Children of the Holocaust commemorated in Chilliwack with open house

A dozen local high school students have been specially trained to bring the tragic story of Anne Frank and the holocaust to life

Amy Guliker

Amy Guliker

A student picks up the camel-coloured coat and tries it on.

A faded Star of David is stitched onto the front.

The yellow star is still recognizable as the visible symbol of the Holocaust, the systematic and state-sponsored persecution and annihilation of European Jews by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.

The wrinkled coat is just one of the chilling artifacts on display in Chilliwack.

It’s been 70 years since the end of the Holocaust and a group of Chilliwack high school students have been specially trained to bring the tragic story of Anne Frank and the holocaust to life.

The story of Anne Frank is a true account of a Jewish family’s attempt to hide from the Nazis in occupied Holland, and the Amsterdam family that risked their lives to hide them.

Frank’s family was eventually caught and sent to a concentration camp where Anne later died. She left behind a diary that became the basis for a book and award-winning play.

Student-led tours will be the focus of a Community Open House: Children of the Holocaust event on May 1 at Timothy Christian School.

Timothy Christian teacher Daniel Van Brugge said the student guides are learning to make connections between the history, and providing meaningful lessons about the holocaust for today’s society.

The project showcases 35 vertical interpretive panels shipped to Chilliwack from the Anne Frank House Museum from Amsterdam, as well as artifacts like an old suitcase, family photographs, food ration stamps, a wooden toy — all on loan from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

“The panels from the Anne Frank House by themselves, while interesting, aren’t the thing. It’s all about the human interaction and the conversations between the guides and the visitors.”

The 12 tour guides are senior high school students, with half from Timothy Christian School, and the other half from Mt. Cheam Christian School.

When The Progress arrives on Wednesday, some of the guides are taking younger students through the exhibit for the first time, in preparation for the upcoming open house event on May 1.

“The value is the leadership experience the guides are getting. Imagine how they will sound after a month of practice. They’re already taking ownership of this project themselves. As a teacher, that’s what makes me think this is all worth it,” said Van Brugge.

Almost all aspects of the school community have rallied to commemorate and participate in the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. The open house event will feature poignant and revealing exhibit tours, testimony by a Holocaust child-survivor, choral singers in Hebrew and English, and social justice-themed art work.

The Anne Frank panels have been shown more than 3,000 times in 90 different countries.

School officials at Timothy Christian decided to open it up to the public for one night, for a couple of reasons, says Van Brugge.

One, it’s part of the agreement with the Anne Frank House Museum, and two, the staff at Timothy Christian believe in serving the larger community through acts of community service such as this one.

“We said since we have the exhibit set up here, why not open it to the public?” he recounted.

The students were trained by Peer Net BC, and they will work to customize the tour for anyone ranging from 10 years old to 80, depending on their understanding level.

“They will have their storytelling skills stretched.”

The guides have to take into consideration that some visitors might have had direct experience with the holocaust, while others may not know anything about it.

“What’s been impressive, but not surprising, is seeing the speed at which the students have taken to their roles, immediately innovating and adapting their scripts to whomever is taking the tour,” said Van Brugge, who teaches math and history, but also has experience as a tour guide, himself.

“The conversations about Anne Frank become less about the interpretive panels and more about making the stories personal.”

The students make connections to their in-class learning as well, comparing and contrasting with other types of discrimination, and taking a multi-disciplinary approach to the material.

Courtney Stoutjesdyk, 18, is one of the student guides. She was explaining the political context for the rise of the Nazi party in Germany of the 1930s.

“Does anyone know about the Treaty of Versailles?” she asks her group of students.

What surprised her personally to learn was how “beaten down” and susceptible the German people became as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, leading to the rise of the murderous dictatorship under Adolf Hitler.

For 16-year-old TCS student Sara Dekker, part of her role as tour guide is to explain what it was like for Anne Frank to have her grandmother come to live with her while in hiding.

She describes Kristallnact, known as the Night of Broken Glass, where shop windows were smashed across Austria and Germany over two night in 1938, that signalled the intensifying persecution of the Jews under Nazi rule.

“They broke the windows of Jewish shopkeepers, burned 200 synagogues and removed them to concentration camps,” she said.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for Dekker to receive the training.

“It’s been a really neat learning experience. As guides we’ve learned how to connect with people to share Anne Frank’s story to make others understand how horrible it was.”

Community Open House: Children of the Holocaust May 1, 2015 at Timothy Christian School. Doors at 6 pm, guest speaker at 7 p.m. last tour at 9 p.m. at 50420 Castleman Road. Register at www.eventbrite.com for the community open house, or email danielv@timothychristian.ca.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno