LEWISTON – While she ate lunch with friends in the Lewiston Middle School cafeteria, eighth-grader Jordan Girouard said she couldn’t believe how Holocaust victims were starved and forced to do slave labor.

Jamie Poliquin was aghast “how they would throw babies into a pit like they were nothing, and how skinny the people were.”

Before Mya Letourneau learned about the Holocaust, she thought hundreds were slaughtered. “Then you find out it was millions and millions of people.”

This is Holocaust remembrance week, which calls attention to lessons from the 6 million Jews slaughtered by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany from 1933-45.

Lewiston Middle School students and faculty recognized the week Monday by signing pledges calling for kindness. The pledges reinforce the belief that every person has worth, is entitled to dignity and respect, and that every hate crime, act of prejudice or discrimination causes damage.

Just before noon, with one more lunch period to go, the pledge sheet was covered with signatures from students and staff. Displayed were Holocaust books, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” “Daniel’s Story,” Escape from Warsaw” and “Six Million Paperclips.”

The pledge-signing was headed by eighth-grade literacy teacher Tricia Giard.

Her classes have spent a month reading, researching, writing and analyzing the Holocaust, starting with reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“From there it turned into a huge history lesson,” Giard said. “Students find it hard to believe how one person could have done so much damage,” she said. She explained that Hitler had an army, civilians were too frightened to stop him, and that the killing wasn’t done right away — it started with discrimination that accelerated.

But it was done, and we need to remember,” Giard said. She teaches intense Holocaust lessons so students will never forget, “and so it won’t happen again.”

Class lessons tied the Holocaust to current genocides, hate crimes and school bullying, Giard said. Students saw the connections.

There’s a lot of hate violence, use of the ‘N’ word, being hateful towards other people because of their skin color or religion,” said eighth-grader Isaiah Brisbane.

Better understanding how the Holocaust started will make him think twice, Brisbane said, “before I say something rude or mean.”

The Holocaust was one of the darkest times of history, agreed eighth-graders Gage Allen and Meagan Gosselin. Allen said he’d be more likely to “start standing up” for someone being picked on.

A symbol of remembrance week is a paperclip which represents unity toward fighting discrimination. Many students wore paperclips as pins or necklaces on Monday.

In class Giard said she showed Holocaust photos of people in the prison camps. Looking at malnourished men, woman and children “hit home,” she said. “It made it more real. There were tears flowing in class.”

She’s taught intense Holocaust history to eighth-graders at the middle school for 13 years. “I have students come back and visit me years later, saying ‘I remember that so well.’ They can’t forget,” she said.

Matt Cote, 14, said he can’t get over the numbers.

The whole population of Maine is 1.3 million, compared to 6 million people killed during the Holocaust.

“That’s a crazy amount of people who died. It’s shocking,” Cote said.

Everyone needs to be treated equally and appropriately, regardless of sexual orientation, religion or background, Cote said. A lesson is to respect others, understand how the Holocaust happened, “and help kids know if something like that were to start they would know to end it.”

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.