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Pine River-Backus students invest themselves in Holocaust history

The Pine River-Backus choir performed traditional Jewish music during the fair. 1 / 3
Jonah Lawrence (far left) shows his fellow students a model of the Battle of Sta2 / 3
Peter Koering served a feast for minds and bellies when he brought traditional p3 / 3

When Lynn Wangberg’s eight grade English class reads “The Diary of Anne Frank,” their class work goes beyond just reading.

For the last eight years, Wangberg’s class has not only read the play but also produced presentations on the Holocaust time period. Presentations can be on whimsical things such as films and style, or they can be dead serious, focusing on gas chambers and death camps.

“One hundred percent of this is done at home. I don’t give class time for it so I’m never really sure what is going to come up. Every year they absolutely amaze me,” Wangberg said.

Wangberg’s students are free to express themselves in virtually any medium. At this year’s March 6 presentation students chose photo presentations of popular fashions, traditionally prepared Jewish food like latkes, wooden models of prison camps, and even a wooden model of a gas chamber, with steam to illustrate the fate of those who found themselves inside.

“I really liked the battle (of Stalingrad) and wanted to learn more about it,” said Jonah Lawrence, who recreated a battle scene in Legos. “It took a lot of devotion. It took me quite a while. To make everything took about two or three weeks. To put it together took about one day.”

Lawrence’s research into Stalingrad helped him to recreate building styles and automobiles from the time period. His model even included little paper signs that described military tactics used in the battle.

“I learned a lot about the vehicles, the ones I made. I didn’t know a lot about them, so I did research. Now I know more about the battle and things that were used,” Lawrence said.

Shaun Jacobsen used the Internet to help him recreate the layout of Sobibor, a famous camp that held Jewish prisoners and prisoners of war. Sobibor was also the sight of a famous escape later featured in film.

“I was looking around at the pictures on Google images. I saw a picture that had a layout of it. You could see the shapes of the buildings, so I thought up a plan. I used two different sizes. I used a thicker building and a thinner building. I chopped them out to the length and it worked really good,” Jacobsen said.

The level of research that students go through to complete their projects helps them to learn many aspects about the Holocaust and the era that led up to it. For young students, Wangberg says this is important.

“I taught Ann Frank about 20 years. I realized teaching Anne Frank, these kids don’t know why Anne Frank and her family are in an attic for two years. They don’t understand the dilemma. They don’t understand what happened in World War II. They don’t understand Adolf Hitler. That’s why I started to throw a little history in there. It’s become now where before we even start the play we do a two week history of the Holocaust. History of anti-Semitism. History of stereotypes. We have a lot of background before we even start,” Wangberg said.

Wangberg also likes to use the project to shed new light on current events.

“After this whole thing is over is I try to connect it to what’s going on today. Kids don’t understand that in Darfur and other parts of the world there is genocide. There are horrible things going on, so I try to relate whatever their topic was to what’s going on today to bring it full force. The other thing is to make sure they realize one person can make a difference and the bad parts about history should not be repeated,” Wangberg said.

This year’s event also featured a band performance of the theme music from “Schindler’s List” as well as traditional Jewish music performed by the choir.