Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Character education and the impact of a liberator

Listening to the NBC Nightly News about a Holocaust survivor reuniting with her liberator nearly 70 years later brought attention to the room.  Marsha Kreuzman, nearly 90 years old, spent five years in concentration camps.  She was forced to dig her own father’s grave after watching his killing.  Her mother and brother also perished in the Holocaust.  Weighing 68 pounds at 18, she was being led to her death outside the crematoria at Mauthausen when the liberators arrived.  Kreuzman moved to the United States, became a nurse and married a Holocaust survivor. She spent years telling her story of the Holocaust to students and organizations.  Coincidently or simultaneously, miles a way, Joseph Barbella from the 11th Armored Division shared his pictures, photographs and story of liberating the Mauthausen concentration camp. Marsha Kreuzman spent years looking for her liberator and discovered Barbella when a 65th wedding anniversary announcement appeared in the newspaper.   Meeting 93-year old Barbella last October, 2013 in Union, New Jersey, Kreuzman was able to say, “I love you.”  In return, Joseph Barbella said, “I’m so thankful we saved you.”  Marsha Kreuzman concluded the NBC interview with, “He deserves to be honored.  Now I can rest in peace knowing that I found him and go to thank the Americans that liberated me.”

With the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27th, the United Nations has designated this day as International Holocaust RemembranceDay.  Thus, in remembering our survivors and liberators, my former students and I have been thinking about Col. Keith Schmedemann who presented at our middle school three years ago.  Preparing the students for the interview, I reinforced that Schmedemann is a primary source; he is present to tell his story of liberation. However, I cautioned students that these veterans or primary sources are increasingly unable to present due to illness or death.  He, like other veterans, sacrificed their lives to save others.  Col Schmedemann passed away on February 12, 2013.  Therefore, from 2011, here is a reprint of a student’s interview with Col. Schmedemann, who liberated survivors in Buchenwald concentration camp.

Colonel Schmedemann
by Katie Donaldson
Hearts beating by the second these courageous heroes wait cautiously for the next gunfire. And when its shot, 1, 2, or maybe even 10 donate their life to save our country. Not only do they use their brain for strategies, they use their heart for determination. These champions are willing to sacrifice their lives for us. November is the month we honor saints and veterans. According to America, veterans are saints; saints for our country. They overcame their deepest darkest obstacles and dominated the impossible.
We recognize these advocates that may date back a while ago during the Holocaust or maybe recently in Afghanistan. Last year the fellow eighth graders witnessed an experience of a lifetime, they had the privilege to talk to a liberator in the Holocaust, Col. Keith Schmedemann. He was one of the protagonists that put his worries and selfish needs aside and focused on others. This man and several others are greatly admired for their work to our fellow brothers and sisters. God called him to offer up his life to the vulnerable. Col. Keith Schmedemann remembers every little detail in the years he fought; from the anguish he saw thrust upon the victims in the concentration camps to the arrogant feeling he sensed when he felt victory. His words traveled on a journey, and the students felt every hill he had to climb.
 He talked about how fate brought him into war. His father was in World War 1 and he happened to be born 1 year after that war; time after he would be matured enough to fight in his dad’s footsteps. Col. Keith Schmedemann started his presentation by making the statement, “We quit making automobiles, and started making tanks.” This point in history was when airplanes were modeled and new technology was being created. Soon enough he dug deeper and discussed his work in the Army. With years after years of practice and training, and with the help of K-State, he accelerated from level 1 to the highest level in the Army. This hero was an Infantry Officer; which is a branch of army that is in the action and fighting. He was also involved in liberating a concentration camp called Buchenwald. “I crawled through the mud, dodged bullets, and leaped over creaks,” this is what this idol said about the things you see in movies that he did every day. 
“I pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America……” Does this sound familiar? This patriotic leader honors these words every time they are said. He believes in respecting the flag and the country because that shows your pride.  Sometimes when he says these words tears form in his eyes because it reminds him of the sacrifices his colleagues and other veterans faced to free lives.  He admires all the soldiers and their love for their country. Mr. Schmedemann declares, “I don’t think there are wars, it is simply a conflict between beliefs. There is never going to be a winner or loser, but there will be defeats and achievements, like our achievement in defeating Hitler.”

With the use of primary sources such as Joseph Barbella, Marsha Kreuzman, and Keith Schmedemann, students are able to gather, analyze and evaluate information and events.  Thus, the skill that is taught is to utilize text from websites, write an informative piece and produce a technology piece such as powerpoint or educreations.  This opportunity challenges students’ critical thinking skills:  paraphrasing, summarizing, connecting text to self, other text and drawing conclusions.  Web sites utilized were the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, the United States HolocaustMemorial Museum, Yad Vashem, and the Jewish Foundation forRighteous.  

Using their i-pads, students will complete an individual and group project.  At our school, we have monthly character traits or principles; therefore, words such as integrity, responsibility, respect, self-discipline, and tolerance.  Students will create an Educreations project or powerpoint that defines integrity, compassion, and courage, provides examples of liberators, survivors or rescuers enacting them, and narrates a story of each slide.  Students will be able to draw pictures, download photographs and music, and create own music for this project, all while remembering those who make a difference.  

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