By Qi Xu
With yardsticks and tape, Tatyanna Russell and her friends spent two months building a star and hanging 10,000 paper clips on it.
It would be another kids craft project if not for the meaning behind it: the star represents the Star of David, and each paper clip stands for 150 children who died during the Holocaust.
Russell’s project was one of the five pieces of artwork presented at a celebration held Thursday morning, June 2, at Davis Street Arts and Academics School in New Haven. Over the past few months, dozens of the school’s fifth-graders applied what they read in class about Nazi concentration camps to art projects, expressing their understanding of history and sympathy for Jewish victims.
“I hope you are impacted by our project. We worked hard,” student Tamia Bromell told the gathering. “Sometimes we wanted to stop, but we kept going because we thought about what children of the Holocaust went through.”
The group drew inspiration from an award-winning non-fiction book they read for literature class, Hana’s Suitcase. The book narrates the experience of a Jewish girl executed in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, as well as the story of a Japanese teacher informing the public about the Holocaust. Russell said they chose paper clips because, according to the book, people wore them to show solidarity with the Jewish population and resistance against Nazi barbarism.
“I am beyond proud,” their teacher, Jessica Light, said of the five projects. “I am more proud of them than anything I have done so far as a teacher.”
After receiving a grant from the Lily Sarah Grace Fund, Light knew she wanted her students to take the lead and pursue an inquiry-based art project.
Other projects include a replica of Hana’s Suitcase with quotes inside about the Holocaust, a tower that resembles a concentration camp, and puppets to show how the Nazis exerted complete control over people’s minds at that time.
Caiynin Gore’s group designed a tree with special “leaves” — fake passports. Gore came up with the tree idea because, just as trees continue to grow, their knowledge of the Holocaust will continue to deepen. The fake passports represent the fake passes that Jews used to bypass the Nazi border control and flee Europe.
Marji Lipshez-Shapiro of the Anti-Defamation League praised Light’s approach to teaching young kids about a challenging subject. She said watching the presentations gave her “hope for the future.”
At the Thursday presentation, the audience also heard from a special guest, Hedda Rosner Kopf, author of Understanding Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Kopf’s book recounts the life of the Frank family during the Nazi period.
Kopf touched her young listeners’ hearts. With an engaging tone, she recounted how her mother and her mother’s sister survived concentration camps. In order to survive, Kopf’s mother had to put up a strong front even when physically hurt. When the Western allies liberated concentration camps, they brought along food, but people had starved for so long that their bodies could not take the food.
“To be honest, at the start, I was a little skeptical of fifth-graders reading and doing projects about the Holocaust. I thought it may be too much,” Kopf commented on the artwork, “[Now] I am really impressed. I am touched that they put so much of themselves into the projects.”
This article is reprinted with permission of The New Haven Independent (www.newhavenindependent).
CAP: The Davis paper-clip project team: (l to r) Serena Nawfal, Priya Sasidharan, Tamia Bromell, Imani Tatman, Tatyanna Russell. Photo credit: Qi Xu