Kentwood — “I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.”
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
Anne Frank’s words — still hopeful and reflecting her belief in goodness even as she hid from Nazis during World War II — were incorporated into research projects Crestwood Middle School eighth-graders completed on the Holocaust recently.
“She was around my same age and this happened to her and other children,” said student Jenna Geemes. “She still had hopes and dreams and wasn’t able to accomplish them. She was still very optimistic; that really surprised me.”
As a way to teach students about the Holocaust through literature and other sources, English teacher Anne Brown challenged students to read and explore Frank’s words in “The Diary of Anne Frank, a play.” The memoir is of a young girl living in Amsterdam through the Nazi invasion, hiding in a secret annex and ultimately dying at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.
‘We talk a lot about discrimination, racism and intolerance in our world today. It’s really important to me that they understand this has been going on for a long time in different ways, with different groups of people at different times.’– English teacher Anne Brown
Students read the book and tied it to research on the Holocaust, including an essay, project and visit to The Zekelman Holocaust Center, in Farmington Hills. They each chose a quote by Anne Frank and wrote about what it means to them.
We Must Never Forget
Brown, who’s led the project for about a dozen years, said many students start with little knowledge of the Holocaust.
“It’s an important part of history that, as we get farther and farther away from it, they just are not familiar with it,” she said. “I really feel strongly that we have to keep the memory alive in our youth.”
The project leads to discussion on important topics and how people have reacted to events throughout history.
“We talk a lot about discrimination, racism and intolerance in our world today. It’s really important to me that they understand this has been going on for a long time in different ways, with different groups of people at different times,” Brown said.
Students’ essays explore topics of their choice related to the Holocaust, including concentration camps, Adolf Hitler, Nazism and Jewish resistance. They create maps and timelines and choose an Anne Frank quote to write about how it applies to today.
‘There’s no way to make up for it because you can’t accommodate for something so horrific, but we can at least try to educate ourselves on such matters so they don’t occur again.’– eighth-grader John Abner
Annabel Kowalski focused on the Mauthausen concentration camp, in upper Austria, considered one of the worst Nazi camps.
“It’s important to open your eyes to things that happened to people that could be similar or different to you,” Annabel said.
John Abner focused on the Belzec camp in southeastern Poland, where approximately 434,500 Jews died. “It’s important that they did not die in vain,” he said.
“There’s no way to make up for it because you can’t accommodate for something so horrific, but we can at least try to educate ourselves on such matters so they don’t occur again.”
Callia Le researched Adolf Hiter’s rise to power.
“One person was responsible for mass genocide. Although it was a group effort by the Nazis, he let out an idea and (it spread),” she said. “What I found interesting was he didn’t start as a dictator, he slowly moved up. I feel like the world needs to learn how he could manipulate people because Germany was vulnerable, and not a lot of people stood up to him because they were scared.”
Jenna Geemes focused on the Warsaw Ghetto, where all Jewish residents of Poland’s capital city were ordered to live.
“If we don’t learn about our history or past mistakes then it will repeat itself,” Jenna said. “So many lives were touched and damaged because of this and no more people should be touched by that.”