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home : education : schools September 15, 2014

6/17/2014 1:30:00 PM
Holocaust survivor shares history
Anneke Bloomfield speaks with Sisters Middle School students. She told them of life as a “hidden child” during the Holocaust. photo by Sue Stafford
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Anneke Bloomfield speaks with Sisters Middle School students. She told them of life as a “hidden child” during the Holocaust. photo by Sue Stafford

By Sue Staford

History came alive last Thursday for the Sisters Middle School eighth-graders when 79-year-old Anneke Siebel Bloomfield spoke of her experiences as a "hidden child" in the Netherlands during World War II.

Her presentation was dedicated to her father, Thomas Siebel, a member of the Dutch underground.

For the past month, the students have been studying the Holocaust in language arts and history as an integrative learning module. Casey Pallister, history teacher, and language arts teacher Jami Lynn Weber correlated the curriculum in both subjects, "emphasizing literacy skills and critical thinking, in an attempt to provide students with different ways to access the same topic," Pallister explained.

"In the Holocaust unit, we incorporated literature, image analysis, history, and first-person narratives to provide students with a variety of ways to engage with and comprehend the subject."

Pallister reported they found that "we increased student engagement and understanding when we worked together to align our curriculum." In language arts, students recently completed reading "The Diary of Anne Frank," while in history class they were studying the Holocaust and other genocides.

Bloomfield's presentation was a meaningful and impactful way to transform the Holocaust from the written page into the actual experiences of a living person's stories, photographs, and visual aids. The students were challenged to consider the concept of rights versus privileges and what it means when all rights are revoked and material comforts, safety, friends and freedom are gone.

Through a multitude of stories, the students were invited into the world of a young Jewish Dutch girl who needed to hide during the German occupation in World War II. They heard about food coupons, fear of being turned in to the Germans by a neighbor, the carrying of ID cards at all times, work permits, and assuming a false Christian identity to avoid being labeled as Jewish and arrested.

Until age 16, Bloomfield experienced repeated nightmares about the German soldier who searched their house looking for Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 40 to press into slave labor building the V1 and V2 rockets which were used to bomb England. He burst into her room, terrifying the young girl, as he searched for hidden men, jewelry, radios and contraband.

Bloomfield's story captivated the students, prompting many thoughtful questions at its close. To prepare herself for giving these presentations for the past 14 years, Bloomfield has no food beforehand, to recall the experience of unsated hunger. She has recounted her story to over 255 audiences, explaining that the residual feelings awakened each time she tells her story never fully go away.

On the screen in the front of the room, students viewed photographs of Bloomfield's family home in The Hague, the street on which she lived, her grandparent's home in Delft, V1 rockets, and maps of the Netherlands. They were shown examples of the brick-hard bread that sustained the family, and the wood and fabric shoes crafted for Bloomfield by her father when so many material goods became unavailable. The students chewed on raw wheat and tasted tulip bulbs, like those that sustained Bloomfield and her family when food ran out.

The middle school commons became transformed into a place where students touched and tasted real history and geography, while considering the impact of deprivation, the incessant sounds of war, infestations of lice, and the loss of personal freedom. Most poignant of all, Bloomfield recounted for the students the repeated separation, at a very young age, from her family. In an attempt to keep them safe, her family sent Bloomfield and her two brothers into the countryside to live with strangers as Christians, where she experienced both loving comfort and great emotional pain.

She recounted the arrival of the Allied armies at the end of the war and the American soldier who gave her a bread, butter and jam sandwich in a mess hall. She told the students to ask their grandparents or great grandparents if they remember filling shoe boxes with marbles and toiletries for the children in Europe who survived the war.

At the close of the presentation students surged forward with more questions and many courteous handshakes and expressions of thanks to Bloomfield for coming to Sisters and sharing her story.

"When I invited Anneke to speak, my primary goal was to provide our students with an opportunity to bear witness," Pallister said. "By listening to a survivor of the Holocaust, we become part of the preservation of Holocaust memory. When we preserve the stories of genocide, we combat those who try to deny their existence, and we take a step toward understanding and preventing the genocides that continue to take place in the world today. Today's presentation is not only a great opportunity, but also a big responsibility. I think when we bear witness to stories like Anneke's, we honor those who perished and those who survived by preserving their memory, but we also carry the responsibility to teach what we learn to others."

As a follow-up to the presentation, students spent class time on Friday discussing the impact of the speech, as well as completing a poetry assignment designed by Ms. Weber. They combined important lines from the Anne Frank story, their own thoughts, as well as words from Bloomfield that they found to be personally significant. The poems will be passed on to Bloomfield as a way to thank her by showing what they learned from her story.

The teachers especially wanted to express their gratitude to the community from whom they received multiple offers for donated dinner and lodging for Anneke. She enjoyed a stay at FivePine Lodge with dinner at The Open Door. Pallister "was proud of the response ... felt like the community demonstrated the compassion and selflessness that makes Sisters such a special place to live."

Pallister believes the presentation and follow-up activities were "a great way to wrap up the middle school experience for our eighth-graders. After seeing the maturity of these students today - their formal dress, their composure, their respectfulness, their thoughtful questions - I am confident they are ready to take the big leap forward to high school."

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