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Archive for December, 2015

Be the Light.

A Christmas Story, by Me

~The Dark Santa~

(in the spirit of “Chucky the Doll meets Scrooge McDuck”)

The holiday festivities once again roll back around and the Dark Santa is trolling in the background to keep order and decorum. In our house, he is never relegated back into the box; he is always on guard and looking out over the children, good and bad, tinkering his bells to announce his arrival and ready with his switch to be used on misbehaving bums. But this year he has a special message to deliver, and this evening before Christmas, he comes gently in the night to remind me of a few things.

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I created this particular Dark Santa and a batch like him back in 1992. I don’t think we made more than a couple dozen, me and the good wife, back in the days BC (before children). I would watch the local PBS station on Saturday morning as my hero Rick Bütz, the Adirondack woodcarver, would turn a hunk of wood into something real and alive. My teaching career was just underway, and Laura and I had just moved from my parents’ house, where we had shacked up in desperation as poor newlyweds, to a beautiful new home that my good friend had built. We were young and independent, free with time and money. The road was wide open. Then one Saturday Rick created a belsnickel, and as he brought the block to life, he told the story of Santa’s cranky cousin. From the history pages:

“He is typically very ragged and disheveled. He wears torn, tattered, and dirty clothes, and he carries a switch in his hand. A few nights before Christmas, a rap would come at the door. A cross-looking man wearing furs would step through the door. He held a hickory switch in one hand and a sack laden with candy and nuts in the other. One by one, he called the children in the house forward and asked them to recite a poem, a Bible verse or math equations. He’d warn them to behave. Then he’d toss the goodies on the floor — but woe to children who forgot their manners and greedily dove for the candy and nuts. They might feel the sting of the switch on their backs. But there was still time to mend their ways before Santa visited on Christmas Eve.”

For some reason, the little guy just spoke to me. I went on a tear, laying out the template and carving away, shaping the body, incising the eyes, and curving the lines down in his beard with the compact woodcarving kit my youthful wife bought me. She would paint his robe and the mittens, I would drill and nail his free-swinging arms in place, complete with broomstalk switches, and we would move on to the next one. So off the toy assembly line they marched, the first one finding his way to my parents’ mantelpiece over the fireplace—Mom and Dad just loved him. The rest were dispatched to many of my closest friends and relatives, and maybe to some of their friends; I don’t think I sold any.

Two decades plus later, my late parents are a warm memory. My not-so-young bride and I wake up nights and worry for our own children, our students, and other loved ones in this fouled-up world, as my folks surely did for us. And coming down the stairs one morning recently, Dark Santa jumps out at me from his perpetual place on the window ledge, as if to say, “Okay, bud. Now it’s your turn.”

I decide to fetch the camera, take his photo, and not exactly in the true spirit of Christmastime, I post Dark Santa up on my Facebook page, shouting but not writing the words I am feeling:

Happy Holidays, World. You have been a bad world, full of ignorance and intolerance and demagoguery and divisiveness. Maybe it’s time you felt the switch.

But maybe that’s not what the little guy had in mind. In response to my post, one by one, our friends and relations post pictures of him and stories of how this gift they received from us years ago still takes an honored place at Christmastime. And I notice that most of the soldiers in the dark army of Santas we sent marching out into the world two decades ago have returned without the switches of days gone by.

*

Today the little guy spoke to me again. On this day before Christmas break, I head into school, still not entirely with the mood—today is the darkest day of the year, after all. But first thing, one of my young charges bounds into the room before her scheduled class time. “Good morning, Mr. Rozell. Would you like a candy cane?” She is shiny-eyed, smiling, radiating goodness and purity and love and everything that is right with the world. Though I harbor a distaste for candy canes, I am powerless to refuse and take one from the box with a simple ‘thank you, sweetness’. She smiles again and nods and turns and bounds off again. I’m comforted, somehow. But as soon as she leaves, I set it down and go back to pick at my mindless mountain of paperwork.

An hour later and she is back in the room and settling in to be lashed with a day-before-vacation exam. But before the test can begin, she is up out of her seat and excitedly rushing my desk like a linebacker barreling in to drop the quarterback, with phone in hand. And that is exactly what she is going to do. A hundred-something pound girl is about to drop me. Alyssa has to show me a photograph that she just received from her teacher-mother in a neighboring school district.

She turns the phone towards me, and standing on a school desk miles away is the DARK SANTA who has been lately making a good show of interrupting my life. Her mom had found him in her elementary school classroom and just now turned him over, and there was MY NAME burned into his underside, a generation ago—and it looks like this guy’s switch is also missing in action.

Like the proverbial bottle cast out to the sea in my youth—full of hope and promise—this Dark Santa returns to me again, specially hand-delivered by Goodness, Purity, and Love, on the darkest day of the year. I can only figure that my mother, who had once nurtured children in that very school, is responsible for this somehow:

Be still.
Feel the warmth.

See the good.

Be the light.

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Seventy one years ago, it began. Hitler’s last gamble would claim more American lives than any battle in U.S. History. Frank Curry was there, and on a cold winter day in December, saved five men and kille scores of Germans singlehandedly. Frank was in the 30th Infantry Division, which liberated the Train Near Magdeburg; he came to our school.

The morning of December 16, 1944. A lonely outpost on the Belgian frontier.

“Both the enemy and the weather could kill you, and the two of them together was a pretty deadly combination.” Bulge veteran Bart Hagerman. Photo: George Silk/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images Dec 20, 1944

In subzero temperatures, the last German counteroffensive of World War II had begun. Nineteen thousand American lives would be lost in the Battle of the Bulge. “Hell came in like a freight train. I heard an explosion and went back to where my friend was. His legs were blown off-he bled to death in my arms.” The average age of the American “replacement” soldier? 19.

Of the sixteen million American men and women who served in WWII, four and a quarter hundred thousand died on the field of conflict. In 2015, on the downward bell curve slope, nearly 500 veterans of World War II quietly slip away every day. The national memory of the war that did more than any other event in the last century to shape the history of the American nation is dying with them. The Germans threw 250,000 well trained troops and tanks against a lightly defended line on the Ardennes frontier in Belgium and Luxembourg, which created a pocket or “bulge” in the Allied offensive line, the objective being to drive to the port of Antwerp to split the American and British advance and force a separate peace with the Western Allies. What ensued was the bloodiest battle in American history. It saddens me that it comes as a shock to many Americans today that the “Battle of the Bulge” didn’t originate as a weight-loss term.

On a personal note, I have had the privilege of interviewing many of the veterans of this battle. In the high school where I teach, I have been inviting veterans to my classroom to share their experiences with our students. As their numbers dwindled, I smartened up, bought a camera, and began to record their stories. And for the past decade, I have been sending kids out into the field to record the stories of World War II before this generation fades altogether. These men and women have helped to spark students’ interest in finding out more about our nation’s past and the role of the individual in shaping it. In our books we have worked to weave the stories of our community’s sacrifices into the fabric of our national history. And that, to me, is what teaching history should be all about. After all, if we allow ourselves to forget about the teenager who bled to death in his buddy’s arms, if we overlook the sacrifices it took to make this nation strong and proud, we may as well forget everything else. I shudder for this country when I see what we have all forgotten, so soon. But if you are taking the time to read this post I suppose I am preaching to the saved.

I will close with the account of a nineteen year old infantryman who in fact survived the battle and the war, and who I was able to introduce to many Hudson Falls students on more than one occasion. Sixty-nine years ago this December, a day began that would forever change his life.  Frank is now the only living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II left in New York State and New England.

In the winter of 1944, nineteen year old Private First Class Currey’s infantry squad was fighting the Germans in the Belgian town of Malmédy to help contain the German counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. Before dawn on December 21, Currey’s unit was defending a strong point when a sudden German armored advance overran American antitank guns and caused a general withdrawal. Currey and five other soldiers—the oldest was twenty-one—were cut off and surrounded by several German tanks and a large number of infantrymen. They began a daylong effort to survive.

