the trees?” Calculating the time left in class, I adjusted my lesson plan, and we walked to the “Kitty Tree.” It was barely hanging on, as insect blight had plagued the tree for months. Seeing its condition and knowing that Kitty had just passed earlier that year, we agreed to raise money to plant a new tree.

Slowly but surely, the students made donations. Many gave coins and others gave greenbacks—some, more than once. By the end of January 2022, the students had raised $80!

I chipped in the rest and drove to Carter’s Country Corner Nursery in Chesapeake to find an appropriate tree. An Autumn Flowering Cherry Tree caught my eye. Given my recent bout with diverticulitis, I was unable to move the tree or the required new topsoil, much less dig the hole. Fortunately, as in the past, “the River” rose to the occasion, and a few Jr. Air Force ROTC cadets gladly volunteered to carry the 50-pound bags of topsoil and compost, as well as dig the hole.

The new “Kitty Tree” was planted the day after Yom Hashoah.

Craig Blackman has taught history at Indian River High School for 36 years, hosting local survivors, and subsequently the Holocaust Commission’s What We Carry program, for most of those years.

-Craig Blackman

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