"Hanukkah in the Hiding Place"
Ms. Maffei's Third Grade
February 25 and 26, 1999
Crim Primary School
1300 Crim Road, Bridgewater, NJ 08807
Our third grade initially became involved in the story of World War II when we discussed the meaning of Veteran's Day and how we honor the men and women who have fought for our country. When December 7 arrived, the bombing of Pearl Harbor was explored. We talked about life in the 1940's and what was happening in Europe. The Emperor of Japan's decision to attack our naval base in Hawaii brought the United States into the War. That act also affected the lives of Japanese-Americans on the island and the mainland. Attitudes toward these Americans changed dramatically when because of their obvious appearance, they became synonymous with the enemy. However, we need to go back earlier in the year to the real beginnings that allow us this opportunity to investigate human relationships. It starts with a hard look at the attitudes and treatment of the Native American Indians perpetrated by the arriving European explorers.
Reading aloud daily to my children is a key component of our reading program. The books range from picture books to chapter books and are generally driven by science and social studies concepts, interspersed with the delightful humorous novels available for children. Essential to any read-aloud activity is the discussion that stimulates thinking before, during, and after reading. I am always fascinated with the contributions of children and am repeatedly reminded how we underestimate their ability to comprehend ideas we consider too sophisticated. Perhaps within the sophistication, there is a core element to every idea, which is universally understood by these little minds.
In October the books I, Columbus and Morning Girl are read to the class. The children come to see how outsider values are imposed upon those considered different, inferior, or threatening. With To Walk the Sky Path, a Seminole boy tries to cope with living in two cultures and the accompanying bigotry expressed by his grandmother as well as the ignorance of some whites. Throughout the year, instances of the westward expansion pushing the American Indian out of their territory, and the eventual confinement on reservations, continually highlights how insensitive humans being can become. Cheyenne Again illustrates this well as we see Indians forced into government schools, forbidden to speak their language, customs denied, hair shorn and clothes exchanged for acceptable attire. The strength of the human spirit is called upon to keep the dignity light shining.
December brings the Pearl Harbor situation. Under the Blood Red Sun is read illustrating how difficult it was to sustain an Asian and haoli friendship on the island of Hawaii before the bombing, and how devastating it was afterwards. We then can talk about the Japanese internment camps established by the United States government because of the perceived threat that Japanese-Americans presented simply by living on the West Coast. Baseball Saved Us and The Bracelet and picture books that poignantly portray life within the desert camps. Excerpts from I Am an American are read, giving the children the sense of frustration the Japanese-Americans felt when their human rights were denied.
At this point, two books are read that are precursors to the issue of anti-Semitism which appears later in the year. The Christmas Menorahs tells the true story of how the townspeople of Billings, Montana, banded together successfully to fight the hate which was spreading during the holidays. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has a family of unruly siblings learning the story of Christmas for the first time. The flight into Egypt and Herod's participation is crucial for the storyline of a subsequent Holocaust book.
During January and February the fight for African-American human rights is explored, beginning with slavery and the Underground Railroad. The children can see injustice perpetuated in Ebony Sea and dignity returned in the story of Harriet Tubman as told in Wanted: Dead or Alive . The path to freedom is explained in If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad. Plantation confinement is seen as another example society dealing with those considered sub-human. Freedom is restricted, education is denied, and mistreatment is commonly practiced.
Issues of abolition arise with discussion of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The role of African-Americans during the Civil War is explored -- what happened to the freed slaves, who was allowed to fight for the North, and the attitude of Northerners toward the blacks. The Blue and the Gray tells a modern story of two young boys, one black and the other white, becoming neighbors on land developed next to a Civil War battleground. The conflict is explained through flashback related by one boy's father.
The civil rights issue comes alive with the era of Martin Luther King. The Story of Ruby Bridges shows the courage of a little second grader who endures the hate of bigots on her walk to integrate a southern school. Her battle for her rights and fair treatment is another testament to the human spirit.
We conclude our study of injustices and the lessons learned with the story of anti-Semitism and the persecution of the Jews. There is lengthy discussion of the role of Hitler's Germany during World War II. The children are fascinated by the events of this time and have a great thirst for information. They have frequently sent me back to the history books to answer a question. Each year that I do this I continue to be amazed at the kind and quantity of questions. Their thinking process is remarkable to observe as someone's questions stimulates another, or the connections made back to what we have learned these past months, or how they comment to or question each other - without my interference! (This is a teacher's dream, though the principal is never around to observe it!)
