Letters, artifacts teach students about the Holocaust
About 100 students at Mundelein's Carmel Catholic High School got to touch, read and even smell history Thursday during an exhibition of artifacts from the Holocaust.
The pieces on display in the school's black-box theater included Nazi Party armbands and examples of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear on their clothing in Nazi-occupied cities, ghettos and concentration camps. The students also saw letters written by concentration camp prisoners, postcards to and from Jews in the notorious Warsaw Ghetto, fragments of desecrated Torah scrolls, counterfeit money made by Jewish prisoners, and many other relics of one of the ugliest eras of human history.
Some of the pieces bore stamps featuring pictures of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Others featured different emblems or markings from the Nazi regime.
The presentation was orchestrated by Lincolnshire resident Danny Spungen, a collector of Holocaust postal artifacts. A regular visitor to Carmel, he spoke to the teens about the items and their historical importance.
At one point he noted how the various concentration camps had their own stationery for prisoner correspondence. But he also pointed out that, for the most part, only non-Jewish prisoners were allowed to send letters.
"Letters from Jewish prisoners are very rare," Spungen said.
The artifacts were arranged on tables in the theater. The letters and documents were in protective sleeves, but items made of cloth, like the Nazi armbands, were not protected. Spungen encouraged the teens to pick up the items and examine them closely, and many did.
Some postcards detailed persecution of the Jews. Other correspondence bore signs that they'd been censored by the Nazis.
Carmel teacher Jim Schuster, who leads a class on the Holocaust, stressed the historical importance of the letters to his students.
"This is how we know what people are thinking and what they went through," he said.
Sophomore Drew Langer was especially moved by the Nazi armbands on display.
"It made me think of all the horrible things Hitler (did)," Langer said. "Thank God he failed."
Near the end of his presentation, Spungen rattled off a list of other countries where genocide has occurred since the Holocaust. Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan were just a few he mentioned.
"Are we ever going to learn our lesson?" Spungen said. "I don't know."