Sunday, December 18, 2011

my students and the Holocaust

 Final assignment          As he has done for many semesters, Solly Ganor, Holocaust survivor and author of Light One Candle, the required text for our class, answered my student’s e-mailed letter. From his home in Israel, he responded to these queries, “ I find myself questioning Hitler's mind. What makes a man so evil and brutal? Were there any good German soilders that did NOT want to put you guys through that torture? What kept you so strong?“

My student, concerned about bothering Solly by “...bringing bad memories,” explained that he didn’t have to answer her. But he did.

“It is letters like hers that makes me realize that the decision I made to publish my book was a difficult one , but the right decision,” Solly wrote, then continued,” Most of us who live a normal life don't realize how weak or strong they are until they are tested. I was tested under the most inhuman conditions and found the strength to survive. I had many childhood friends who were murdered and that was one of the reasons I wrote my book. We made each other a promise that the one who will survive this hell would tell their story. I survived and I kept my promise to them.”

By the end of each semester, I know that Solly’s inspirational book will have changed the lives of many of my students. Their final assignment is to write a personal essay that details their response to Light One Candle. For many of them, writing such a deeply personal essay is a profound challenge.

That’s why I’m so appreciative of their efforts at semester’s end. And so is Solly because I send most of their essays to him. For me, sharing some of their insights and revelations is one of the most joyous aspects of teaching.

As ever, I appreciate that as being one of the most worthwhile perks of being an educator. Most of what follows are verbatim excerpts. Some are painful, many are humbling. Thanks to Solly, all of them are heart to heart messages. Should you be moved to respond, please do. I will gladly forward your comments to him.

From my students’ essays in response to Light One Candle:

“It was excellent. Most of the times, I am one of the first ones to sell my books,but not this one. It was a great book.”

“Your book touched and inspired me. I remember the eight grade. My teacher had us talk to someone who was in World War II. My second cousin was a veteran...he got wounded trying to save another person...He told me stories of how the Jews were being made me cry...I went back to school to give my report; I could not give it for crying...”

“The events described in Light One Candle make me look upon my own life in  a new light by opening my mind to how bad things could be...That is why I have a new outlook on the people in my life and everyone I interact with every day.”


“ have inspired me to be a stronger person. I will never forget Light One Candle...I will read this book again especially when I’m down or going through a rough time because I know nothing I’m dealing wih can compare to what you and your family went through.” [This student had recently completed serving a four year prison term for dealing in drugs.]


“...your book has caused me to laugh, cry, be angry, and excited all at the same time. This may very possibly be the most inspirational and informative book I’ever had the pleasure of reading.”


“There has never been a story...that has influenced my life more...If I have learned anything from this book, it is that I must not waste my life, that I must ...cherish every happy moment, because I can never know when that will be torn away from me...I have to thank Solly for writing this treasure of a book...that touched parts of my heart that I have had locked away since the loss of my mother.”


“The events in this book have changed my life forever. I have a different outlook on life now. I will not take life for granted, nor the freedoms and choices that my family and I have.”


“This book has changed my life, as much as I didn’t want to read it at firtst. But as I got into it, I couldn’t believe that these things could have happened.I ...thank God every day for where I live. And what I have. I see now how much I really take for granted...”


“This book really has showed me how blessed we are to live here.”


“The book was very hard for me to get used to reading at first. I had never heard about the Holocaust.”


“Light One Candle has changed a lot of people. I can see it in the faces of my classmates. However, I do believe that this book could change even more people if it were made into a movie.”


“This book should be a mandatory assignment for students everywhere.”


“ Light One the most touching book I have ever read in my entire life. Reading this book ...reallly has changed my life. It put me into a completely different mindset and changed my perspective on so many things, including even simple things such as happiness, sorrow, the difficulties we face in day to day life, and so much more.”


“Being nearly thirty years old and returning to school to pursue a degree was a daunting task in itself, let alone reading a 300 page novel. It was a challenge for me because of a lack of quiet time with six children, two jobs, and now a full time school schedule...

“Finally, this book and the story of Solly and his life changed me personally. First, it changed my view of my personal freedoms. Living in America spoils one to believe that all people live like that and always have (which is nowehere close to the truth). Even at the time of the Holocaust, there were people living in freedom here in America that were unaware, or unwilling to listen, to the fact that innocent people were being treated worse than animals. It caused me to reflect on my own life and how I am not always aware of what is going on in the world outside of the United States. And that is wrong. As a free nation, we should try to maintain lines of communication around the world so that this same type of mass-murder does not happen again while the world sits idly by.”


Of course, there are more. But all of them would make this too lengthy. Indeed, the similarity of the responses would draw most to one conclusion, that Solly Ganor, in their eyes, is a hero. To me, that came as no surprise. For many years, he’s been a hero to me too.

                                              B. Koplen 12/18/11

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