Dory Davidson died in 1989, long before her granddaughter Dylan Meyers was born. But through a project the seven-year-old embarked on this year, she has come to know a whole lot more about her grandmother, and — in a way gently tailored to her age — about the dark history that drove her to leave her birthplace in Germany.
That exploration also won Dylan an honor: She was one of two recipients of the 2014 Youth Holocaust/Genocide Awareness Award given by Kidsbridge Tolerance Museum — the youth-oriented institution on the Ewing campus of the College of New Jersey — in partnership with the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education and the Mercer County Holocaust/Genocide Resource Center.
The venture was inspired by a class project. Dylan’s first-grade teacher at Eldridge Park School in Lawrenceville, where the Meyer family lives, gave each of the children a “Flat Stanley,” a paper cut-out of the beloved storybook character that has become a tool for teaching letter-writing and geography. As has been done in thousands of classrooms, she invited the children to send the cutout to someone far away and ask them to photograph it with local backdrops.
Dylan’s parents, Julie and Jonathan, couldn’t think of a distant acquaintance, but then Julie remembered Dr. Raimund Adamczyk, the official archivist in Donaueschingen, the town in Germany her mother came from, who had written seeking information on her family. She e-mailed back, asking if he would mind “hosting” Flat Stanley.
Adamczyk did much, much more. As recorded in dozens of e-mails, most with photos attached, he escorted Flat Stanley around the town, showing Dylan the site where her great-grandparents’ store and home once stood, a local classroom, and various old and new cultural landmarks. Dory and her parents escaped the Holocaust, immigrating to the United States in 1939, but others in their family and tiny Jewish community did not. Adamczyk interwove information about them and their tragic fate with more light-hearted elements.
“I especially liked the part where he said Flat Stanley ate too much chocolate cake,” Dylan said, “and when he said he lost one of his shoes — but then got it back.” She said too, “I didn’t know about my family or the Holocaust, but now I do.”
She and her parents put together a book about Flat Stanley’s visit. They sent the German children whose class Adamczyk visited a copy of the book, in addition to some other books, and a bunch of Flat Stanleys to send out for themselves. “We told them they’re welcome to send them to us,” Julie said.
Dylan’s dad said, “I think it worked out wonderfully. Dylan and our whole family learned a lot about Julie’s ancestors. She also learned about Donaueschingen then and now, and she learned about Germany.”
The Kidsbridge museum, established in 1996, established the Holocaust and Genocide Awareness award three years ago to honor students who have “demonstrated an altruistic act of generating awareness, empathy, and action for Holocaust and/or genocide education.”
Dylan was the youngest-ever recipient. The other winner was Sophia Goldberg, an 11th-grader at Mercer County Technical Schools in Trenton.
“Dylan took her project one step further: She became an UPstander,” as opposed to a bystander, said Lynne Azarchi, the founder and executive director of Kidsbridge. “Sensing it was important, she explored, learned, and shared this story with others. And then she also did community service, and donated her birthday money to others in need.”
Dr. Paul Winkler, executive director of the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education, said, “Dylan is an inspiration because she proves you are never too young to care about others, to investigate your Jewish heritage, and, even as a first-grader, to promulgate awareness about the Holocaust and genocide.”
Dylan’s teacher, Kim Clancy, does the Flat Stanley project every year. “Each project is different and unique,” she said. “Dylan’s project was wonderful and the class enjoyed sharing the book that was returned. It was filled with lots of information and new things.”