Francis Currey MOH and Ned Rozell March 2010-Ned is friends with the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient in NY and NE, Frances Currey. Yes, the special edition GI Joe he signed for Ned is 19 yr. old Frank!

Francis Currey MOH and Ned Rozell March 2010-Ned is friends with the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient in NY and NE, Frances Currey. Yes, the special edition GI Joe he signed for Ned is 19 yr. old Frank!

The six GIs withdrew into an abandoned factory, where they found a bazooka left behind by American troops. Currey knew how to operate one, thanks to his time in Officer Candidate School, but this one had no ammunition. From the window of the factory, he saw that an abandoned half-track across the street contained rockets. Under intense enemy fire, he ran to the half-track, loaded the bazooka, and fired at the nearest tank. By what he would later call a miracle, the rocket hit the exact spot where the turret joined the chassis and disabled the vehicle.

Moving to another position, Currey saw three Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house and shot all of them with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He then picked up the bazooka again and advanced, alone, to within fifty yards of the house. He fired a shot that collapsed one of its walls, scattering the remaining German soldiers inside. From this forward position, he saw five more GIs who had been cut off during the American withdrawal and were now under fire from three nearby German tanks. With antitank grenades he’d collected from the half-track, he forced the crews to abandon the tanks. Next, finding a machine gun whose crew had been killed, he opened fire on the retreating Germans, allowing the five trapped Americans to escape.

Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the enemy was forced to withdraw. Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing 5 comrades, 2 of whom were wounded, and for stemming an attack which threatened to flank his battalion’s position.

At nightfall, as Currey and his squad, including the two seriously wounded men, tried to find their way back to the American lines, they came across an abandoned Army jeep fitted out with stretcher mounts. They loaded the wounded onto it, and Currey, perched on the jeep’s spare wheel with a Browning automatic rifle in his hand, rode shotgun back to the American lines.

After the war in Europe had officially ended, Major General Leland Hobbs made the presentation on July 27, 1945, at a division parade in France.

source material Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier.

 

Frank signs autographs at our school.
Frank signs autographs at our school.

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leo p dean I recently signed one of my books to World War II veteran Leo Dean, which  former student Cassie K.  purchased for him for Christmas at my last book signing. Leo was a member of the handpicked 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team, which saw action in Europe and heavy fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, which broke open 71 years ago this week. Later, he got to go to southern France several times to revisit the towns that they liberated, with a contingent of reenactors and veterans, who were welcomed by the French people with love and open arms.

I did not know Leo, I but wish I had. Leo passed away at work at the age of 91 last week.  Rest easy, Leo.

He is an article by Paul Post of the Saratogian that appeared in 2014.

Might as well jump: WWII vet to celebrate 90th by skydiving

By Paul Post, The Saratogian
POSTED: 04/29/14, 11:45 AM EDT |FORT ANN

Leo Dean took up skydiving at 75, when some people that age have resigned themselves to a rocking chair.

This Saturday, weather-permitting, the World War II veteran will celebrate his 90th birthday by making his 162nd jump in Fort Ann, and he’s looking for other daredevils to join him.

While a relative newcomer to the sport of skydiving, Dean is no stranger to jumping out of airplanes. During the war, he belonged to the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team that suffered heavy casualties during the invasion of Southern France, and later fought with ground forces in the Battle of the Bulge.

“My cardiologist asked me, ‘Are you still skydiving?’ I told him, ‘It’s better than the pills you give me.’ It keeps my adrenaline pumped up,” Dean said, laughing.
Nothing much seems to stop him.

Renee Farley, a close family friend, said she was lounging on a beach in Jamaica one day when a parasailer drifted by, waving at her. Sure enough, it was Dean.

Last spring, the Albany resident was a special guest at The Great Escape theme park, where he helped christen the Screamin’ Eagles, a new thrill ride.

Saturday’s planned outing, led by Adirondack Skydiving Adventures, is obviously a bit riskier — and higher off the ground. In deference to his late wife Helen’s wishes, Dean gave up parachuting for most of his adult life. After she passed away, he began having second thoughts.

