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Field trip to the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, Farmington Hills
recipients: Johanna Toth, Portage North Middle School; Kathy Ha, Portage West Middle School, Portage, Michigan
date: 2019

As a culminating activity to reading Michael Gruenbaum’s memoir Somewhere There is Still a Sun, Kathy Ha and Johanna Toth’s students from Portage West Middle School and Portage North Middle School visited the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus. While there, students experienced The Center with a docent-led tour, and met and participated in a presentation by Irene Miller, a Holocaust survivor. The powerful primary sources at the Memorial Center brought to life and connected the students’ study of Judaism in Social Studies class and the study of the Holocaust. On the ride home from The Center, students wrote a series of reflections. Many students wrote about having a better understanding of how hungry, tired, and cold the persecuted people were while trying to escape from the Nazis — they better understood the personal suffering. They reflected on the inhumane treatment and made connections to specific vocabulary they learned. Toth said that one student pulled her aside and told her that since taking the trip, she won’t ignore bullying and will stand up against perpetrators. Prior to this unit of study, many of the 7th grade students knew very little about the Holocaust. Today, they can define terms such as “dehumanization”, “genocide”, “Holocaust”, “scapegoat”, “bystander”, “antisemitism”, “Nuremberg Laws”, “concentration camp”, “discriminate”, and “liberate”. Through this enrichment activity, students realized the connection between what they learn in a classroom and events in the world, and they began to understand the necessary power of their voices, as well as the impact of their own choices. Following these events, Johanna and Kathy presented at a district- wide program for teachers in August, called TeachCamp. In addition, they have big plans for their district. This is what Kathy wrote in an email in August: 

“. . .When we did the pilot novel Somewhere There is Still A Sun as well as the field trip to the museum, it went very well. The 7th grade students were engaged, and learned so much – the book was piloted across all 3 middle schools. This year, again, 7th grade teachers from each middle school in the district are interested in piloting the novel, and our administrators are committed to helping us take all 7th graders in the district on the trip (that’s almost 700 kids!) We are so excited by the community reaction and support of the teachers and administration. This is set to become a really crucial piece of our middle school curriculum. This way, when the kids read “Night” in the 9th grade, they bring a solid base that brings so much more meaning to that novel. . . Thanks for setting up Johanna and me on our journey into this content, and continuing to support us along the way. It’s such important work, and it is incredibly gratifying to see our district committing to teaching not only about the Holocaust, but tying those lessons to the present and future for our kids. TOLI had a huge part in creating this!”


For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact

TOLI is located at 58 East 79th Street in Manhattan. (get directions)