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Holocaust memorial opens in Booker T. Washington High School

A high school in Pensacola has set aside a corner of its library as a memorial to the Holocaust.

“I know it’s very humble (and) it doesn’t look like it, but it took us about two months (to put the exhibit together),” said Patricia Ervin, an information and media center specialist at Booker T. Washington High School. She took an active role in curating the space dedicated to Holocaust information at the school.

The original materials for the exhibit came from the state. “Our district received some of those (state) funded materials," said Ervin. "The original materials are the 18 sepia-toned historical (photos), they’re real historical photos. And all the information around them, we researched my library assistants and I. And we stripped down the language so that anyone from ninth grade to 12th, it didn’t matter who you were, you could read it, it made sense, it had clarity.”

In addition to the photos, the school received a collection of Holocaust-themed books, some of which are displayed in the exhibit.

“We had all the wonderful books that we put out (on display), and we put the information around it in case (students) come by themselves. And we just opened up tours, and we take them in small groups, though. We usually try to take about 10 (at a time), because we want it to be intimate, and we want the students to feel free to interact.”

Ervin says there’s a very small number of students, perhaps 1 percent, who have either never heard of the Holocaust or have forgotten about past history lessons on the era, but most of the students coming through the exhibit have a working knowledge of the event. There is also a reflection table available to students so they can write about their feelings and give feedback.

Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media
Patricia Ervin, an information and media center specialist at Booker T. Washington High School

“My favorite feedback is, well there are a lot of favorites, but we do have a young student here who is of Polish and Ukrainian descent, and he said that any of his family who did not immigrate to Canada during World War II either died in the concentration camps or (while) fighting. And nobody in his family has returned (to Europe since the war). He hoped to be the first to return, and this was a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.”

There are fewer Holocaust survivors left alive to pass on their stories so Ervin thinks projects like the one at Booker T. Washington High School, although small in scale, are important to make sure future generations never forget what happened, or have the events sanitized. She says the Holocaust is the most well-documented genocide in human history.

“And I know for some people it’s a hot topic because there’s the whole denial aspect by certain factions of our society, but again, (it’s) way too well-documented for denial. And just so important for the kids to know, not just what one human being can do to another, but how they helped and to be aware of the signs. Because it’s not like genocide did not continue to happen after the Holocaust.”

The exhibit has been open to students for over a month, and students from other schools in the district have come to take a tour.

Ervin says that even though this exhibit may make some students feel uncomfortable, she defends the decision to make the information available.

“There’s two things. You could always opt not to have your child come through if you want. But I just feel like people don’t give kids the benefit of the doubt. Kids, especially teenagers, they’re beginning (to become who they will be) as adults. And they can handle more than you think. But isn’t it better to present controversial ideas in a safe environment, where they can decide what they would do about it? How it would affect and impact their life so that when it — if it horrors upon horrors, does actually begin to happen again — they know what their choices would be.”

The Holocaust exhibit at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola is available to all students in the school library. Patricia Ervin says it will remain open as long as one person still wants to come and see it.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.