Twenty students from a tough, inner-city school walked through parts of a museum last week devoted to the Holocaust and other genocides. They also met with a Holocaust survivor, the leader of their tour, and wrote about their impressions afterward.
Their tour could easily have been a scene in “Freedom Writers,” the new movie about a teacher in Long Beach, Calif., who connects with her tough, inner-city students by discussing the pain and trauma other children have suffered, including those who experienced the Holocaust.
The movie, released last week and based on a true story, includes scenes in which the students visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and meet with four elderly Holocaust survivors, all portrayed by themselves. The students, mostly black, Asian and Latino, also read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and keep diaries, portions of which became a book.
But last week’s tour took place at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, the decade-old museum in Lower Manhattan, which offers dozens of tours each year to students from the city’s public and parochial high schools.
Visiting the museum last Friday, the students came from the Midtown campus of Satellite Academy High School, an alternative city-run school for teens who have dropped out of other public schools.
Once inside, the mostly African-American visitors received the museum’s “Meeting Hate with Humanity Tour,” its standard tour for students, viewing, among other things, the personal effects of Jewish families caught up in the Holocaust. They also met with Sally Frishberg, a 72-year-old survivor who was hidden during the Shoah by Polish Catholics, and with a refugee from Darfur who discussed what many consider the ongoing genocide in that region.
The students knew about the Holocaust before their tour, said Betsy Aldredge, a spokeswoman for the museum. But some of them seemed to be “shocked” that another genocide is taking place today, she added. She also noted that “it’s one thing to read about the Holocaust in a book, and it’s quite another to hear about it from a Holocaust survivor.”
Just as the real-life students in Long Beach, Calif., did, the teens from Satellite Academy also wrote about their experience, penning letters while at the museum to children who have managed to survive the ethnic cleansing in Darfur.