On March 20th, as a culminating event to celebrate the completion of their One School One Book project, Weston Middle School (WMS) hosted a guest speaker whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. One School One Book is a program where participating schools select a book to study together and everyone received a free copy of the book. It is an opportunity for teachers of various disciplines to approach a topic in the selected title and incorporate aspects of the subject matter into their curriculum. This year, Weston Middle School participated with grades 6-8 collectively reading Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz. Prisoner B-3087 is centered around a young Jewish boy in Poland in the 1930s. The 4-5 grade students read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. World War II and the Holocaust are central themes to both stories.
After reading the books, WMS hosted Deb Mrowka, from the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, to talk with the students about her family's history. Mrowka told students about her mother, Eline Hoekstra Dresden, who was imprisoned at Schaffelaar in Barneveld, in the Netherlands, in 1943. Eline survived relocation into ghettos, being forced out of medical school, losing her home and all her belongings, and giving birth to her son when the Jewish people were not permitted entry into hospitals. Additionally, Eline was imprisoned in two different concentration camps from 1943 until 1945. Eline endured squalor, disease, hard, and dehumanizing labor, and starvation alongside her parents at Westerbork until Canadian troops liberated the camp on April 12, 1945. By then, they were among the few prisoners who had not been deported to another concentration or death camp. In 1958 Eline, her husband, and then five children emigrated from The Netherlands to rural Oregon near Portland.
During the presentation, students were fortunate enough to experience holding several artifacts from the Holocaust in their hands. For example, Deb Mrowka passed around her mother's Star of David that she wore during her imprisonment. Other artifacts included ration cards, postcards, and a belt that Eline's husband made for her out of electrical wire salvaged from wrecked airplanes during WWII.
Eline's experiences align with Yanek, the main character of our One School One Book, Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz. Students were able to compare and contrast what Eline went through with that of Jack Gruener, the man on whose Yanek's story is based. Students further comprehended how Nazi ideology impacted the world, and questioned the role of silence and indifference to the suffering of others, or the infringement of civil rights in any society, as a factor that can—however unintentionally—perpetuate these problems.
After the presentation, students returned to their classroom to compose an essay that argues which concentration camp was the most damaging to the main character of their book. The students all commented on how incredible of an experience it was to hear stories of the Holocaust firsthand in addition to reading about them. We were very honored and thrilled to have had this opportunity, and we would like to once again extend our gratitude to all those who made it happen.