“I wondered if I still had the nerve to step out the door of a plane,” Dean said. “When I got up there, I said, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’”

Several friends have already agreed to jump with him on Saturday. However, at least two more are needed. If eight others take part, Dean will be allowed to jump for free.

“The best gift we could give our hero and friend is to share this special day with him,” Farley said. “An even better gift would be to jump with him.”

Dean said he wrote to former president, World World War II veteran and parachutist George H. Bush, inviting him to go along on his birthday adventure. Bush marked his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays with parachute jumps.

“He wrote back and said, ‘Sure, if Barbara lets me,’” Dean said.

Dean likes to kid about his skydiving pursuits, but turns serious when reflecting about his wartime service.

“Even when I was a little kid, I wanted to be a soldier,” he said. “I went to Christian Brothers Academy, a Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) school. In my senior year, I was cadet captain and company commander.”

As a teen, in the 1930s, he went to month-long Citizens’ Military Training Camps, a summer program held each year from 1921-40 that gave young men basic military training. But unlike the National Guard and Reserves, there was no obligation to call-up for active duty. One of the largest camps was near Plattsburgh.

Dean faked his age so he could join the program early.

“I went to my first one in 1939,” he said. “At 15, I was firing machine guns over Lake Champlain.”

Five years later, however, Dean was fighting an enemy that shot back. He got his first taste of combat north of Rome, in the summer of 1944. On Aug. 15, his 517th parachute team left Italy and crossed the Mediterranean for a night-time jump into Southern France.

Although overshadowed in history by D-Day, two months earlier, this highly successful invasion was critical to the war’s outcome. Working in concert with the 3rd, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions, Dean’s airborne group began liberating one small French town after another, at great cost in American lives.

He’s already purchased airline tickets to return back there this Aug. 15 for solemn memorial services at a U.S. military cemetery. He’s been there each of the past 10 years.

Dean said each town that was liberated still holds parades, in which he’s participated, and ceremonies to mark the date of their freedom from Nazi control.

“Those French people on the Riviera are really very good,” he said.

The combat lasted 90 days until November as Dean’s outfit pushed German forces into northern Italy. The Allied thrust also drove northward in France.

A month later, he was preparing for a parachute the next spring into Germany, when Hitler counter-attacked with the Battle of the Bulge. Dean was quickly transferred north and spent the winter of 1944-45 in northern France and Belgium.

“I almost froze to death up there,” he said. “What a contrast from the French Riviera. The Bulge started in mid-December. I never got pulled out of line until the first week of February.”

After Germany surrendered in May, fighting still raged in the Pacific against Japan. That summer, Dean was ordered back to the U.S., expecting to be sent to Alaska to prepare for an invasion of northern Japan. However, two days before his troop ship reached New York, he learned that Japan had surrendered, too, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I lucked out on that one,” Dean said.

Coming home, he went to Siena College, became a certified public accountant and had a long career in the insurance business. Never one to stay idle, his latest job is with Norvest Financial Services in Latham.

“I didn’t say I go to work,” he said. “I said I go to the office and I take long lunch hours.”

Dean understands why most people don’t care to take part in Saturday’s skydiving celebration. However, anyone who shows up can enjoy a champagne toast afterward. Adirondack Skydiving Adventures is located at 10913 Route 149 in Fort Ann, 9.3 miles east of Route 9.

Dean’s jump is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

Even those who don’t make it can still help him.

“Pray for good weather,” he said, smiling.

http://www.saratogian.com/general-news/20140429/might-as-well-jump-wwii-vet-to-celebrate-90th-by-skydiving

Leo P. Dean

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Helen Sperling passed away last week. She was an incredible woman, a Holocaust survivor whose mantra was “Thou shalt not be a bystander.”

I spoke at the annual Yom Hashoah lecture that she sponsored for her community in Utica a few years back. She lived about 100 miles away, so her friend Marsha drove her to Saratoga Springs, the halfway point for us, so that she could meet me and vet me for herself before committing to my lecture. I passed the test. later, my friends at the USHMM found some of her liberation documents for me, which I sent to her. I even found one of the US soldiers who liberated her, in the town near me.

