Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Anne Frank at Plant City High School

The Plant City High School Players' presentation of The Diary of Anne Frank was scheduled at the right time for Mr. Blount's Class, right in the middle of our Holocaust unit of study and the day after our visit with Holocaust survivor Mr. Salomon Wainberg. So we decided to take an after school field trip to the Thursday night performance. There were twenty students, parents, and friends in our group, and we met at the PCHS auditorium for a powerful performance.

Kristin at the box office.

Brad and Robby at the door.

PCHS made us feel welcome.

A part of our group before showtime.

Alix and Allie

Victoria, Michael & Ashley

The Plant City High School auditorium held many memories for me. For one, it was the very stage where I performed many times as a junior at PCHS during the 1974-75 school year. Secondly, it was great to see many of my former students such as Kristin, who greeted me and sold me my ticket at the box office. Kristin has a beautiful voice and sings with the vocal ensemble Montage at PCHS. It is the same group, formerly named Opus I, that I sang with when I was in high school. I didn't teach Brad and Robby, but I taught Brad's brother Chris and I knew Robby from the Tomlin hallways. I have great memories of the year I taught Alix and Allie. No one enjoys a laugh quite like Alix; I can still picture her with her head thrown back cheering our knight during the Medieval Times field trip that year. And how could I forget Allie? I remember thinking the first day she sat at her desk in my classroom that she had the biggest smile I had ever seen. (Her brother Jeff is in my class this year.) Victoria, Michael, and Ashley are three of the five Watkins siblings I taught. Ashley is a former Strawberry Queen and currently attends Southeastern University, my alma mater. Allie, a senior at PCHS, was not at the play because she was on her way to the Miss Florida USA pageant. Joie Cleckler, first cousin, played Margot Frank in the play. Victoria and Michael are the youngest members of the Watkins clan, all of whom were great students when they were in my class.

Mr. Frost, director, introduces the play.

An amazing, authentic set.

Anne writes in her diary by lamplight.

The Frank and Van Daan families celebrate Hanukkah in hiding.

Thomas, Saulo, and Benji enjoy intermission.

The Plant City Players gave an amazing performance. Hats off to PCHS, Mr. Frost, and the entire cast of The Diary of Anne Frank!

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.
—Anne Frank

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Holocaust Survivor Visits Our Class

My class was blessed with a rare and memorable experience last week when Mr. Salomon Wainberg, a Holocaust survivor, visited our class and shared his amazing story. Mr. Wainberg's visit was the fulfillment of a dream I had carried for many years to actually host a survivor in my classroom. Through all the years I have been teaching Holocaust education, only once did my students hear a survivor's story in person, and that was when we took a field trip to the Florida Holocaust Museum several years ago and heard Sam Shryber give his testimony. In fact, it was only through my participation in the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teacher's Program in Poland and Israel that I realized hosting a Holocaust survivor in my classroom was a very real possibility.

Salomon Wainberg was born April 15, 1936, in Zelechow, Poland, to a Jewish family who owned a food store and warehouse. He was only three when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Soon after invasion, the family home was enclosed in the Zelechow Ghetto, and a family of four from the country was forced to move in with them.

On Tuesdays, non-Jews were allowed to enter the ghetto market, and rumors began to trickle in from farmers who lived near Treblinka about full trains entering the camp and empty trains leaving, sparks at night from the chimney, and the smell of burning flesh. Then, in 1942, a cousin of the Wainberg's escaped Treblinka and confirmed the horrible news.

Mr. Wainberg's father made contact with a Mr. Edvard Turek to arrange for a hiding place in the country, but before anyone was able to leave, Mr. Wainberg was picked up by the Nazis and taken with a work crew out of the ghetto. Before he left, he directed Mrs. Wainberg to send their two daughters to a Mr. & Mrs. Sokol's farmhouse that night, and for her to leave with the two boys the following night. The girls escaped, but the next morning was two days after Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and the Nazis had selected that day to begin liquidating the ghetto. Mrs. Wainberg fled down the street with her two boys and hid in an attic with 36 other people for 16 days while the Nazis looted the ghetto. Eventually Mrs. Wainberg and her sons were able to escape, but she got lost and they had to spend the day in the loft of a barn. The next night when they finally arrived at the farmhouse they were reunited with the two girls and surprisingly, Mr. Wainberg, who had gotten away from the work detail.

