Lessons quickly learned from What We Carry

May 4, 2018

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The following letter was sent last month to Elena Baum, director of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Holocaust Commission:

I am writing to you from Princess Anne Middle School. I am a school counselor here and wanted to reach out to you to thank you personally for bringing to our campus the presentation entitled, What We Carry, a testimony to the lives and memories of Holocaust survivors, David Katz and Hanns Loewenbach. I thought the presentation was stirring, powerful, human-centered, and incredibly moving. I am grateful and honored to have witnessed it. Thank you.

I facilitate lunch groups for my seventh grade students two days/week. When the weather permits, I take approximately 30-40 students outside. On April 12 (ironically, Holocaust Remembrance Day), the weather was beautiful, so we opted to eat outside. The students were picnicking and being free, beautiful young people when a group of them happened upon a swastika etched into one of the Crepe Myrtle trees in our school courtyard. My students were horrified and alerted me immediately. They asked me what we could do. With only about seven to 10 minutes before the students were due in class, we quickly decided to convert the image into something beautiful. From a swastika, we created a scene with an open window and a vase of flowers in the sill, using only the sticks we found on the ground and our collective dedication to share love, not hate.

Our administrators do not know how long this hateful symbol had been present, or who had desecrated the tree in this way. We believe that your presentation increased the students’ awareness of anti-Semitism, hate, and the plight of oppressed populations all over the world. In light of the swastika appearing on the tree on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in contrast to the numerous articles that appeared on most news feeds stating that the majority of millennials (and many American adults) are seemingly ignorant of the Holocaust, this occurrence was very significant. Yesterday, the two young ladies who worked on converting the swastika came outside with me to finish creating an inclusive, loving creation.

I thought perhaps you would like to see the direct impact your presentation had on our seventh grade students. Not only did they acknowledge the swastika as a symbol of hate, they simply would not rest until we had a plan to eliminate it. I believe their creation and the words included: “Open your window to the peaceful, loving world around you” is an invitation to all people to reject the shackles of bias, hate, division, and exclusion. I am so proud of these two young women and all the students involved in this situation/ solution, as simple as it may be.

Again, thank you for your presence on our campus. As you can see, it was truly meaningful.

Corey A. McGinnis
School Counselor
Princess Anne Middle School

Letter to the Editor