The article and post below is from a couple years ago. I love the photo. Godspeed, Helen. Rest assured that all those whom you touched, will keep the memory alive.

******

Helen is a friend of mine. She was liberated in April 1945 by a division of American soldiers that included our high school secretary’s uncle.

At her invitation I traveled to central NY to speak 2 years ago.

She is still going strong. I love her! Her central message to students-“The world needs saving. So, get to it!”

BY RACHEL MURPHY
Rome Observer Staff Writer

Staff Photo by RACHEL MURPHY--Curtis Thompson, an eighth grader at Strough hugs Helen Sperling, a 93-year-old who survived the Holocaust. Sperling shared her story with the eighth grade class on Wednesday, after she finished every student hugged her.

Staff Photo by RACHEL MURPHY–Curtis Thompson, an eighth grader , hugs Helen Sperling, a 93-year-old who survived the Holocaust. Sperling shared her story with the eighth grade class on Wednesday, after she finished every student hugged her.

ROME, NY. — Holocaust survivor Helen Sperling, 93, recounted the darkest moment of her life before a crowd of more than 300 eighth-graders at Lyndon H. Strough Middle School on Wednesday.

Sperling spoke for two hours about her time in the concentration camps.

Sperling was born to a middle class family where she lived in Poland.

During a school vacation when she was 22 years old, the Germans invaded her home and took her family into a ghetto.

“For the first time in my life, I was completely and utterly helpless,” she said.

During her time in the ghetto, Sperling remembered being able to contact a close friend to wish her a happy birthday. But when Sperling called her friend, who was a Gentile, the friend responded with a racial slur.

“You did not realize who was your friend and who was your enemy,” she said.

She explained that like many other Jewish families, hers was eventually taken from the ghetto and separated into prison camps. She was first placed into Ravensbrück, where she was forced to perform demeaning tasks the Nazi’s used as a way to break her spirit.

But despite the torture, hunger and fear, Sperling managed to survive, along with her younger brother.

“Ninety-nine percent of our survival was sheer luck,” she said. “A little tiny bit of it was hanging on to dignity. Once you lost that, you didn’t have a chance.”

Sperling’s parents did not survive.

Her family was among the 6 million other Jews that were sent to death camps and were killed by the Nazis.

Sperling placed two family photographs on a table nearby as she spoke to the students.

“These are mine, and I miss them terribly,” she said of her family members.

However, she continues to share her story to hopefully inspire and educate others.

“I want them to know that they can do something. I don’t want them to be bystanders,” she said.

Sperling added that even though it is difficult to retell it’s worth it.

“As long as I can do and as many schools as I can cover I want to,” she said.

Assistant Principal Michael Stalteri explained that he hopes the students learn from Sperling’s life and positive outlook.

“Her story resonates with what goes on in their lives when they’re being persecuted, picked on, harassed, bullied or made to feel different,” he said. “Hearing Mrs. Sperling’s story of triumph and her message is exhilarating.”

After Sperling finished her story each student hugged her, and she gave them an anti-bullying bracelet.

http://romeobserver.com/articles/2013/03/15/news/doc5140d89a9dd53321768186.txt?viewmode=fullstory

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Vet tells his story: from Pearl Harbor to the classroom

by Liza Frenette

Alvin Peachman

Nineteen-year-old Alvin Peachman was playing pingpong when he heard about the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His heart might have skipped a few beats, like a ping-pong ball skittering across the table. But it didn’t take too many heartbeats after that for him to enlist in the Navy.

“We heard the news on the radio. There was no TV then,” he told students at Hudson Falls High School recently. The idea of the U.S. Navy being so outrageously attacked seemed unthinkable.

“We thought it was a joke. Then, we heard President Roosevelt ask Congress for a Declaration of War. And I knew that I’d be in it,” Peachman said. “There was war fever. There were posters to inflame your patriotism.”

Always interested in history and geography, he said he knew right where Pearl Harbor was. Information about Pearl Harbor Day can be accessed in a free lesson plan at the American Federation of Teachers’ “Share My Lesson” site.

