“Win a World Series.”
“Become a doctor.”
These are a few dreams students at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy wrote down as they participated in the annual legacy project from the student-run Holocaust Education and Reflection (HEAR) Club.
Each year, students commemorate the Holocaust with a schoolwide project, from a mosaic tile creation now housed in the school’s lobby to a remembrance garden. This year, following a September trip to Whitwell, Tenn., to visit the school responsible for the Paper Clips Project, they commissioned a replica cattle car of the real one on the Whitwell school grounds that was once used to transport Jews to concentration camps.
“When we were in there, we were so profoundly affected,” recalled Susan Schwartz, world languages teacher and faculty adviser of the HEAR Club. “When you’re standing there, imagining 100 people shoved in there and there was just five of us, it affected us so much. It was kind of all we could think about.”
They decided to commission a replica and fill it with colored strips of paper on which students in the school wrote a dream to share with a child who perished in the Holocaust.
“We weren’t looking for Shakespeare; we were looking for things like, ‘Go to Israel with my family,’ ‘win a baseball series,’” Schwartz said. “Simple dreams that children who died would never have a chance to do.”
“Many know the number 6 million, but it truly is heartbreaking that 1.5 million of those 6 million were children,” added 12th-grader Emma Dorsch, HEAR co-president. “Children who never got the chance to grow up and fulfill their wishes for the future. … We pledge to never forget, and live our lives knowing how lucky we are to get to do things as simple as going to college or getting a good grade in math, for the 1.5 million who could not.”
An actress and singer, she made her wish to perform and spend her life doing what she loves with those she loves.
On Jan. 29, Dorsch and her two co-presidents, Benjamin Rothstein and Gabriel Bryant, will address the school and talk to them about three important topics: what liberation of the camps looked like and how it affected the rest of the world; how the Jews got to the camps and introduce the students — perhaps for the first time — to what cattle cars were; and what their trip to Whitwell was like and how it inspired the legacy project.
The date of the assembly falls by two significant milestones. International Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked Jan. 27 as was the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The significance of the Tennessee town extends even beyond the trip — the 3-foot-long replica cattle car was built by the father of Sandy Roberts, the Whitwell Middle School teacher who started the Paper Clips project in 1998.
For Schwartz, the significance of the 10 years of legacy projects so far is that it gives students a physical connection to the Holocaust as the number of survivors dwindles.
“We try to have tangible things such as a salvaged Torah scroll, artwork that the entire school contributes to, a cattle car so that we never forget that people like us were put in there and brought to their deaths and died in them — and yet hope,” she said. “There always has to be an underlying level and layer of hope.”
For Dorsch, this project represented a chance for herself and her fellow students to honor the lost children of the Holocaust in a meaningful way. Sorting through the wishes and dreams almost brought her to tears.
“I hope that this teaches fellow students not to take anything for granted,” she said. “We all are privileged to go to a wonderful school where we can be ourselves, pursue our passions, and receive an education. The children who perished in the Holocaust were robbed of those opportunities.”