Children’s voices: The Holocaust and beyond

The gates at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which read, "Arbeit Macht Frei," or "work makes you free." Photo by Natalie DeFord

by Natalie DeFord, News Writer

Children of the past, present and future will be the focus of this year’s Powell-Heller Holocaust Education Conference with more than 200 local junior and senior high school students scheduled to take part.

This year’s conference is focusing on the stories of children who fall victim to dehumanization, March 4-6. Both past and present are taken into context with questions of the future.

Beth Kraig, faculty planning co-coordinator, said the conference’s faculty planning group quickly decided to focus this year’s efforts on the stories of children because almost all of the remaining survivors of Nazi camps were imprisoned in their youth.

“The stories of child survivors stand out as especially vital testimonies to hear today,” Kraig said.

Kraig also said the faculty group was interested in addressing the issue of child refugees today, since a 2014 United Nations report stated that half of the 51 million refugees living outside their home nations are children.

“The conference should remind and inform audiences of the past destruction and abuse of children in the Holocaust, while provoking us all to realize that children are still heavily targeted and harmed throughout the world as a result of war, human trafficking, unaddressed poverty and other injustices,” Kraig said

The conference, which takes place at Pacific Lutheran University, begins Wednesday March 4 with a 7 p.m. screening of the documentary “50 Children” in the Karen Hille Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The film is about an American couple that decides to go to Nazi Germany in order to sponsor and rescue 50 Jewish children and bring them back to the United States. There will be a discussion afterward with director Steven Pressman.

Thursday will be a day full of discussion and presentation, including talks with Pressman and others who contributed to “50 Children.” There will also be stories of other child rescues in history, as well as a talk about child refugees in modern events.
A fully listed schedule of events and information can be found at http://www.powellhellerconference.com.

On Friday, March 6, more than 200 local students in grades 8-12 from Keithley Middle School, Washington High School, Mt. Rainier Lutheran and others will attend a series of learning activities focusing on children and the Holocaust.

The program includes interactive sessions and discussions as the students read and learn the stories of five children who lived during the Holocaust. The stories are told primarily through the writings of these children. Unfortunately, only one of the five survived.

“I think that this is an easier way for the children to learn about the Holocaust because the stories are through children’s writing, which I hope will be a palpable way to learn about something traumatic,” said Lexi Jason, PLU sophomore and student host for the event.

The younger students will be placed at tables with 32 PLU student hosts, arranged so each table will have nearly all grades and schools represented. Together with the hosts, students will talk about the stories they read and work through their resulting feelings and questions.

“I’m most excited to host the kids and find out what they know and what they want to learn about the Holocaust,” Jason said. “It [the Holocaust] is an incredibly important event in history and I think the more we talk about things that are traumatic the better we are able to understand them and heal from them.”

Friday’s line up is open to the public and Kraig said she expects a presence from most age groups.

“This should be an extremely memorable event,” Kraig said. “Any PLU student who could come to any part would see the gym full of all the age ranges, in the space together, talking about the same things.”

It will be a present-day gathering to remember the past, think of the now and be mindful of the future.

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