Bronx High School Students Interview Holocaust Survivors and Make History Come Alive

August 24, 2010 | Bronx Community College

Bronx, NY – Bronx Community College (BCC) gave Bronx high school students a taste of the rigors of college academics firsthand in an intense reading and writing summer program called College Now.  Student experiences were spotlighted in an end of the summer reception at BCC. As part of the reception, Holocaust survivors were recognized for their participation in the program. The interview subjects also had a chance to view a video of some of the interviews and talk with students while they enjoyed refreshments.

During their time on campus, students were introduced to the culture of higher education and how to be self-starters in approaching assignments in the classroom, the library and at home. Instead of studying only from textbooks of World War II, they read stories written by survivors about their personal accounts, and the impact of the Holocaust. Students also visited the Holocaust Museum and wrote journals about their impressions from that trip.

Ellen Leiman, a Holocaust survivor, told students that she enjoyed speaking to them and felt privileged to be a part of the five-week program.  She, Ellen Zilka, and Samuel Marder were interviewed by students. “I was totally impressed with the students,” said Marder. “It is so important to learn about this history. I felt it was my duty to participate and talk about how I physically, emotionally and spiritually survived a death camp. Soon this generation will be gone and there will be no one to give firsthand knowledge.”

Desmond Bailey, a senior at Harry S. Truman High School, said, “When I first read the bare facts of the Holocaust, they didn’t move me.” After interviewing Holocaust survivors, Bailey stated, “I began to understand more clearly what they had experienced.  Their emotional way of talking helped me to empathize with them. This had direct effects on my writing.”

Students who attended the five-week program came from Harry S. Truman, Samuel Gompers, and University Heights high schools, Academy for Language and Technology, Monroe Academy for Business and Law, and the Eagle Academy for Young Men. “The goal of the class was to help students think more critically about their place in the world by becoming better readers, writers, and interviewers,” said Matthew Cotter, the instructor who taught the class and who will again teach the class in the fall and spring semesters. “Anytime you can draw meaningful connections beyond static texts you can improve the study of history.  Oral interviews are one way to do that.” Students attended the program and completed reading and writing assignments three hours a day, four days a week.  They received three college credits.

Michael Roggow, director of Collaborative Programs and Freshman Communities, summed up the College Now program: “This summer experience gave students an opportunity to listen to history as it comes alive and to understand historical movements in a different context.”                                                     

Founded in 1957, Bronx Community College (BCC), the oldest of City University of New York’s six community colleges, serves as the engine for academic and economic mobility for motivated students from diverse backgrounds and preparations. More than 11,000 students from over 109 nations are enrolled in 30 associate degree and certificate programs including Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Computer Graphics, Nuclear Medicine, and Business Administration, Digital Arts, Computer Information Systems, Education Associate, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology, Electronic Engineering Technology, Liberal Arts, Marketing, Accounting, Human Services, Media Technology and Paralegal Studies. BCC’s 43-acre campus, high above the Harlem River, features architectural masterpieces of Stanford White and Marcel Breuer, as well as the Hall of Fame of Great Americans, the nation’s first hall of fame. BCC President Carolyn G. Williams is in her 14th year of leadership service to the College, which is located at  2155 University Avenue at West 181st Street, formerly New York University’s uptown campus until 1973.

The College is home to initiatives not commonly associated with two-year institutions, such as the Center for Sustainable Energy, which promotes the use of renewable and efficient energy technologies in urban communities. The National Center for Educational Alliances (NCEA) ) is currently collaborating with South African Further Education and Training Colleges and universities to create linkages between these institutions and is also working to enhance student and academic support at the colleges. NCEA also coordinates the College’s global initiative which facilitates global learning within and outside of the classroom.

Bryant Mason / (718) 289-5208 / bryant.mason@bcc.cuny.edu