Students ‘chilled’ by stories of the Holocaust

From the New Haven Register:

Students at New Haven’s High School in the Community ‘chilled’ by stories of the Holocaust


NEW HAVEN >> Doris Zelinsky, executive producer of the short documentary film “People Forget … New Haven Remembers,” says she wanted to commit an oral history of the Holocaust to film to enhance memory.

Zelinsky, who screened her 22-minute film for students at High School in the Community Friday morning, said only 10 years ago, the survivors who appeared in the film were “robust people,” whereas now it’s more difficult to get them to travel. The survivors, some who were not even teenagers during the rise of World War II, are now around age 90.

The film, which Zelinsky said was made with a short enough runtime to fit into a standard period at school, uses first-person accounts of survivors living in New Haven describing life before World War II in Europe through to the construction of New Haven’s Holocaust Memorial, the first of its kind to be built on public land. The film details how then-Mayor Frank Logue agreed to give the land to the survivors for the memorial on a handshake, provided they could raise the $80,000 needed for the monument, shaped like a Star of David.

David Cohen, an assistant teacher at HSC, said the students read “Night” by Elie Wiesel as part of their ordinary social justice curriculum, and their reaction to the Holocaust narrative was “unbelievable.” Gail Miller, an algebra teacher at the school, said the book alarmed many students.

“This is a school of social justice, and this was such an injustice,” she said.

Zelinsky’s mother was liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp and her father belonged to the Polish Underground. She said while taking a bath as a child, she saw the tattooed number her mother had received in the camp and it piqued her curiosity, and her parents described both their lives before and during the Holocaust to her openly in Polish.

“One of the messages in this film is our responsibility to stand up against hate,” she said.

Zelinsky, who was born 10 days after her parents entered the U.S., said she believes their struggle emigrating to the country reflects the current plight of Syrian refugees.

Several HSC students said the film enhanced their understanding of the Holocaust as they had encountered it through Wiesel’s book.

“They were all descriptive about putting the Jews in ghettos,” said student Randy Kohn.

Student Noah Slater said he was startled by the depictions of how violent the Gestapo was with Jews, calling it “smash and grab.”

Students Sofia Yanza and Angie Martinez said the amount of intact pictures from World War II surprised them, and classmate Emily Lucke said the content of the photos of dying and death stuck with her. Their classmate, Alex Washington, said he was chilled by an anecdote of a survivor hiding in the woods during a snowstorm and being confronted with eating a raw snake for sustenance.

Student Juliana Sabin said she has a personal connection to the Holocaust, as she lost a cousin and had a grandfather in the Army who helped liberate the camps.

When asked whether something like the Holocaust could happen again, Kohn said he believed it’s happening now.

“We see it every day,” said student Sean Nelson. “I don’t know if the media isn’t reporting on it or if we just don’t care.”

Both Nelson and Kohn said they think rhetoric expressed by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is similarly isolating to that of world leaders who oversaw genocides such as the Holocaust.

“It’s just hate,” Nelson said.