Sharing Strength, Sustaining Humanity

Reading and storytelling at her core, Ms. Lazar, Director of Ford Library, has been teaching the Holocaust for many years through the lens of memoirs, diaries, and stories. With this year being extraordinary, she sought other means of storytelling and came across the Chapman University Holocaust Art and Writing Contest. This sparked an idea and she ran with it to Mr. Lara, Middle School Art Teacher. The two collaborated to create an interdisciplinary mini-unit for their 7th grade students using art and stories, “to connect the head and the heart.” Ms. Lazar explained, “Teaching about the Holocaust can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today.” She went on, “The history, stories, and themes of the Holocaust are still relevant, including the preservation of memory—holding those memories using the visual arts seemed an interesting challenge and opportunity.”
At the beginning of the mini-unit, Ms. Lazar joined Mr. Lara’s art classes and shared an excerpt from Milton Meltzer’s book, Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust, background history of the Holocaust, and then both teachers presented the prompt of the mini-unit’s project. In the first step of the project, students selected and viewed one full-length survivor or rescuer’s testimony. As they listened to the testimony, they reflected on the stories by writing down a specific word, phrase, or sentence that spoke to the inner strength of the individual telling it, and the role of connectedness in sustaining strength. As the person now entrusted with this survivor or rescuer’s memory, they were then asked to create a piece of artwork inspired by their story of resilience and the importance of connection during the most challenging of times. 
At the end of the unit, the 7th grade class observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day with Holocaust survivor, Gita Cycowicz. Ms. Lazar had heard her speak last summer and worked with her TOLI (The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights) colleagues to connect with and arrange for Ms. Cycowicz to speak to our students. Born in 1927, Ms. Cycowicz’ life abruptly changed when her town came under Nazi rule at only 12-years-old—the same age as many of our 7th grade students. A few years later, she was separated from her family, loaded onto a cattle car, and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she suffered unbearable hunger and inhumane living conditions. Video calling from Israel, Ms. Cycowicz was able to share some of her story with our students, and the impact she made on them was profound. A few lessons that students took away from her visit were: pursue an education, never deal with anybody with anger, and approach every crisis as an opportunity for betterment. Many students wrote letters to Ms. Cycowicz thanking her for her time and for sharing her story. In one letter, Rose ‘26 wrote, “I realize the only way we can help prevent events like the Holocaust from happening ever again is to share what happened to the millions of people that were tragically targeted...I won’t let anyone forget what happened. Your story will be in my heart forever.” 
Read an article about Ms. Cycowicz’ visit in the Albuquerque Journal and watch a segment from KRQE.