The Wainberg family hid in the cellar of the farmhouse with a total of 24 people. Every day Mr. Sokol would bring them buckets of soup and water, and he would take out their buckets of waste. The conditions in the cellar were very difficult. Some people smoked, and in April of 1943, one of the men died from tuberculosis. They were unable to bury him for three days.

One day, in June of 1944, while the Sokol family was working in the fields, they heard boots on the floor above their heads. They were terrified, and two of the young men in the group who had guns announced that if anyone entered the cellar, they would begin shooting. They heard the closet on wheels that covered the hidden entrance moving and then a series of trap doors opening. When the cellar door opened, there was a shootout. Young Salomon blacked out, and when he awoke, the cellar occupants were lined up along a wall and blood was everywhere. Their captors were Polish bandits, not Nazis, and they wanted money. Mr. Wainberg fabricated a story about hidden gold in the ghetto, and the bandits believed him, but by the time they buried the dead from the shootout, including one of the Wainberg daughters and an aunt, it was nearing daylight. Mr. Wainberg convinced the bandits to leave and return at night so that he could lead them to the gold.

While the bandits were away, the survivors fled and began a 7-week journey wandering from place to place stealing from food storage caves and hiding in rye fields. At the end of July 1944, conditions worsened and they could hear the sounds of battle in the distance. On August 2, 1944, they met up with Russian troops who escorted them back to Zelechow. A man who had bought the Wainberg home from the Germans gave it back to them. Only ten of the 24 people who had hidden in the cellar survived.

In 1943 there had been approximately 15,000 Jews in the Zelechow Ghetto. By January of 1945, only 250 remained. One day that same month, Polish farmers came to market with pitchforks and sickles to "finish the Nazis' job." Nine Jews were killed, and 36 were wounded in the pogrom.

Eventually, through a twisted course of events, Salomon Wainberg made his way to the United States and became a CPA. He retired in 1998 and moved to the Tampa area to be near his grandchildren.

When asked about the Righteous Among the Nations status of his rescuers, Mr. Wainberg said that later, after the cellar occupants escaped, Mr. Sokol's rescue efforts were discoverd by the Nazis, and he was executed. The other rescuers requested that he halt efforts to seek righteous status for them due to the unpopularity of the honor among their neighbors.

My mother, Mrs. Evelyn Blount, videotaped Mr. Wainberg's testimony.

Our class is collecting money to send a donation in Mr. Wainberg's honor to the Florida Holocaust Museum in hopes of furthering Holocaust education in our area.


Memorial Book of the Community of Zelechow

Wikipedia: Zelechow

Yad Vashem

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Medieval Times Field Trip

Last week, the Wolf Team took a field trip to Medieval Times in Kissimmee. A fun time was had by all!

Charter buses beat school buses anyday!

Waiting in line.

Fidelis went all out.

Five jesters and a knight.

Lovely ladies in waiting.

The call to the banquet hall.

Ready for the feast and fun. Go Red Knight!

Dr. Carbaugh joined us for the event.

Shhh! The tournament is about to begin.

The knights parade in.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Focus Title: Daniel's Story

We have been doing our World War II and the Holocaust unit of study for several weeks now, and we recently finished reading Daniel's Story, our unit focus novel. Daniel's Story is the official children's book of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Many teachers of Holocaust education prefer to use diaries and memoirs of the period rather than fiction with their students, and I truly recognize the value of first-person literature. Although Daniel's Story is fiction, it is based primarily on actual events, and it gives the young reader a great introductory overview of the period. I think it is a good story, and my students really enjoy it.

Our Holocaust unit of study incorporates many different resources including informational and picture books, slides from my trips to Holocaust sites in Poland and Yad Vashem in Israel, documentaries and movies, various learning activities, viewing of primary sources, and a truly special event you will hear more about this week. Of all the literary and thematic units I have conducted over the years, our study of the Holocaust is the one my former students seem to remember the most. As well it should be.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mrs. Field Speaks During Geography Class

A few weeks ago Mrs. Field, our media specialist, visited our geography class to share about her travels to Morocco and Egypt. Her first-hand stories and photos gave gave us an authentic experience to supplement our study of the continent of Africa. Mrs. Field has not let an injury slow her down while meeting the media needs of our school.

Thanks, Mrs. Field, for visiting us and sharing your experiences!