Students who traveled to Poland last summer to learn about the Holocaust firsthand with Classrooms Without Borders have a mandate from Zipora Gur, the founder of the group: share your inspiration.
That’s why teens from Shady Side Academy, the Ellis School, and Winchester Thurston School presented a $1,040 check to students of the Urban Pathways Charter School, Wednesday, Dec. 5, during an evening of art, music and poetry called “Seeing Through: Reflections on the Holocaust.”
The check is the first of three installments of a $2,000 total gift, which will help pay for the Urban Pathways students to travel to Washington, D.C., in April for a visit to United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“I always challenge the teens and the teachers that it’s not just about remembering; it’s about doing,” said Gur, who is also the executive director of CWB.
“So, the kids raised money to send the Urban Pathways kids to the Holocaust Museum.”
CWB provides subsidized trips to Europe and Israel to teachers and students to teach them about the horrors of the Holocaust.
“They are eyewitnesses now,” Gur said.
The Dec. 5 evening presentation included klezmer music performed by David Knapp, chairman of the music department and orchestra conductor at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12; Ellis School student Madeline Lemberg soloing on original vocal compositions; e x c e r p t s from a book of reflections compiled by multiple students; and a photography exhibit chronicling the Poland trip.
None of history teacher Rob Campbell’s students at Urban Pathways — a free Downtown charter school dedicated to creating academic success for students facing learning challenges — have ever been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Neither has Campbell.
But the fundraising efforts of the local teens will enable Campbell and his students make the trip.
“I’m so appreciative of them,” Campbell said of the student fundraisers.
Campbell was one of the teachers who traveled to Poland with CWB last summer, and the trip has changed the way he teaches the Holocaust to his students. “It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had,” he said.
“I teach history, and I often teach about places I have never been. But there is something about walking the train tracks at Auschwitz, and seeing the ovens. It brought it home. It made it clear.”
Before his trip to Poland, Campbell would spend two days discussing the Holocaust with his students as a part of his lesson on World War II.
“Now,” he said, “it’s a whole unit.”
He added, “I’ve made it more thematic.
Instead of numbers and facts, it’s personal stories. Students relate it to their own life. They write essays. They get a lot more out of it.”
Traveling with CWB to learn about the Holocaust also has changed the way Urban Pathways teacher Carol Wharton views that ghastly time of human history.
“I was familiar with the Holocaust prior to the trip, but only from the distant perspective of what I had been taught in World War II history in high school, and European history in college,” said Wharton in an email to the Chronicle. “I did not know how ‘sterile’ my knowledge was. Yes, I knew it had been a horrific event, an infamous point in the history of the world, but I did not have an understanding on a human level.
“Through the experience of meeting an amazingly courageous survivor personally, walking along the brutal paths that the prisoners walked, seeing the proximity of the vile camps to the lives of people who chose to pretend it wasn’t happening, estimating the toll in actual lives represented by the ROOMS full of salvaged shoes, eyeglasses, clothing, and ghastly shanks of hair, the historical fact was brought to a personal human experience.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)