The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 19, 2009


Holocaust history comes alive for Carlisle students

A cross-disciplinary approach at the Carlisle Public School between social studies and language arts in the eighth grade strengthens the understanding of the Holocaust for Carlisle students. Mike Miller, who has taught social studies for the past 14 years at Carlisle, and Marcella Pixley, a language arts teacher for the past five years, use a joint teaching method that has evolved since the late ’80s when it was introduced to the Carlisle Public School by teacher Dave Mayall. This year, the program culminated in May with a visit from Edgar Krasa, a Holocaust survivor.

Krasa showed students an actual sample of the star that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany and encouraged students to look at the number tatooed on his arm.

Miller describes the social studies approach in preparing the middle school students to learn about the Holocaust. “I teach the background from the perspective of Europe, and more specifically what happened in Germany during the years leading up to the first World War,” says Miller, “and especially the period between the wars which is critical to understanding what happened not only in the war, but also the ideas that led to the Holocaust, the way it was planned, and the way it built up to a murderous crescendo.”

“While learning about the war in social studies, they’re reading about concentration camps in Elie Wiesel’s Night,” says Pixley about the students. “Suddenly when Edgar Krasa came,

Edgar Krasa spent six hours visiting the Carlisle eighth grade in early May to talk about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. He devotes himself today to educating school children and sharing his memories and his incredible sense of humor in the process. From a family of musicians, Krasa relates how he once performed for Nazis singing in the choir at the Terezin ghetto. (Photo by Anne Marie Brako)

there’s a human being there to look at who was really there. It makes it real for them.”

Krasa grew up in Czechoslovakia. In 1941, at the age of 21, he voluntarily went to work as a cook in the Jewish ghetto of Terezin (or “Thereisenstadt” in German) in an agreement to protect his parents from deportation to a Polish labor camp. According to Krasa, 60,000 Jews lived in a converted fortress designed to hold 7,000 people, and 33,000 died there. In all about 88,000 people were deported from this ghetto to Auschwitz or other camps where they were killed. Krasa’s future wife, Hana, was also at Terezin, but they did not meet there because the men and women were housed separately. Krasa escaped from the Nazis, a tale he told the Carlisle students, while on a relocation death march in 1944 between camps. He felt he could walk no further, and dropped into a ditch at an opportune moment. Shot from a distance by a guard, Krasa was left for dead, but was only superficially wounded in the shoulder. Fortunately, a doctor was also hiding in the woods, and was able to help Krasa. Invading Allied Forces subsequently rescued him and other displaced people as they made their way through the invaded countries and into the heart of Germany, liberating prisoners from any remaining camps on the way.

Miller explains, “Seeing Edgar Krasa in this program, the students get a feeling of why their own history is so precious – their own family’s history. This really hits home because of the attempt to destroy the culture and the history of a whole people. We’re seeing students looking at that, reflecting on that, and realizing that their own cultural history is a precious gift.”

This 1943 portrait of Edgar Krasa was drawn by Leo Haas (1901-1983), a Czech artist and a Jew held in the Terezin ghetto during World War II. Krasa and his wife Hana donated the image to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

(Courtesy photos from the Bloch family in Westborough from a student presentation there in 2004.)

The students use a textbook called Facing History and Ourselves to guide them over the course of the year. They read novels pertaining to the issues of inclusion and exclusion. They also keep journals to record their own feelings. Pixley encourages the students to put their writing skills to good use in writing thank-you messages to Krasa.



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