November 01, 2017
by Susan Warsinger
Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to peer back deep into my memory when Emily Potter asked me to engage in a videoconference with 35 eighth- and tenth-grade students at Costa Rica’s La Paz School. I felt sure that I was going to be an interesting object in the eyes of those students while recording the conference, sitting in the room where our artistically boundless writers of Echoes of Memory meetings take place, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The international school in Costa Rica, where everyone speaks English, had a split screen between my PowerPoints and me as I gave a presentation about my life as a child in Europe during the Holocaust. I feel more at ease now about sharing those memories because I have delivered this presentation so many times; however, this was a new experience for me because these children were far away, in a country near the Pacific Ocean. I was delighted when the camera person who worked with me showed me online pictures of Costa Rica’s landscape and then slowly zoomed in on the rural area, dotted with verdant trees, where the one-story brick school stood. It felt as if I were there with the students.
While making eye contact with school personnel, I saw the students file into the classroom. To my bewilderment, they sat sideways to the camera, so I could not see their faces; however, I was assured they could see me and my PowerPoints. I was worried that I would not be able to interact with the students, as is my custom when I talk; therefore, I asked them to raise their hands to acknowledge that they had understood the idea I was presenting.
At first, very few hands went up. But, as I continued my talk, more and more children raised their hands. I also invited them to shout out the answers to the questions I asked so that I would be sure they heard and understood me. I received the answers faintly because the microphone was evidently near where their camera was located. I did not know who replied. I wish I had been able to see the child who answered. This personal interaction is important to me in my presentations. I like the closeness of being in the same room with my audience, looking at people and feeling the electricity among us. It’s a kind of connection that computer-generated technology cannot replicate.
As usual, we reserved 15 minutes for the question-and-answer period. To my great pleasure, many students came individually to the camera, where I could distinctly see their faces, and asked their questions. We engaged in the beautiful ballet of good questions with me trying my very best to answer them.
Most questions had to do with what happened to my family as a result of the Holocaust, how I handled the prejudice and hatred against me, and how I adjusted coming to the United States as a child. One question I had never received before was from a girl who spoke beautiful English. She asked me whether I spoke Hebrew. I think she wanted to tell me that she had something in common with me and wanted me to know that she was Jewish.
I hope that, through this conversation, I have helped the children understand more fully what bigotry and hatred are and what terrible wrongs they can produce. I hope the students remember that none of us are intrinsically superior to our fellow beings and that they were instilled with the values of equality, justice, and respect.
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