Mrs. Rachel Heilbrun speaks to SKA students on Yom Hashoah
When the sirens went off in the hallways and classrooms of the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls on Thursday, April 12, the students paused and stood in silence. Lighted yahrzeit candles were placed on the front desk and posters depicting the World War II years were on display throughout the school. The observance of Yom Hashoah had begun.
In her poignant address to the assembled students and teachers, Mrs. Helen Spirn, head of school, shared her memories as a child of survivors and the story of her parents’ experiences in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Shoah. Faculty members whose parents had also gone through the war, together with Mr. Izaak Sturm, a survivor, lit yahrzeit candles in memory of their loved ones who were killed.
Project Witness’ documentary, Hidden: The Saga of Jewish Children Concealed During the Holocaust, was shown and had special meaning for SKA. As the film depicts, Mrs. Beer, who went back to Poland to meet the children of the couple who had saved her family, is the grandparent of SKA graduate and former faculty member, Jaclyn Josef Sova. It was especially meaningful to see, by a show of hands, how many SKA students were grandchildren and great-grandchildren of survivors; this was not an abstract history lesson.
The assembly closed on a note of hope. “We are still here,” proclaimed an uplifting rendition of Ofra Haza’s Chai, in a film clip produced by the Israeli organization Koolulum, and sung by 600 Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
The students were then privileged to hear from Mrs. Rachel Heilbrun, grandparent of the daughter in law of director of student programming, Rabbi Zakutinsky, Mr. Izaak Sturm, grandfather of graduate Rachel Sturm, and Mrs. Ita Landau, great-aunt of Junior Rachel Yudin, who all related their powerful stories, recounting their lives before and during the war.
As the program ended, the ninth grade student-generated Holocaust Journal, “Survival of the Spirit,” was distributed. Under the direction of faculty member Mrs. Sheila Leibtag, this publication, with original stories, poems, and artwork, is dedicated to the survivors of the Shoah, whose legacy lives on for many in their granddaughters enrolled in the school.