It is often said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. After learning about one of the darkest periods in human history, students from Williston High School shared why it’s so important to say “never again.”
Kari Hall, department chair of the high school’s social studies department, was the first North Dakota teacher to participate in extensive Holocaust education training at the Olga Lengyel Institute of Holocaust Studies and Human Rights in New York City. The training inspired Hall to create The Holocaust: History and Memory as the first elective social studies course for upperclassmen that focuses on a specific topic.
This is the first year for the course, and Hall had 55 students taking part between two sessions. On Thursday, May 16, the students invited the public to a “History Fair” at the high school, sharing projects that they created themselves, using extensive research to share the history and stories of The Holocaust, from the rise of Nazi Germany to the liberation of those imprisoned in concentration camps.
The course dives deep into the subject, bringing to life the untold stories of those who lived through the ordeal. Hall said the students were given numerous resources to use in their projects, between biographies, films and online materials, spending countless hours perfecting their presentations.
“I asked some of them that were in my room yesterday, staying extra to make sure everything was ready for today, I said ‘So what have you thought of the class?’” Hall told the Williston Herald. “They said ‘deeper than I ever expected, but more rewarding than I could ever have dreamed.’”
Between the school’s gymnasium, commons area and auditorium, 25 different presentations were given, with scores of people moving from booth to booth, and students giving impassioned presentation on their chosen subjects. In honor of the millions that suffered throughout the Holocaust, each student wore a Star of David, much like the Nazis forced the Jews to do to identify them. The stars all shared the same message written across them, a message that the students continually reiterated throughout the evening: Never Again.
“It’s very shocking how brutal (the Nazis) were,” explained Pierce Cavanaugh, a senior who presented on the Lodz Ghetto with his partner, Justice Ferrell. “It’s just insane how inhumane and monstrous it was.”
“People need to know about this” Ferrell added. “Some people even deny that this happened. How can you deny the facts, the evidence, the people that were there that are slowly dying off? More people need to be informed about it, because those people that were the survivors, soon they’re all going to be gone so we need people to be educated about it so they can continue talking about these people and giving them justice and making sure nobody forgets it.”
Juniors Trinity Krolak and Mariah Durwee shared much of the same sentiments during their presentation, The Nazi Officer’s Wife, telling the story of Edith Hahn Beer, a Jewish woman who was married to a German officer during the war. The duo chronicled the remarkable story of Hahn, who hid her heritage to survive throughout the war.
Krolak said she was drawn to the class to learn more about the subject, saying that it is not typically covered in-depth during normal studies.
“I just wanted to know more about it,” she explained. “In history class they tell you ‘these are the main events that happened, and also the Holocaust happened too,’ but they don’t really go into the magnitude of it.”
“People kind of want to, not erase it, but skip over it to forget it.” Durwee added. “That’s our main purpose in this, we should no forget. People went through this. Their families have the effects of ‘my mom went through that,’ or ‘my kids will never know that I went through this,’ but it’s part of our history, and it should never be forgotten.”
One of the texts chosen for the course is Five Chimneys, the story of Olga Lengyel, and served as the focus memoir of the course. The message behind the story, detailing Lengyel’s struggle to survive and eventual escape, shares the message that served as a connecting thread through each of the presentations. A simple message, Hall said, but one that everyone should remember so that the past cannot repeat itself: “never again begins with you.”