The girls spoke the words of the dead.
“I am German. I am beaten. I am Gypsy. I am drowned. I am Polish. I am gassed. I am Jewish. I am hanged. I am American. I am shot. I am anyone. I am everyone. I am homosexual … .”
Keylee Mays’ monotone voice impacted everyone in attendance at a special program on the Holocaust put on by students from Early College EAST at the Havelock High School Performing Arts Center.
“Discriminated, beaten, harassed, a complete violation of privacy,” said Laramie Keeler, her forehead blasted with a ghastly wound as she sat in a wheelchair. “The stroke not only took away my ability to walk, but my family and my dignity. Before this, I was an important figure. With my husband I ran a business that was valued in the community. After the stroke, that’s when it all began to fall apart. First came the soldiers ordering me from my home, then came the isolation, isolation from the people I knew and loved. Then came the forced sterilization. Me being female, I had a ligation of my ovarian tubes. I barely made it off of the table. Soon after, I got the news that my wound had been infected. Then I knew that my time was very limited.”
Keeler played the role of the thousands of disabled people who were of no use to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and were put to death along with more than 13 million others. The rest were forced into concentration camps, then worked and starved in inhumane conditions.
The portrayals by the students were meant to have a lasting effect on the small groups of attendees who toured six stations as part of the program.
“It reminds me that I’m 50 percent Polish and that my ancestors fled during World War II,” said student Luke Fisher. “It’s a piece of history. We don’t want it to happen again, do we?”
The Germans persecuted the Polish people during World War II, banning their language, burning their churches and destroying their culture, student presenters said.
“There was a lot of senseless killing and a lot of innocent people died,” said student Patrick Gaskins, a presenter who played the role of a man in a concentration camp who was gassed. “They did not deserve it. They were killed in brutal and inhumane ways. We’re just trying to raise awareness about why something like this shouldn’t happen again.”
The program was designed as part of the curriculum for the students.
“The fact that genocide still occurs today shows that, perhaps, all of humanity has not really learned the lesson from the Holocaust and that’s what my students have kind of gone through,” said Siobhan Gastel, an English teacher at Early College EAST. “This has been a six-week learning unit, and so they just want to make sure that they are sharing their knowledge with others so we don’t forget and we don’t allow it to happen again.”
The students were divided into six groups that detailed the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler, the children of the Holocaust, the saviors, the victims, the concentration camps and the aftermath.
“It’s a very recent and tragic event,” Early College student Amaree Thomas said. “It’s a big deal. It was World War II. It’s something you need to know about because it could happen again. If it happens again, we can be more prepared.”
Ashley Dhillon was part of the group that told of the heroes of the era who managed to save thousands from death, including Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler.
“I think it honestly shows how brave people are not to go with the main stream ways and just basically show their courage and be daring and go against the views of the norm,” she said.
While the focus of the program was on the Holocaust, student Lucas Munday pointed out more recent similar events.
“There’s the Darfur genocide, the Bosnia and Cambodian genocides and Rwanda genocide,” Munday said.
Josh Hall, student body council president at St. Paul Catholic School in New Bern, saw the exhibit and said he now has a greater understanding of the Holocaust.
“I’ve been interested since I was very little in stuff like this because if history isn’t remembered it will repeat itself,” he said. “I just find these things to be very important. It’s never too early to learn about these things because these are some of the most important things in the world and history itself.”