“I volunteered for the Navy. You had to be in perfect physical condition,” Peachman said.

At the time, he was working on the docks in New York City, where he’d come to find work away from the coal mines of Appalachia, where he grew up. He unloaded coffee on the piers. “I could rip the pier up!” he boasted.

It’s been a long time since Peachman was in front of a classroom, teaching students about history. But, at 93, he still lives just down the street from the small and rural Hudson Falls High School where he taught from 1951 to 1983. So he came on over recently to spend several hours with two classes of students, talking about his experiences during WWII. He fought in the Pacific Theater, which spilled out on a map behind him for students to see. A white-haired man with sparkling blue eyes, he sat comfortably in front of the students, wearing a brown cardigan, telling them how he slept in a hammock on his ship with 50 men in a room the size of their classroom.

He showed them a metal chunk from a kamikaze plane that attacked the U.S.S. Witter, a destroyer escort ship off Okinawa. Peachman worked as a radio operator and barely escaped death. Students marveled at the piece of history.

Peachman earned $21 a month for his service in the military, but he had to pay $6.50 of that for insurance because, he recalled, “If you got killed and didn’t have insurance, your mother got nothing.”

His service included fighting in the Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands and New Zealand. When fighting on land, he said his helmet served as a wash basin to shave and wash. Many comrades got malaria or other tropical diseases. “You’d get dysentery and be so sick, you wish you were dead,” he said.

Sometimes he was “10,000 to 12,000 miles away from anywhere on the ship,” he said. He crossed the equator a half dozen times and lived through a typhoon, where waves slammed the ships sideways. People had to be tied down so they didn’t get washed away. More than a thousand lives were lost during the two-week storm, Peachman said.

Those weren’t the only challenges.

“I saw no girls for two years and that bothered me,” he said, as students laughed with him. “You go nuts!”

He got out of the service on a Friday and enrolled in college in New York City the following Monday. “I studied like a bulldog,” he said. He worked on Wall Street and then for Western Electric, but his commute was long and he found the city crowded. He went to New York University to get his history degree, and then found a listing for a teaching job in Hudson Falls.

“When they told me the train fare was $15, I almost collapsed,” he said, breaking out into a huge smile.

His host for the day at the school was Matt Rozell, who used to be Peachman’s student. Now, Rozell has written a book, The Things Our Fathers Saw (The Untold Stories of the WWII Generation from Hometown USA — which includes interviews with Peachman and many other veterans. Peachman also passed around a book with photos of his bombed out ship and pictures of his comrades.

“This book will help to remind those who are young and who are living in today’s confused world, that freedom is not free,” Peachman said.

http://blogs.nysut.org/blog/2015/12/07/pearl-harbor-attack-prompted-dockworker-to-enlist-retired-vet-and-teacher-tells-students/

 

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Searching for Randy…

Randy Holmes monument, Hudson Falls. He is not home-yet. Photo by me, this past summer.Moss St. Cemetery.

Randy Holmes monument, Hudson Falls. He is not home-yet. Photo by me, this past summer.Moss St. Cemetery.

74 years. Randy Holmes is the start of my book, and a chapter on searching for him finishes it. His remains were underwater for 18 months. It’s time to bring him home, to lay next to his parents.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/after-74-years-bones-from-pearl-harbor-tomb-ship-may-be-identified/2015/12/06/60263b86-8ee7-11e5-acff-673ae92ddd2b_story.html

 

 

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This past Friday, I spoke to scores of educators interested in the Holocaust and genocide, people who were also attempting to teach about these crimes against humanity. As a teacher, you have to be very committed to do this seriously- just to try to attempt to understand these events, let alone teach about them to young people.

I was invited by the New Jersey Council of Holocaust Educators in cooperation with the Center for the Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education at Brookdale College. I have my take on things, and that is what I am working on now, in my new book. I was also in some pretty good company.

My good friend and fellow educator Alan Bush, who drove two hours on his own time to come out and support me (even though he told me I was not as attractive as the previous speakers).

