The theme of remembrance of the Holocaust resounded through a conference room on the Aidekman campus in Whippany May 20 as 90 New Jersey middle and high school students, eight of their teachers, and seven survivors reunited to discuss their journeys to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
They were part of a group of 315 students and 36 teachers whose individual schools each spent a day in Washington to study genocide and the Nazi Holocaust.
Most of the days were spent touring the museum, before visits to the Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials.
The once-a-month excursions are financed by a foundation created by the late survivor Morris Rubell. The Holocaust Remembrance Journeys are led by his son, Michael, and Fred Heyman, a survivor originally from Germany, both of them from Morristown, as well as Peter Fleischmann, a survivor from Czecholslovakia who lives in Edison. Since 1997, the program has taken some 4,000 New Jerseyans on the trips, the overwhelming majority of them middle and high school students from area public and private schools.
As this year’s Rubell students gathered at the headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, they spoke of their observations at the museum and what they have learned about the Holocaust. Some read essays and poems they had written, others sang commemorative songs, and students from Rahway High School performed a dance and dramatic reading.
They also heard the first-person story of Sami Steigmann, a New York resident who underwent cruel medical experiments while held captive at the Nazi labor camp in Mogilev Podolski, Ukraine.
Throughout the day, the students were urged by survivors to be “upstanders” — individuals who act to halt or prevent acts of discrimination, violence, or bullying — rather than bystanders who turn away when others are being harassed or harmed.