Archived Stories for Union County Public Schools
Sun Valley Middle students captivated by Holocaust survivor's story
It is said that the best way to learn about history is to let students experience the past first-hand. Thatâ€™s exactly what Michael Oâ€™Hagan, a social studies teacher at Sun Valley Middle School, did when he invited Holocaust survivor Suly Chenkin to tell her story to his eighth-grade students.
Armed with the only a few photos salvaged from her past, Chenkin mesmerized Sun Valley Middle School students as she revealed the ordeal of living through the horrific deeds of Nazi soldiers.
Her life story began when the Nazis arrived in her town of Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1940 when she was only about 6 months old. Students sat captivated by the details of her life as she recounted how she and her parents were forced into a Nazi encampment called Kovno Ghetto. It took seven years, but Chenkin was finally reunited with her parents in 1947, and the family started a new life in Cuba with other family members.
Chenkin told students she had never seen photos of herself as a child because all of their belongings were burned to the ground when the Kovno Ghetto was destroyed in the summer of 1944. But last year, 2009, Chenkin received a phone call from a woman who said she had lived in the same house with Chenkin, and that she had a photo taken of the two of them in the ghetto.
â€œThis was my first glimpse of how little I was when my parents started telling me they were going to have to give me away; that they loved me but the Nazis were bad people trying to kill me and kill them,â€ she said.
Oâ€™Hagan said he and his students were very excited about Chenkinâ€™s visit, and being able to witness part of living history. The students had been studying the Holocaust in depth; and had read â€œThe Diary of Anne Frank,â€ written by a Jewish girl who lived in hiding with her family for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
Frank died at the age of 16 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. Epidemics, overcrowding and planned starvation in this camp led to the deaths of more than 34,168 people, including Anne and her older sister, Margot Frank.
Chenkinâ€™s story, however, had a much better ending. Even though she and her mother and father were separated, each living in perilous circumstances, they all survived the Holocaust and were reunited after the war.
Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jun 04, 2010 by Deb Coates Bledsoe