by Suzanne Pollak
Anne Frank. Oskar Schindler. Jackie Robinson. Thurgood Marshall.
They were all there, and many more, as students and their families from Waldon Woods, the predominantly African American elementary school in Clinton spent the evening of May 9 learning about racism and what it must have been like to be a slave or live in a concentration camp.
Fifty students from the second-through-fifth-grade school were given historic figures to portray. They told their story over and over again as hundreds of people, mostly family members or school staff, walked along the school’s hallways, which were renamed and decorated as The Troubled Forest. The children all dressed for their parts and remained in character throughout the evening.
They have been rehearsing since January, said their teacher, Lisa McCall, who wrote, directed and produced the evening’s events and made the props and costumes.
Everyone had their arms “branded,” either with a number indicating they were at Auschwitz or the words ”owned property.” Some people chose to wear the yellow star of David with the German word “Jude” written inside.
After listening to the biographies of so many people, everyone then filed into the auditorium for a shortened adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a novel by John Boyne about a young boy whose father is an SS officer.
The students learned about “two very different dark parts” of American history, said teacher Jamila McIntyre. She told the story of Dr. Charles Drew, who improved techniques for blood storage and developed the concept of large-scale blood banks, but died following a car accident, denied the blood he needed because he was black.
Speaking about the Holocaust was survivor Ellen Cohen of Waldorf, who was born in Germany in 1927 and forced to leave her friends, house and school at a young age, something the students could understand.
What happened to these people “are all forms of racism. Keep in mind that racism is simply hatred,” McIntyre stressed.