The phrase “as quiet as a church mouse” comes to mind when thinking of a way to describe Tom Merrell’s last class on Veterans Day at Pleasant Lea Middle School.
To conclude a day full of visits to his classroom, Merrell and his seventh-hour class journeyed to the school’s library to hear a presentation from Joyce Hess, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
Students sat comfortably still and listened attentively as Hess, an Overland Park, Kan. native, recounted the many stories told to her and her brother by her mother Sonia Golad, a Jewish woman who survived the death of her parents and brother at separate concentration camps during the Holocaust.
An accountant by trade, Hess told the students how as a 15-year-old she listened in as her mother told her brother for a classroom project the origins of her ordeal as an ousted and persecuted Jewish girl in the 1940s.
Hess’s mother and father relocated to the Kansas City area in 1951 and her mother passed away in 2007, a year after Hess lost her father, David.
“About 20 years ago my mother received official Nazi documents from the Red Cross documenting the times and dates of their arrival at (a concentration camp),” Hess, a speaker with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, told the students. “I have the documents here to share with you today. It shows that her brother of Russia being sent to Auschwitz Sept. 10, 1944.
“When I saw this date I trembled because my oldest daughter was born on Sept. 10, 1986. So while one Jewish life was destroyed, 42 years later a new Jewish life was just beginning in the same family.”
Stories like Golad’s, as told by Hess, are just as important as other history lessons shared on a day to honor and salute the nation’s veterans, Merrell said.
“My hope was to see Veterans Day from a different perspective,” Merrell said of his goal for the students. “It was our veterans who liberated the Holocaust survivors. I wanted to plant the seed of knowledge about this historical event that tied into Veterans Day and will be studied by them off and on over the next five years.”
Seventh-grade student Olivia Macko, who said she has read the “Diary of Anne Frank” twice in the last few years, was among the students taking in the lesson shared by Hess. She expressed the importance of remembering or learning abut the Holocaust
“I think it was really important to tell the story,” Olivia said. “I think society doesn’t realize how important this was. A whole bunch of innocent people died just because of their religion and it deserves to be explored more and understood by the public.”
“It’s very important to carry on the story of what happened during the Holocaust to educate future generations so that hatred and bigotry, racism and discrimination doesn’t happen again and atrocities like this never happens again,” Hess added.
After a day of classroom visits from former armed service members, Merrell was happy Hess was able to share her story.
“My students will most likely not get this experience again,” Merrell said. “I was just hoping to make their education a richer experience.”