All students at Shaare Torah Girls Elementary School receive an exemplary education, but now, thanks to the insight and creativity of the school’s outstanding staff, many of them are published authors. For the last five years, the sixth-grade curriculum has included intensive study about the Holocaust, as the topic is incorporated into every subject in the general studies curriculum, and the students produce a literary anthology about the Holocaust.

The brainchild of Curriculum Coordinator Mrs. Yona Krieser, the journal began as a compilation of essays, but over time has become solely concentrated on poetry. “I am a child of survivors,” says Mrs. Krieser, “and it always bothered me that my children didn’t learn about the Holocaust in school. Whatever knowledge they had, they got from their grandparents.” Mrs. Krieser thus made it a priority to teach the Shaare Torah students about this terribly tragic time in our history, and immediately thought of tying it into this curriculum-wide undertaking.

Mrs. Esther Dayan, an English teacher at Shaare Torah elementary, comes from a home that always focused on remembering the victims of the Holocaust and paying tribute to its heroes. That passion comes through in her lessons and is clearly depicted by the empathy expressed in her students’ poems.

She gave the students 10 different poetry assignments, some of which were later handpicked for publication in the journal, titled Triumph Over Adversity.

In addition to other books and publications, the teachers make extensive use of the Project Witness’ Witness to History textbook. “Witness to History focuses on the spiritual element,” Mrs. Feinstein says, “which is very important to our girls. The question does come up of ‘why we didn’t we fight back?’ And Witness to History shows how even though the Nazis tried to dehumanize us, we fought back with our faith, and refused to surrender spiritually.”

Triumph Over Adversity is printed and bound by the Shaare staff. Mrs. Dayan expertly laid out the pages with stirring images of barbed wire and children in striped “pajamas,” and Mrs. Krieser personally bound each book so skillfully that is impossible to tell it was not a professional job.

Each book comes with a CD of a Powerpoint presentation with factual information about the war. The entire Powerpoint presentation was put together by the students and includes a recording of Yaakov Schwekey’s moving ballad, “Cry No More.”

Once the project is completed, a closing assembly is held, attended by the sixth-graders, their parents, the faculty, and Shaare’s fifth and seventh-graders. Special guest speakers are invited to address the audience.

“Some years we have survivors,” Mrs. Feinstein says. “Once we had Romi Cohen, author of the Youngest Partisan.” One year, she recalls, the grandmother of a Shaare Torah teacher spoke about her experiences as a survivor, and brought many in the audience to tears when she stated her disbelief at the fact that she has a beautiful family today, something she never thought would happen.

This year’s assembly opened with a video of the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, speaking about the improbability of the Jewish people remaining in existence throughout centuries of hardship and adversity. That, he stated, is a bigger miracle than any listed in the Torah. “By any of the normal laws of history and sociology,” he said, “we should long be gone.” Yet here we are.” Quoting Rav Yaakov Emden, Rabbi Goldstein explained how our very survival is a greater miracle than the splitting of the Yam Suf.

Following the audio-visual presentation, each student was presented with a passport bearing the name of an actual child who perished in the Holocaust. The passports are a part of the Remember the Children program, a division of Project Witness. The students were then asked to keep the memories of these kedoshim (holy martyrs) alive by performing mitzvot in their merit.

This special project culminated with a visit by the students to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. A parent in the school who works in the museum expressed her admiration over the girls’ extensive knowledge about the Holocaust and that dark chapter in Jewish history.

Mrs. Feinstein says that over the years there have been parents who expressed their objection to the program, concerned that the subject is too painful for their children to handle. However, almost without exception, those parents come to thank Mrs. Feinstein at their closing assembly, acknowledging the benefit and value the program offers to their daughters.

Adapted from the Hamodia Newspaper