Ten years ago, when Boston teacher Mary Beth Donovan started preparing her eighth-grade students to read Anne Frank’s diary by showing them Nazi camp liberation newsreel clips, she was met with skepticism. Many of her students thought the events and Anne’s story were fake.
The Times of Israel shares the story of Donovan's response:
To fight the denial in her classroom, Donovan investigated local survivors who could speak with students about the genocide. She found several articles about Boston-area survivor Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, the former head of New England’s dwindling survivor association. The 91-year old activist has addressed hundreds of groups through the years, from Boston to Berlin, and seemed a strong a choice to convince Donovan’s students of the Shoah’s veracity.
Arbeiter met with students to share his experience surviving forced labor in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the details of his family’s murder at Treblinka, where he has visited several times. Perhaps most memorably, he showed students the number tattooed onto his arm upon arrival at Auschwitz, and tried to give them an understanding of the dehumanization involved in genocide.
“They ran their fingers tentatively along those numbers,” said Donovan. The educator said that through his testimony, her students have been able to “find their story in Mr. Arbeiter’s story,” she said.
“I knew my words would never be powerful enough to erase that hint of denial,” recalled Donovan, now the school’s principal. Over the past decade, in addition to hosting Arbeiter, she has helped hundreds of Methuen students submit essays to an annual Holocaust memory essay contest named in his honor.
These efforts, and Donovan's work over the last decade to promote Holocaust education in her school, were recognized this past weekend when she was given the first “Leadership in Holocaust Education Award” from Boston’s Jewish community. The award was presented yesterday at Boston’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration at Faneuil Hall, near the New England Holocaust Memorial. Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is this Thursday, May 5.