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2017-10-06 digital edition
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October 6, 2017  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

3 teachers visit Eastern Europe to bring Holocaust training to Florida schools


Momument at Madjanek 
Photo by Bradd Weinberg Momument at Madjanek Photo by Bradd Weinberg What struck Larry Grimes was the stillness.

He walked through a dense forest outside of Vilnius, Lithuania. As he and the rest of his group walked along a worn trail between the trees, it opened into a broad clearing of green grass covering several hills. A small plaque was the only indication they had reached one of the country’s Holocaust burial pits.

“Walking through the woods, it’s so quiet and peaceful,” said Grimes. “These people took the same walk. When you find them, these small mounds and markers, it’s very powerful. They were just left that way.”

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) selected 19 educators from middle and high schools and Holocaust center educators from 11 states to participate in its 2017 European Study Program. Once those chosen went through training to become Alfred Lerner Fellows, they are eligible to take part in the international trip.

Irena Sendlerowa’s gravesite. Sendlerowa was a nurse who helped save Jews using the Polish ‘Underground Railroad.’ 
Photo by Maureen Carter Irena Sendlerowa’s gravesite. Sendlerowa was a nurse who helped save Jews using the Polish ‘Underground Railroad.’ Photo by Maureen Carter The group, which traveled to Lithuania and Poland, included three educators from Florida: Maureen Carter, Larry Grimes and Bradd Weinberg. The summer program brought the chosen instructors to Holocaust sites to help them gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the Holocaust. Two groups participated this summer, one traveled to both Lithuania and Poland and the other focusing entirely on the history and destruction of Poland’s Jewry.

Larry Grimes, a former instructor at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, said visiting these sites makes it easier for students to understand the history of what happened. Grimes, who had visited various sites of genocide over the years, including Rwanda and Cambodia, said being able to show pictures and tell firsthand stories about personal experiences in these places sticks with the groups he addresses as a museum volunteer.

Grimes, who is not Jewish, said, “It’s one of those things, whether you’re Jewish or not, you have to appreciate the gravity of the situation.”

When Maureen Carter was 11 years old, her mother gave her a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. She was struck by the horror of Frank, who spent two years in hiding with her family, only to meet her end in a concentration camp.

Carter tried to find more books about the Holocaust, but couldn’t find many back then. Instead, she would read books about World War II and find the Holocaust was “hidden under the words.” She never stopped searching for and learning more information about the terrible tragedy.

She became a history major. “I had the nerd gene,” she said. After she raised her children she became a teacher at age 41 and has been teaching for 23 years. She is the Holocaust studies program planner for the Palm Beach County school system.

Carter is not Jewish, but always felt a strong desire to not only learn about the Holocaust, but also make sure others learned about it as well. She teamed up with JFR in the past to host exhibitions and helped set up events with Holocaust survivors starting in fifth grade and up.

“We have a pretty vibrant program here in Palm Beach,” she said. “We’re 75 years out; you can see the distance [from the events of the Holocaust]. With students, you have to make it relevant.”

Carter said that traveling with notable Holocaust scholars Sam Kassow and Peter Hayes made the trip that much more intensive. Walking through buildings and areas where terrible crimes were committed with people that can turn that into a visual image was deeply affecting. “We’re all still processing,” she said.

“In Treblinka, there is a Sovietstyle Stonehenge,” said attorney turned grade school history teacher Bradd Weinberg. “It’s surrounded by a sea of stones. Each stone represents a destroyed Jewish city. Those stones weren’t people. It [sic] was entire villages filled with people that were killed.”

Weinberg, who has been teaching for four years, introduces the Holocaust to his students during his international baccalaureate World Cultures class. He has very few Jewish students in his classes at Carver Community Middle School in Delray Beach – “maybe five or six” out of a hundred students, he said. He counts that as a win; there are a lot of students who don’t have an external reason to care about what happened overseas, but they do.

Weinberg said this trip was different from any other he had been on, mostly because there was time to ask questions and get answers from the Holocaust scholars who joined them. Many of the places the group visited were extremely memorable and having the scholars along as living encyclopedias added to the gravity of the experience, he said.

There was also the physical impact of some of the places they visited. In Auschwitz, he said, there was a see-through case about 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, filled with human hair. It was the hair that was shaved off prisoners before they were executed. Seeing that and being able to describe that sensation to students leaves a definite impression, he said.

Through the JFR, all of the educators were able to meet two Righteous Gentiles (non-Jews who saved Jewish lives in the Holocaust) in Vilnius, Lithuania. Zofia and Bronislawa Voroniecky are sisters who, along with their family, saved four men – three of them brothers – during the Holocaust. They hid the men in a hole dug beneath their barn and cared for them for years after they learned the men’s families had been killed.

The Voroniecky sisters don’t think of themselves as heroes and seem genuinely surprised anyone would want to hear their story, said Grimes. They especially don’t speak about the incident with their neighbors, he added.

Weinberg agreed. Lithuanians were responsible for murdering a lot of the Jewish population at the time and people don’t want to acknowledge that, he said.

“It’s hard, right, because we spent time with the people there,” said Weinberg. “The government does not want to take responsibility. I can’t speak for the individuals.”

JFR continues its work of providing monthly financial assistance to some 400 aged and needy Righteous Gentiles, living in 20 countries. Since its founding, the JFR has provided more than $38 million to aged and needy rescuers. For more information about the JFR and its programs, visit

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