By Tim Leeds
Lorna Stremcha's eighth-grade English students heard a re-telling of first hand views of the Holocaust Thursday.
The students sat without fidgeting or making noise as Suzie Larsen described the atrocities Nazis had done to people from her hometown.
Larsen, a Title I tutor at the school and former teacher, told the students what her parents had seen in Vasvr, Hungary during World War II.
She said her parents, Laszlo and Eva Horvath, watched as about 1,200 Jews of the town of 8,000 people were marked with yellow Stars of David, then crowded into ghettos with 16 people per room, then packed into cattle cars to be shipped off to the death camp at Auschwitz.
Larsen said they know of 11 of the 1,200 that survived.
Stremcha said her unit on the holocaust has three objectives: to teach tolerance, empathy and relevance.
She said at the start of the unit she posted pictures of the death camps in her classroom.
"The first day they came in it was pretty overwhelming," she said.
After preliminary studies of the period, the students read "The Diary of a Young Girl: The Anne Frank Story." During the unit the students have found survivors of and families of victims of the Holocaust. After a test on the diary, students will give dramatic interpretations of the stories they have found on the Internet.
Larsen has given her presentations to Stremcha's students for a few years now.
"It adds a personal touch to it," Stremcha said.
Larsen said the students have been wonderful during her presentations. She said they have been mature and attentive as she talks.
Larsen asked questions of the students as she made her presentation with good response. She tested their knowledge of the period as well as asking questions to tie it to the current time, asking about situations such as hate crimes and the shootings at Columbine High School. She said these incidents relate directly to Hitler's hatred of the Jews and minorities.
She said the experience is beneficial to both sides.
"What I get is the chance to give students empathy," she said. "At this age they can be so self-centered, so me-me-me. I try to give them empathy.
Larsen said it's mutual learning for both sides. She said she has to review the stories with her mother before she tells them to the students, and she learns from the students' reactions as well.
"I wish my mom could do it," she said, "but after 57 years, it's still hard for her to talk about it."