Hundreds of Marblehead High School students traveled back to 1940s Europe this week, by boarding a replica of a cattle car — the kind that transported Jews and other targeted groups to Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Inside the car, which is 30 feet long by 10 feet wide, students watched a 360-degree, immersive video featuring two Holocaust survivors who boarded cattle cars with their families decades ago. The wooden, windowless car had 100 painted footprints to represent the typical number of people packed inside.
“The boxcar was the transition from being a human being to a number,” said survivor Nate Leipcinger. “This was a moment of horror. This was the last time we were together as a family.”
“I remember how they pushed everyone into the cattle car,” said Hedy Bohm. “We were liked sardines packed into a can. I remember my mother telling me she couldn’t breathe and I was fanning her. I remember darkness, crying and the feeling of fear.”
After the survivors’ stories, the video gave a brief history of the Nazis’ campaign in the late 30s and 40s to dehumanize and eventually systematically murder Jews and other minorities.
The cattle car was part of an exhibit from ShadowLight and Hate Ends Now traveling across the United States to teach students about the horrors of the Holocaust and what people can do to make sure it never happens again.
“The students have been very moved,” said Evelyn Riddell who led some of the presentations at MHS. “They are emotional and surprised by some of what they learned. I think they feel empowered to make a difference in their world.”
After leaving the cattle car, students viewed artifacts from the Holocaust, including a yellow Star of David that Jews were forced to wear and a red Nazi armband with a swastika. ShadowLight educator Tara Silberg asked students what they felt in the cattle car. Some responses included:
“I thought it was really sad and scary.”
“It was shocking, because you wouldn’t expect something like that to happen.”
“It was very surreal to be in the cattle car.”
“It’s really shocking because so many people died.”
Silberg then asked students if they see any signs of hate or prejudice in their own community. One student mentioned the recent cases of antisemitic graffiti at the Village School.
“Hate isn’t something that skips over our district,” she said.
Silberg urged students to stand up against hate when they see it — whether it’s in their schools, communities or online.
“Kanye West has spread Jewish hate,” said one student.
“When Kanye says, ‘Let’s hate Jews’ it gives people power and people think it’s okay,” Silberg replied. “And when people joke about things, there are people who think it’s okay.”
Silberg wrapped up her presentation by asking, “What can you do to stand up to hatred?”
Teacher Kristina Sholds said, “If you see something, say something.”
Silberg added, “Don’t be afraid to rock the boat. You have the power of one.”
MHS senior Arielle Mogolesko helped organize the exhibit as her senior project.
“We’re the latest generation that has living survivors,” she said. “We carry on their memories. If we don’t learn about history, it can repeat itself.”
Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.