Holocaust education of utmost importance in Bellmore-Merrick schools


International Holocaust Remembrance Day was on Jan. 27, and educators in Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District commemorated the significant anniversary that holds profound historical importance through education and personal story telling from Holocaust and genocide advocates and survivors.

“Holocaust Memorial Day serves as a poignant reminder to honor the memory of the six million Jews who tragically lost their lives during this dark chapter in history,” said Robyn Einbinder, the social studies chairperson at Wellington C. Mepham High School. 

Einbinder arranged for Holocaust survivor and author Marion Blumenthal Lazan to visit with students and share her story of fleeing Nazi Germany, surviving concentration camps, and emigrating to the United States.

Her tale is documented in the book, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” as well as in a PBS documentary narrated by Debra Messing, “Marion’s Triumph: Surviving History’s Nightmare.”

On Feb. 5, Lazan addressed students with universal messages that she said “every one of us is familiar with to varying degrees.”

“We must build bridges and reach out to one another,” she said to a full auditorium of students. “We must be true to ourselves and not blindly follow a leader without thinking ahead and searching our hearts and our minds as to what the consequences might be.”

By listening to these messages, Lazan said she hopes that “you can prevent our past from becoming your future.”

John F. Kennedy High School students heard Holocaust survivor testimonies from two individuals. Renee Silver shared her very personal story of her childhood years in occupied France with ninth and 10th graders.

Shortly after World War II began, her family was interned in Gurs by the French fearing they — and any other foreigners — were spies.

“After France’s defeat, the family was allowed to leave Gurs and move to Villeurbanne near Lyon,” explained Ann Donaldson, a social studies chairperson.

Silver and her family endured the discrimination resulting from the Vichy government including humiliation in school, being hidden in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and ultimately fleeing to neutral Switzerland.

Eleventh and 12th graders also heard from Manny Korman, who was also recently featured in Newsday. 

When World War II broke out, Korman and his family were forced from their home in Germany, moving across different places before Manny and his brother were eventually separated from their mother and father through the Kindertransport.

“They lived in the English countryside with gentiles who were kind enough, brave enough and compassionate enough to take them in when they had nowhere else to go,” Donaldson said. “Hiding their identities along with all the other children hidden amongst the gentile population, Manny spent this formative time in his life in a completely different world from that which he had known on mainland Europe, where both his parents still were at the time.”

The family’s miraculous reunion in the United States is evidence of the good-hearted upstanders who saved countless lives, while far too many stood by and said nothing.

Renowned advocate and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Carl Wilkens, engaged students across four sessions in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District. In 1994, he was the only American who chose to remain in the country after the Rwandan genocide began.

On Jan. 30, he spoke to Dr. David Goldberg and Tanya Cestaro’s Voices of the Past classes at Sanford H. Calhoun High School.

He also visited Mepham High School to interact with Jacqueline Geller and Brian Joyce’s Leadership students. The following day, Wilkens presented to Brad Seidman, Teresa Negron and Jack Ryan’s Leadership students at Kennedy High School, concluding his visit with a session at the Meadowbrook Alternative Program.

“Wilkens, drawing from his unparalleled insights and experiences, profoundly inspired and educated the next generation of leaders and scholars,” social studies chairperson Christina Cone said. “His firsthand account transcended textbooks and lectures, emphasizing the transformative power of empathy and individual action in the face of adversity.”

Both Merrick Avenue and Grand Avenue middle schools provided opportunities to further understand the impact of history as well. In addition to classroom humanities curriculum, students will see the play, “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust” in March and April.

“This performance will provide a deeper perspective,” Grand Avenue Principal Carlo Conte said, “allowing us to connect with the past and strengthen our commitment to creating a world marked by empathy, understanding, and kindness.”