We start off by stating we are going to hear a sad story - a story of war and hard times, and a story of hope and triumph. Our focus is on the two wars that Hitler ran - the war against the Jews, handicapped, Romas, Communists, dissenters, etc., and the war to gobble up land in Europe. Reading aloud Be Good to Eddie Lee gives the children insight on how the mentally challenged are looked upon today. The depression in Europe, the concept of an Aryan race, boycotts and restrictions are all in place in Best Friends. Excerpts from Anne Frank, Beyond the Diary tell about Nazi occupation, deportation, flee, hiding, and the role of Righteous Gentiles. Passage to Freedom, the Sugihara Story relates the remarkable tale of a courageous Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who hand writes thousands of visas for Jewish refugees, despite contrary orders from his government We talk about the work/slave camps and the death camps. My barometer in releasing detailed information comes from their questioning -- or my decision. A simple response is, "If I tell you everything now, what will the fourth and fifth grade teachers have to tell!"
We do learn lessons from the Holocaust. We need to understand what leads to such hatred. There is a lack of knowledge of traditions, religion and customs of others. There is the basic intolerance of those who are different, escalating to bigotry and racism. There is the belief in one own's superiority. And believing the repeated lies of others that shows a lack of clear thinking. We need to be mindful of our own dignity and the dignity of others. And above all, to show respect. These points are not only for this era. They are an integral part of our classroom from the beginning of the year.
We conclude with two read-aloud books, Twenty and Ten and The Shadow Children . Twenty and Ten shows how a group of children tucked away in the French countryside successfully hide ten Jewish children from the Nazis. In The Shadow Children a grandson discovers how the French townspeople gave up their hidden children on command from the Nazis. We view the film "Miracle at Moreaux," which is based on Twenty and Ten.
Finally, all third graders hear the story of Margit Feldman, a Holocaust survivor. Margit is a remarkable person who is able to share her experiences with our children in a loving and safe manner. I had the honor of having her granddaughter, Caryn, in class two years ago. Margit is my inspiration and mentor. Ed Palagyi, a Righteous Gentile, tells of his family's experiences in Hungary as they attempt to save Jews. Ed is a true gentleman and captures the children hearts because he was their age when these events happened to him. It is in the writing of their precious letters of appreciation to these two speakers that makes it all worthwhile.
This year I decided to put on a play about Anne Frank. "Storyworks" magazine publishes short plays on historical events, one of which is "Hanukkah in the Hiding Place". Having an extremely supportive principal, Marie Simone, makes whatever I do in the classroom a joy. Our music teacher, Ann Weeks, eagerly agreed to undertake the challenging job of bringing music and song to our performance. We choose five songs that celebrate life, understanding and hope.
Don Malko, our art instructor, worked with the children using materials that were available to the children of the Terezin camp in Czechoslovakia at that time. Art work could either reflect camp life or something better of a remembered time. In computer class, Beverly Jacobs worked with the class on word processing and scanning. The children had selected a survivor' quotation from the book, The Triumphant Spirit, and wrote what they thought it meant. They typed both and scanned their survivor's photo. Barbara Wind, a poet and writer, and herself the child of survivors, worked with the class on writing poetry. She gave each child a seashell and then talked about how people build shells around themselves for protection. Some children wrote about the seashell and some wrote about Anne Frank's shell. All the children's work was displayed at the performance. In order that the first and second graders have some understanding of the play they would see, I read them a picture book of Anne Frank and held fascinating discussions. I have often said how much we underestimate the ability of eight and nine year olds to comprehend this experience of Holocaust education. Well, those words hit me again when the first and second graders responded to the concepts in the book.
Pulling all the elements together was a challenge, but definitely a rewarding experience. The cooperation and support of my colleagues was inspirational. This event surely became a high point in my career. Our play, as well as the children's exhibits, was professionally videotaped. The Star Ledger, Courier News, and Somerset Messenger Gazette carried articles and photos of our presentation. We had been asked to "take our show on the road." We were able to perform at Raritan Valley Community College's teacher workshop on Holocaust and Genocide Studies and for the Department of Education in Trenton at the request of Dr. Paul Winkler of the Commission on Holocaust Education.