My good friend and fellow educator Alan Bush, who drove two hours on his own time to come out and support me (even though he told me I was not as attractive as the previous speakers).

In the morning Alexandra Zapruder engaged with the teachers by reading excerpts from her seminal work, Savaged Pages, Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, creating a dialogue about how the young people who left behind diaries left so much more than just the written word of their time of horror and oppression. This was not Anne Frank, but a deeper dialogue about attempting to make sense of the senseless, and the conflicting emotions that really encourage us to look into the abyss, beyond the standard narrative of what we think we know about the Holocaust- powerfully, from teenager to teenager. And Alex is the perfect vessel.

Meline Toumani read from her book, There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond, about growing up in the Armenian Diaspora community and her process of discovery in the context of the conflicting narratives of Armenian genocide of 1915 and her attempt to get to the root of her own self identity. Her book came out on the eve of the 100th anniversary, and the topic resonates especially as we try to make sense of the larger picture of genocide and the ripples that these actions, and our own re-actions, create. She spent her entire 30s in the process, and this is what also fascinated me, as her book is classified as a memoir. I am now tearing through her work, making notes, highlighting certain passages. For the passionate, writing indeed becomes a huge part of your life.

Then it was my turn.

I fumbled a bit, looking up this website to display for the crowd and typing in misspelling after misspelling for the Jumbotron, but quickly won them over by simply showing the teachers a photo of my classroom

the last generationand reminding them that I was also missing a day of school today,  but what were were all doing together had a meaning and importance that really transcended our normal daily routine. It was okay- we were in this together, and I would show them how one person could make a difference and that one person is YOU, the teacher.

So I began to tell my story, the one that I will be detailing in my upcoming book, about how I had no intention of becoming a teacher, in fact, NO intention of ever returning to my hometown after high school–and how seven years later I was living in a room off my parents’ garage, and working on the other side of the desk in the high school I swore I would never return to.  And it was survival mode for the first few years. If someone had shown me the easy way out, I would have jumped. But I did not, *for some reason*, and because I stuck with it I was standing before them that day, about to tell my story.

So I did. They laughed, and they got emotional. There were powerful messages imbedded in the narrative that followed, though I tried not to point them out. I didn’t have to-they got it. Some people teared up. I think I did too, when I showed the videos and remembered the people that I have lost over the course of this wonderful journey. So I share it here again for the benefit of those who maybe would like to see it again, or might like to use it in their own classrooms.

It is the story of my main character, the “liberator” Carrol “Red” Walsh, who passed three years ago this month, and Steve Barry, the 20 year old survivor who graphically describes his Holocaust experience, his day of liberation, and searching for so many years and finally finding his liberators, due to my teacher project. I forgot to tell my attentive audience that after Steve made it to the USA, he was drafted and served as a US Army Ranger in Korea- and that he called himself the “Happiest Korean Conflict Draftee”. Or that after he passed, his daughters boxed up his library of Holocaust-related books, and sent them to me. But I did tell them that forevermore, his words will remain inscribed in granite at the Donors’ Wall of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum- “It’s not for my sake that people should remember the Holocaust, it is FOR THE SAKE OF HUMANITY”.

Steve's name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

Steve’s name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

When I was finished, there was no real time for a Q and A session left-but people streamed over to me, taking my hand in many instances, and thanked me for something really simple-inspiration. And that is what meant the most, that these people were TEACHERS, like me. I drove the next the five hours on a cloud, just thinking about the day.

We have so much power to change the world, so much responsibility. Especially those of us who take on these topics. We get so caught up in the day to day milieu- we don’t see the forest. Today, thanks to the program and its organizers and speakers, we all at least caught a glimpse of it. The chief architect and MC, Colleen Tambuscio, radiated the collaborative enthusiasm that really carried the day and tied everything, and everyone, together.

*So, the ripples continue, and the generations go forth. Somebody said it was like pebbles being tossed into the still water. This may sound strange, but I have become keenly aware of the cosmic element-

We have the power to trip the wires of the cosmos.

 

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