A Holocaust survivor spoke in front of seventh-graders at Medford Memorial Middle School as part of a day-long event meant to inform students of past genocides.
Students and staff dedicated the whole school day on May 15, as part of Genocide Awareness Day, to learn about the events and origins of four genocides: the Holocaust, Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia.
Specific lessons or activities of each genocide were taught in different designated classrooms and auditoriums, with students dividing their day to visit each session.
Among the most rememberable presentation was from Holocaust survivor Fred Kurz, who, even though he had been a young child during his time in a concentration camp, shared to a room full of students his and other documented experiences of the genocide with lessons for today’s youth, while taking questions from intrigued students.
During his visit, Kurz expressed his concerns of what can happen to a society when otherwise “good people” don’t speak up when they see wrongdoing or indifference.
“Our freedom is the most important thing in this country, be guardians of freedom,” said Kurz to a room full of students and staff. “It’s our job to speak up.”
After the Kurz speech, the class performed a demonstration based off a 1942 poem by Pavel Friedmann, “The Butterfly.” In it, he writes, “butterflies don’t live in here, In the ghetto.” For the demonstration, a child’s name who had been involved in one of the four genocides was attached to the butterfly. As the names were called, students would then sit down, signifying that the child on the butterfly had died from the genocide.
Students were informed that many of those children on the butterflies had been separated from their parents and either died of hunger or abuse. They were also given the number of children who lost their lives in the four genocides.
Amy Hoppel, a language arts teacher and student council advisor, shared a quote from writer Rabina Khan, “genocide starts with a rhetoric of hate, and we can’t forget that. But if words can propagate hate, then they can also be used to spread love, tolerance and understanding; the way we respond to anger defines how we progress in this world,” shared Hoppel.
In the next few weeks, students will choose one of the four genocides to research in more depth for an end-of-the-year project.
The goal, according to the school, is all about getting students aware of these issues that have happened, some almost a century ago, and others just in the last few years. In addition, the school’s staff made it their aim to go a step further than just recognition.
Hoppel explained that staff are also trying to focus on prevention.
“They learn that there are things they can do to help in these countries and help prevent genocide from happening,” said Hoppel.
Students were given resources that included information about organizations, charities and missions that are dedicated to preventing genocides. One of the mandatory components of the research project requires students to investigate such organizations.
At the end of the day, students received a ticket that told them the fate of their assigned child. Students were also able to talk with Kurz and explore pictures and documents he brought to the event.