William Ross is almost the same age that Anne Frank was when she began to write her diary; a book that would become one of the most read books in the world. Now William, a fifth-grader at Westview Elementary School, has taken up the responsibility of sharing Anne’s story about hiding from the nazi’s during the occupation of the Netherlands.
William is leading tours through an exhibit temporarily housed inside of the school’s media center titled, “Anne Frank- A History For Today.”
“On these panels, it tells who Edith and Otto Frank were and the backstory of Anne Frank,” William said as he gestured toward large aluminum frames.
The international traveling exhibition is designed for young students. It provides a timeline of Anne’s life, an overview of the Frank family, and details about Anne’s love for writing.
William and 17 of his peers recently completed a two-day intensive training on the exhibition that included a skype call with the lead project manager from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Westview is the first school in Berkeley County to participate in the unique history project but Wando High School in Charleston County did a version of the exhibition designed for older students.
The program stemmed from the efforts of the Charleston Jewish Federation and its daffodil project- where children plant yellow daffodils in honor of the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust. Through a partnership with the Federation, Westview was able to bring several different speakers to the school who had perspectives on the Holocaust ranging from descendents of survivors and survivors themselves.
Kelly Stello, Instructional Coach at Berkeley County School District and Westview, said some students have even been given a chance to give a tour to Holocaust survivors.
“For them to not only be sharing the history but to hear the first-hand accounts; I think it’s a life-changing event for those kids,” Stello said.
Teachers too have fully integrated the materials into their lessons. Stello said all of the fifth- grade students are participating in a novel study of “Refugee,” by Alan Grantz. The book connects the experiences of refugees who came to the U.S. during the Holocuast, Crisis with Cuba, and present day Syria.
Stello said she hopes the biggest message students take away from the experience is to be kind, tolerant, and acceptance of others.
“It is our job to be social advocates and it is our job to know how to make an impact into the world by telling these stories,” Stello said. “I know we often steer from teaching difficult subjects to our students but they are the ones they need to hear the most.”
January 27, 2020 is the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the German nazi concentration and extermination camp.
Local Holocaust survivor Joe Engel was put into Auschwitz after he was separated from his family by the Nazis. Born in Poland in 1927, he grew up in a Jewish ghetto before he was taken to Birkenau and Auschwitz concentration camps. After he reached the camps, he never saw his family again.
Engel spoke to the Westview students about his experiences in the camps and how he managed to escape.
“Day in and day out, they killed 9 million people; they killed 6 million jews and 1.5 million were innocent children,” Engel said. “It’s unexplainable what one human being can do to another one, especially small innocent children.”
Engel described the terrible life he endured at Auschwitz. He told students how the Jews starved to death or were murdered at will by the Nazis, or sent to their death in a gas chamber. He saw countless Jews take their own lives because their children had been taken away and they no longer had a reason to live.
One student asked if he has suffered from PTSD because of his experiences in the Holocaust.
Engel replied yes and said every night he visualizes the horrible things he witnessed in the concentration camps. He told the children to be thankful they were born in the United States and to say a prayer of gratitude every day.
“You all should be proud, you live in the U.S. and you can be anything you want,” Engel said. “But the main thing is; you should be a good person.”
As the end of World War II drew close and the Allies approached Auschwitz, Engel and other prisoners were forced to march away from the camp for 36 hours in the freezing weather. Next they were loaded onto cargo trains to be moved even further from the camps that would soon be liberated. All around him people were dying of starvation on the trains.
Once World War II was over, Engel immigrated to the United States and later opened dry cleaning and alterations shop on King Street.
“We are all human beings, we all come from the same place, we should all love each other instead of hating each other,” Engel said.
After sharing his story with the students Engel helped students plant daffodil bulbs at the entrance of the school.
In total, students planted 1,000 daffodils but they intend to add more each year and they hope to invite Engel back to the campus once the flowers have bloomed.