During World War II in 1945, Ernie Gross was a Jewish teenager standing in line for the gas chamber at Dachau when Don Greenbaum, an American Army Corporal, and other soldiers arrived to liberate the concentration camp. Eighth graders at Colonial Middle School (CMS) recently got a better understanding of the Holocaust by meeting these men and hearing their stories.
"The descriptions of what they saw and they felt. It was heartbreaking," said CMS Eighth Grader Kasey Johnstone.
Ties to English Language Arts
The second unit of eighth grade English Language Arts centers on reading The Diary of Anne Frank. The students learn about World War II and the Holocaust to give them a better understanding of what was happening outside of the Secret Annex where Anne and her family were hiding in Amsterdam in 1942.
"It's a major part of history and demonstrates the cruelty of the past," said CMS Eighth Grader Jack Laverty. "It's important to learn about the Holocaust so that we learn how to make sure it never happens again."
"The Holocaust is almost an abstract topic for students these days," explained CMS English Language Arts Teacher Josh Rothstein. "The hope is by hearing Ernie's story and the details that Don witnessed, the students will be able to contextualize their understanding. There's a face and a name to the Holocaust, and when they think about multiplying by six million, it can land emotionally as well as conceptually."
Sharing their story
Mr. Gross explained how Nazi soldiers forced his family from their home in Romania and onto train cars to a ghetto in Poland and later to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his parents and two younger siblings were immediately put to death. He worked in labor camps and nearly starved. When he was finally too weak to work, Mr. Gross was put on a train to the concentration camp at Dachau. Mr. Greenbaum also shared what he and the other soldiers saw when liberating the camp.
"I remember Mr. Gross talking about sharing bread in the camps. They didn't give them enough food to live," said CMS Eighth Grader Shawn Odom.
Now in their 90s, Mr. Gross and Mr. Greenbaum have traveled the country sharing their experiences, including in-person visits to CMS in the past. While they tell about the horrors of the Holocaust, they also share a positive message about uniting and appreciating others.
"It made me feel inspired," said CMS Eighth Grader Haley Braun. "The fact that Mr. Gross held onto hope — in a time with nothing to hope for — was incredibly inspiring."
"I'll remember most about how Mr. Gross talked about forgiveness," said CMS Eighth Grader Melina Day. "After all that he's gone through, the fact that he's able to show forgiveness for everyone who has wronged him is inspiring."