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Holocaust Remembrance Day brings unique perspective

Students at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo look over the displays representing the atrocities experienced during World War II during Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday. Eighth grade language arts students made posters, dioramas, wrote papers and followed individual profiles detailing the journey of persecuted Jews from their homes to the horrors of the concentration and death camps in Europe. David Samson / Forum Communications Co.

The Holocaust is, unarguably, one of humanity's darkest periods; a time of great transgression toward many groups of people, particularly Jews, who suffered and died during some of the most inhospitable and inhumane conditions in history.

And last week at West Fargo's Cheney Middle School, students had the horrors on display as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day, hosted by a trio of eighth grade language arts classes.

"We are proud of our students. They worked very hard," said Judy Maier, one of the three teachers whose classes presented the event.

Maier said the reasoning behind the project was to keep alive the memory of the horrible events of the Holocaust, when an estimated 11 million people were murdered by Adolf Hitler and Nazis during World War II.

Visitors who walked into the Cheney Middle School eighth-grade wing were greeted by students handing out pamphlets that briefly explained the Holocaust. On the back were areas to express personal thoughts, what interested the participant the most, and suggestions for changes in the future.

On the walls and displayed on tables throughout the wing were works depicting everything from concentration camps to important people to personal belongings. Students wrote poetry, created posters, and reported on Holocaust literature. The entire process took approximately four weeks, Maier said.

Eighth grader Brandy Husic's report depicted the horror of the ghettos, where Jews were forced to relocate and live during Nazi occupation.

"Hitler would invade countries, and then take Jews and put them into vacated areas of town," Husic said. "He would make 1,000 people sit in huts that were only supposed to hold 100."

Husic, whose family is from Bosnia, said learning about the Holocaust is very important because the lessons gleaned from it still are applicable to modern times.

"Racism is still going on today, and I know what it's like to be hated on because of who I am," he said. "We need to know we are all the same; we all have the same blood."

Husic said learning about the Holocaust made him realize how fortunate we are to live in the time we do.

"While researching this project, I kept thinking that if I lived back in those days, I'd probably be killed," he said. "I just think, 'What if that was my family?'"

Those kinds of revelations were exactly what teachers were trying to conjure when deciding to do the project, Maier said.

Students started by researching and reading with a lot of writing mixed in, Maier explained. They then held presentations, with added emphasis on grammar and spelling. Technology was key, too, and thanks to the "fantastic" programs available in the West Fargo School District, Maier said the students had a lot of tools at their disposal.

Mixing history and language arts was part of a collaborative learning processes, a concept pushed by administrators. And after the success of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Maier said there is a good chance something like this will occur again the near future.

"We've had a great public response," she said.

Maier also hopes the impact of the project wasn't lost on either students or visitors.

"The reason for this is for students to have the courage to stand up and speak out," she said.