Last Thursday, the auditorium at was filled for the annual presentation of Colleen Tambuscio's Holocaust Study trip.
Tambuscio, who teaches Holocaust and Genocide Studies at New Milford High School, took 19 students on the Holocaust Studies trip this year. Joining the students from New Milford High School were students from Midland Park High School, Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, California, and Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kansas.
Although this is the ninth year Tambuscio has taken students abroad, this year's trip differed from all of the others.
"As teachers, we study history. We teach history. We don't think of ourselves as making history," Tambuscio said. "However, during our Holocaust Study Tour of 2012, we did just that: we made history."
This year, Tambuscio and her students dedicated a memorial to the Wolf family in the woods where they hid from the Nazi's for three years. And joining the group was Alexander Zapruder, editor of Salvaged Pages, a collection of diaries written by young people during the Holocaust, one of whom was Otto Wolf.
Otto Wolf was a fifteen-year old who choronicled his family's survival for three years living in underground holes in the forest of Trisce to avoid Nazi capture.
In the spring of 1942, Otto Wolf, his sister, Lici, and their parents made the journey on foot from Olomouc to Trsice, in the Czech Republic, as they escaped deportation to a concentration camp and hid in the forest "living in the cold, rain and dark, pestered by vermin...combatting escalating hunger, fear, frustration and helplessness."
Tambuscio and the Holocaust Study Tour group first visited the hiding place of the Wolf family in 2008. Tambuscio recalled that when she first visited, there was no memorial that marked the historical significance of the place. That is when Tambuscio and her students decided that they wanted to establish a memorial.
"With the help of the local Jewish community in Olomouc, we managed to identify the family's cave-like shelter," Tambuscio said.
"No one knew why the spot wasn't marked," Tambuscio said. "It seemed to us that they just never really thought about marking that spot."
Tambuscio said, "After three years of hard work in both the United States and in the Czech Republic, (fundraising and working with the Czech Republic to obtain the appropriate approvals to move forward with the memorial) the memorial was able to be completed for this year's trip."
In addition to Zapruder, Wolf's neice Eva Garda, (daughter of his sister Lici) and her husband Tony also joined the students at the memorial dedication.
As the dedication commenced, the mayor introduced the officials who signed an official memorandum signifying cooperation between the Jewish Community of Olomouc and the organization for the destroyed Czech villages and towns of World War II.
This memorial is a direct result of the students visits to the Czech Republic and work exploring the diary of Otto Wolf and commemorating his bravery through unbelievable odds.
"When I saw the monument I learned for the first time the impact of the learning and the doing of something," Tambuscio said.
"For the first time I felt I made a difference in the actual historical perspective of the history."
The presentation included a documentary film chronicling the students journey to each Holocaust site--from concentration camps to museums containing relics of those lost. Haunting music overlayed atop a montage of still photos, interrupted by video segments that expertly captured the raw emotion of the students as they began to recognize the historical significance of the grounds upon which they were standing.
The presentation also included a Skype session with two students and the teacher from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kansas, along with the teacher from Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, California, who accompanied New Milford High School on the Holocaust Study Tour. The audience had the opportunity to not only question New Milford students about their experience, but also students from Kansas and California.
One audience member told the students, "You are the next generation of witnesses to keep the experience alive, so that those who would deny history will fail."
Another member of the audience, Mrs. Frank, is a Holocaust survivor. She stood and recounted the story of how she arrived as a young child at Auschwitz in October of 1944. She stood in line with the other arrivals waiting to pass inspection on who would live and who would die. Once she passed inspection, all of her hair was shaved off. She was given only a men's undershirt to wear as she stood in the freezing cold in mud up to her knees.
Also in the audience were former students of Tambuscio's who had gone on the Holocaust trip.
"That trip touched me so much that I've devoted my life to studying conflict," one former student, Jason, said.
Each student who went on this year's trip said that the experience is now woven into their lives. Each, in their own way, said that the trip was a life-altering experience.
From essays they've written, here, in their own words, is the meaning they took from the trip:
Flori Bako: "I will not waste any opportunities to make, or remake, my own history."
Alyssa Solonkovich: "The commitment to making history have meaning."
Amanda DeCarlo: "...although events can never be altered, they can be honored in such a way that helps people cope by making history acknowledge its pain."
Samantha Flores: "By...paying tribute to the 80,000 victims, we are making the absence of their history mean something."
Devanni Guzman: "Germany has accepted responsibility for the Holocaust and in doing so is making history prevent the errors of humanity from happening again."
Alyssa Loonam: "...by dedicating a memorial in the Wolf family's name...we have made history by accepting the pain of the past and educating the present and future about it."
Vanessa Monserrat: "So I end where I began: millions of people died under Hitler's rule--millions of dreams, potentials and people who could have dreamed and made history if they had been given the chance."
Allison Nativo: "Making history become lessons for our own personal lives can only happen if we are willing to learn those lessons."
Tyler Ryan: "Being a twin is normal to me and I will now look at my brother in a new way and make our history as twin brothers the best it can possibly be." (In response to learning about Dr. Josef Mengele's experiments on twins.)
Gabrielle Lieberman: "The mural (depicting the Bavarian Quarter in the late 19th Century) in its own way...is making the history of this area come to life for everyone who passes."
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