St. Louise sixth-graders bring lessons of the Holocaust to their lives

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Sixth-graders at St. Louise School gather around Holocaust survivor Charlotte Wolheim and teacher Paula Patterson after Wolheim’s May 1 talk about her Holocaust experience. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise School Sixth-graders at St. Louise School gather around Holocaust survivor Charlotte Wolheim and teacher Paula Patterson after Wolheim’s May 1 talk about her Holocaust experience. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise School

BELLEVUE – Sixth-grader Lauren Teders created a “badge of hope” that shows the silhouette of a person helping another and the words “Never Stay Silent.”

The art project was part of a six-week study of the Holocaust in sixth-grade social studies classes at St. Louise School in Bellevue. The badges of hope made by the students countered what they called the “badges of hate” that identified Jews during the Holocaust, creating positive messages to fight injustice.

The Holocaust curriculum, developed by St. Louise sixth-grade teacher Paula Patterson, was taught in three parts, beginning with the history of anti-Semitism and the background factors leading to World War I and World War II. Then students focused on the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust (during which as many as 6 million Jews were killed) as well as the people who were bystanders.

Holocaust survivor
Holocaust survivor Charlotte Wolheim speaks to sixth-graders at St. Louise School in Bellevue as part of their study of the Holocaust. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise School/Facebook

“It was a really interesting topic, but it was a hard one to hear about,” Teders said.

Lastly, they studied the people who helped Holocaust victims — the “upstanders,” as the class called them — and how their actions in history translate to the students’ lives today. “How can I be someone who stands up for other people?” Patterson said.

Their studies wrapped up May 1 when Holocaust survivor Charlotte Wolheim visited the class to tell her story of growing up as a Jew in Germany during the rise of Hitler. Her father was arrested in 1938, but was allowed to leave the country with his family when a relative in the U.S. sponsored them so they could enter the country. Her first and second husbands escaped Auschwitz together on a death march in 1945, according to St. Louise’s Facebook post on the visit.

‘It just struck a chord’

Patterson said she has been developing her Holocaust project since 2008, when she returned to teaching after raising her family. She began with students reading excerpts of Anne Frank’s diary, but she wanted students to have more understanding of the Holocaust, and began adding material until it grew into the current six-week study.

“It just struck a chord with me,” Patterson said.

She gathered information from several sources, including the Washington State Council of Social Studies and the Holocaust Center for Humanity. She also visited the Bearing Witness Program in Washington, D.C., for Catholic educators. The program is a collaboration of several organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the National Catholic Educational Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Badges of hope
St. Louise School sixth-graders created “badges of hope” that depict the characteristics or actions of a person who fights injustice as an “upstander” for others. The art project was part of their study of the Holocaust. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise School

In her application for the program, Patterson told of a transformational moment on a trip to Europe when she visited Anne Frank’s hideout and gained a deeper understanding of her story.

“Learning about the idea of the Holocaust isn’t enough,” she wrote. “Connecting to the Holocaust spiritually and emotionally creates empathy and awareness that helps students become better Catholics, better Christians, better people.”

Patterson’s curriculum includes a writing project, with students entering a contest sponsored by the Seattle-based Holocaust Center for Humanity. This year, students were to find inspiration in a quote by Nobel Prize-winning writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Student Jack Kehoe said the Holocaust study helped him see the problems that can occur with something like a simple joke at someone’s expense.

“We can’t let this continue and evolve into something larger,” he said.

As a teacher, Patterson said, she wants students to show empathy for each other through their learning.

“One of the things I’m most adamant is that the students must be kind with each other,” she said.