Roosevelt Middle School students experience Holocaust ‘Through the Eyes of a Friend’

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The annual Holocaust assembly at Roosevelt Middle School on May 9 featured a performance by actress Elizabeth Rainer in “Living Voices: Through the Eyes of a Friend,” which fictionalized the journey of Anne Frank after her family’s capture until her death. The program included Rainer’s dramatic interpretation and a multimedia presentation.

Rainer portrayed “Sara Weis,” a composite character “inspired by the experiences and testimonies of many individuals who knew Anne Frank at certain points in her life as well as those young people who experienced the Holocaust throughout Europe.” Their journey begins as young German girls who move to Holland with their families when the Nazis come to power. They become good friends and live relatively normal lives until Holland is invaded and the families go into hiding.

They reunite after the families are captured and sent to Westerbork, then Auschwitz, and finally Bergen-Belsen, where Anne and her sister Margot die of typhoid. Sara survives and is soon liberated.

Students were taken by the presentation, which helped to personalize the war and connect the middle school students to the lives of the young girls. A question-and-answer period followed.

District and township representatives were present including Superintendent Jeff Rutzky, Board of Education President Laura Lab and board members Sandra Mordecai and Irv Schwarzbaum; social studies supervisor Stephen Olshalsky and 6-12 ELA supervisor Elizabeth Veneziano; and Mayor Robert Parisi, councilpersons Susan McCartney and Michelle Casalino. Fran Malkin, a West Orange resident and Holocaust survivor who has spoken at RMS several times, also attended the program, which was sponsored by the social studies and English language arts programs.

Roosevelt ELA teacher Jay Wecht, who organizes the yearly assembly, was excited by Rainer’s comments to him following the assembly.

“Ms. Rainer said to me that she has delivered this ‘Living Voices’ performance countless times, but she has never seen such support from a district and a community before,” Wecht said, according to a press release. “Elizabeth went on to tell me how genuinely impressed she was that the superintendent, the president of the board and other board members, administrators, supervisors, the mayor, and Town Council members were all in attendance. She said what a positive, first impression she had today of our schools and of West Orange, and she was particularly impressed by the clear and firm commitment we have when it comes to the teaching of the Holocaust.”

“It was an outstanding assembly,” Lab said in the release. “Thank you once again for ensuring our students have a memorable and thought provoking opportunity to learn about such a horrific time in our not-so-distant past. The program today was so age-appropriate and on point. I believe this will stay with them for a very long time, as it should.”

“At this moment, there is no more important or fitting place for us all to be — in this temple of education older and more permanent than the Nazi party — where everyone here, both young and old, learn to be ambassadors of truth, of tenderness and of tolerance,” Wecht said.

Photos Courtesy of Cynthia Cumming

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