SOUTH FORSYTH -- The soft petals of flowering daffodils shone brightly in the warm November sun, the yellow six-pointed flower contrasted against the browning grass below in south Forsyth.
Though only a handful of flowers were blooming, the dirt around the cluster had recently been dug into and watered — prime planting ground for hundreds more.
Working in partnership with a nonprofit Holocaust education and awareness organization, middle schoolers at Pinecrest Academy recently planted more than 350 daffodil bulbs outside their school building in remembrance of Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust.
Friday morning’s planting, each of which represents a child killed by the Nazis, culminated a weeklong unit on World War II and the Holocaust taught at the private parochial school on Peachtree Parkway.
“This has been an emersion week into WWII,” Middle School Dean of Students Gabriel Liesemeyer said. “The whole point of us doing the emersion week has been, one, to give the kids a different academic experience in which it’s a lot more hands on and [we’re] doing things outside the box, but also, WWII is such an important piece of history because of all the lives that were lost because of the political climate at the time and the racism of the Holocaust.”
The flowers are part of Am Yisrael Chai’s Daffodil Project, a “living Holocaust memorial” striving to plant 1.5 million flowers to commemorate the 1.5 million Jewish children killed during the war.
The shape and color of the daffodils represent the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, and, according to Am Yisrael Chai’s website, yellow is the color of remembrance.
The daffodils also symbolize the organization’s “poignant hope for the future.”
In part, that hope relies on the education of youth around the world and the teaching of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.
Pinecrest spent the last week doing just that.
“It’s important our students understand that and be immersed in it because they’re the future of things and they [need] to understand it and know what happened to be responsible for things in the future,” Liesemeyer said.
Each middle school subject – from history and language classes to math and science lessons – invoked some sort of teaching about WWII.
“In seventh and eighth grade, we study U.S. history and talk about the U.S. being involved in WWII, [especially] as we come on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7,” Middle School Principal Denise Cress said. “Middle school kids are all about role-playing, and they have a youth and an innocence still there that is very impressionable, and I thought this would be fantastic for them as a way of building as they go into high school.”
“We are all God’s children”
“The daffodil project was promoted at a principal’s meeting at the archdiocese of Atlanta and it really attracted me,” she added. “Being a religious organization, our faith is very important to us and particularly with the different types of genocide that are happening currently in the world, I think it’s very important that we don’t forget [the Holocaust.]”
Seventh grader Justin Smith agreed.
“I think it’s important because I’ve heard from people that the Holocaust didn’t happen and that people just made it up for drama purposes,” he said. “[George Rishfeld] made me realize from someone else’s perspective that was actually in the war at that time what it was like.”
Rishfeld, a Polish Holocaust survivor, spoke at the school.
Rishfeld was barely five months old when Nazi forces invaded Warsaw in 1939, and his family later moved to Lithuania, where they thought they would be safe.
Like many other Jews, his parents were wrong and the family was soon forced into the Vilna Ghetto.
Rishfeld’s parents realized they needed to save their son.
Though he was too young to remember, Rishfeld was wrapped in furs and thrown over the ghetto’s barbed wire fence, into the arms of his father’s colleague’s daughter, a Christian.
He spent the remainder of the war with the family of “righteous gentiles” — non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Fortunately, both his parents survived the war, though his father’s parents, along with every other extended family member, were killed and buried in a mass grave.
Rishfeld lives to tell the tale.
“I believe that one of the reasons I survived was so that I could go out and tell the story,” he said. “So that people would know that the Holocaust wasn’t a Hollywood creation.”
This, Cress said, is an important lesson.
“As we work with our students, we teach and we profess that we are all God’s children and that we are all created equal under God,” she said. “Though we may have different ways of expressing our faith, that unifies all of us and there’s no difference between Christian, Catholic, Jewish [religions] other than how you worship God.”