Thursday, April 7, 2011

One of Those Moments I was Talking About...

Teachable moments. They have been consuming my thoughts lately as we try to wrap up this school year and start contemplating the next.

In my heart of hearts, I know I am a teacher. Some things come easily to me, and teaching is one of them. It's ironic that this year, when we have accomplished so much, I feel as though I have taught so little. I have been yearning for the sweetness of sharing something precious with my children. In this new school we are doing, I don't have time to teach them the simple sweetness of Anne of Green Gables. I haven't had the time to do trips the library as I would like, and we haven't done the cooking and baking and other "family" activities that I think are just as important as math and science. I want to give certain things to my kids. A love of reading is so much a part of me, and I want that for them, too. The ability to travel through time and space inside the pages of a book is a treasure. I want them to know the great stories. I want them to feel connected to the past through great literature and accurate histories.

So, I decided to take a moment. On one of our few and far between library trips I happened upon a book called Hana's Suitcase. It is the true story of a little girl from Czechoslovakia whose family was taken away, person by person, by the Gestapo until one day, she and her brother were also deported to first a Ghetto, and then, Auschwitz.

I have always studied the Holocaust. It is a part of history that frightens me to my very core. I cannot understand or wrap my mind around what was happening in Germany - all of Europe, really, that could lead to such evil. I fascinates and terrifies me. I also feel somewhat tied to it, for a number of reasons. One of them, and probably the most compelling for me, personally, was meeting several ladies who were survivors of the Holocaust. I used to work at our local Jewish Community Center. First as a receptionist, and later, in the child care department. These little ladies would come once a week to play cards in one of the rooms. I noticed that they had numbers tattooed into the skin on their forearms. I never asked them personally about it, but I did ask one of the women I worked with, and she shared what she knew of their stories.

Another thing that implored me to learn more was the stories my grandfather shared with my brother and I. You see, he was among the American troops that liberated Dachau at the end of the war. He spoke of the stench from rotting bodies, left unburied. He spoke about the heartbreak of the soldiers who were forced to bury them in mass graves before disease broke out. He spoke of the survivors, the horror they had been through and how they looked more dead than alive - skin and bones and despair. He also told us how they gathered enough strength to cheer when they saw help - the Americans - coming, once they realized what was happening.  All this spoken so quietly, because he didn't really want to speak of it at all. I can't remember why he told us - maybe my brother remembers. I think maybe he wanted us to know.

So, I piled my four middle kids on the couch to listen to Hana's story. It was sort of a mystery. Her suitcase had been sent to the curator of a Japanese museum. Fumiko, the curator,  had written to one of the German Holocaust museums, requesting some items for her display. The story flashes back and forth in time - Hana's time, and Fumiko's. Fumiko and her students are intrigued by the suitcase when it arrives, and want to learn more about the owner. This set is motion a search that took two hears and several continents of travel to unravel.

My children listened. They were transfixed by the story. They wanted to see all the pictures of Hana and Fumiko. They didn't want to go to bed before finding out what happened to Hana. They were touched by her story, and as soon as I had finished the book, they were hopping on Google to learn more. They were asking me questions and begging me to come look at pictures they had found of Hana's brother, George. I had my moment. They learned. They were touched by the lives of those who had come before them. They had heard the horror of the story, and been scared for Hana's and George's fate. They were sad, and in the end, wanted to know more. Kolbe already knew some bit of the history of the Holocaust, as he is named for St.Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who died as a martyr at Auschwitz.

And as I had hoped, they learned a little bit of history. A little bit of what is in my heart, as well. Does a teacher ever ask for more? If you haven't yet read Hana's Suitcase, I highly recommend it. It is very well written, and it shows how a young woman in Japan can teach children all over the world about a little Jewish girl from Czechoslovachia who lived 60 years before.

No comments:

Post a Comment

A blogger loves feed back, and a part time narcissist needs it! If you have a comment or question, I promise to get back to you right away, it's not like I have a houseful of kids to feed or anything!