Learning History in First Person

Learning History in First Person

Each year, the CFA’s Blanche Beerman Holocaust Museum Fund sends hundreds of local students to the United States National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

This school year, 25 high schools from Bedford, Cambria, Somerset, and Indiana counties took advantage of this program, which pays expenses for travel and food, so that groups from those schools can make the day trip. This year alone, that funding is close to $85,000.

The impact of these trips is profound. Here’s some of the feedback we’ve received:

Heather Niebauer, Central Cambria Middle & High Schools:
“In one day they were able to be immersed in a way that cannot be replicated in the classroom… I’ve visited the museum several times before and expected the students to walk away with a better understanding of the Holocaust, but even my expectations were blown away. Many of them revealed that they had an unforgettable experience, that their lives were forever changed, and they pledged to “Never Forget.”‘

Melinda Knapp, Purchase Line Jr./Sr. High School:
“As a teacher and chaperone it was very fulfilling to have students come up to me and tell me of something they saw, or drag me to see it with them, or to just overhear their conversations as they reaffirmed what we had covered in class or to learn something new… It was a wonderful cultural experience for those students, a combination of art, memory, and history all coming together to give them something I could not do in my classroom.”

Tussey Mountain High School Class of 2018:
“It was an eye-opening experience, and one that we’ll never forget. It is really a privilege for the students in our district, because it allowed us to utilize the knowledge we have attained in class and see a first-hand account of the all the information and artifacts in the museum… From here on out, we will take what we learned during the trip and apply it to our own lives.”

The only requirement for participants is that they create something that illustrates what they’ve learned from their visit to the museum. The projects students send in include essays, poetry, paintings, dioramas, videos, and posters.

Take a look a this small sample of student projects. Each one is moving in its expression of grief and enlightenment:

This video was created by Everett High Schoolers. It was student-written and student-narrated, documenting various student reactions to the exhibits.

Voices Never Hear Again, by Maisie Husick
So many voices to be heard
From the people of the Holocaust who said their last word,
Some so soft and sweet
Others so sad and downbeat,
Children would laugh and play
Until the Germans appeared one day,
Adults, of all ages, did their daily activities
Eventually they were working in factories,
Families were full of cheer
Until they were in the cattle cars full of fear,
Many stories that could be told
Which the lost voices hold,
All the voices that screamed and yelled
The spectacular discoveries they could have held,
Never to be heard again and for reason we don’t comprehend
The Holocaust finally came to an end.

The Travelers, by Devon Reed
Dark, bitter, afraid and unaware,
The forced inhabitants had to bear.
Across vast distances and away from home,
Traveled 80 human beings, so close yet so alone.
Torn from villages near and far,
The travelers journeyed in the dismal car.
Not one of them knew why they were there,
But all of them were losing hope and gaining despair.
As days flew by and nights were lost forever,
The travelers fought on for their lives and their endeavors.
Until at last, a miracle, the relentless motion was ceased, could it be?
Could it be that the travelers would finally be set free?
The doors flew open with a crash, light flooded the crowded room,
“Everyone out!” they were told, all of them startled, exhumed from their dreary tomb.
Where were they? What will happen to them in this cynical place?
“Men to the left, Women to the right!” shouted a cold, malicious face.
Dark, bitter, afraid, and unaware,
The travelers had arrived, at a hell on earth, an unreal place, so full of despair.

The Blanche Beerman memorial Holocaust trips are available to student groups from Bedford, Cambria, Indiana, and Somerset counties. If your school would like to participate, please contact Katrina Perkosky, (814) 208-8411 / kperkosky@cfalleghenies.org.

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