Remembering World War II and the Holocaust: Seventh graders raise money to help build Washington war memorial
The academically-talented seventh grade students at Weehawken High School don't get to study World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust as part of their social studies curriculum. In the classroom, history unfortunately stops at the Civil War period. But that didn't stop teachers Linda Shertel and Jon Hammer from introducing the students to both momentous periods of American and world history. "The Holocaust and the World War II Memorial just came up one day," Shertel said. "We discussed it in the class." Soon after, the students decided they wanted to do something special to remember the fallen soldiers who had lost their lives in World War II. So they decided to begin to raise money to donate to the cause of building such a memorial in Washington, near the memorials that stand for the soldiers who lost their lives in Korea and Vietnam. Whatever they could collect within the walls of the school, they placed inside a gigantic water jug that was used to gather all the pennies, nickels and dimes. A bake sale was organized. Joe Bradley of the Weehawken Senior Citizens made buttons that the students sold. One of the students, Karen Garcia, had a family friend who works at Nabisco/Life Savers donate eight cases of Gummy Bear candies, in order to sell in the school for the cause. Some of the school custodians brought their change in to put into the jug. It was truly a grass roots fund-raising effort. "It was a Weehawken school system investment," Shertel said. All told, the students have raised nearly $800 and are hard at work collecting more, before they head off on their three-day class trip to Washington this weekend. While in Washington, they will meet with Congressman Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) and present him with the check from the money they collected. The students also plan to visit the Holocaust Museum and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial while in the nation's capital. Strong feelings
The students all had strong feelings about the reasons for building the World War II Memorial - and the reasons for collecting the money. "The memorial will stand for all those who died in the war," said Andrew Petrie. "They gave their lives so that everyone else could keep their families together. I think it's also important for those veterans who served in the war, give them a chance to remember and give everyone a chance to remember." "It's important to have a memorial for those soldiers, because they died and got nothing back," said Martha Frazier. "They were never recognized for what they did for all of us. It's time for us to do something." Zachary Licato recalled stories that his grandfather and grandmother both served in World War II. "My grandfather fought and my grandmother was a nurse," Licato said. "They would be happy and proud that we're raising the money to remember the war." Shawn Pierre said that it was important to do something now, because there are many senior citizens who were part of the war effort and need to have that memory kept alive. "Once the current seniors are gone, those memories will be lost," Pierre said. "We need to keep that memory for them. It feels good to say that we helped to build the memorial." Nicholas Fiorese agreed. "I think it's helped us all to understand what those soldiers did," Fiorese said. "They died fighting for the rest of us. That's incredible bravery." Since the fundraising effort begun in October, the students have done a lot of research on their own, watching television documentaries, the A&E cable channel's nightly "Biography" series, and some of the latest Hollywood releases depicting the war, like "Saving Private Ryan." "In the past, Hollywood had a tendency to glorify World War II and make it seem like it was fun time," Shertel said. "But we know that's not the case. It was very hard for the people who served and for the families who lost loved ones. It was a horrible experience that one never forgets." "As one generation dies out, it tends to get lost in the shuffle," Hammer said. "But those men did save the world, and they should be remembered."