On May 2, sophomore Shelly Zalezniak, originally from Israel, conducted the first Holocaust Remembrance Day events in Country Day’s history.
Q: Why did you bring Holocaust Remembrance Day to Country Day?
A: I planned it because I wanted to do something that would spread awareness about the Holocaust. Also, I wanted to do something that would challenge and force me to do something that I don’t do every day.
Q: What were the challenges? Why?
A: It was challenging to contact people and tell them, “Hey, could you please help me with this and with that?” It was also challenging to incorporate Holocaust Remembrance Day into our school.
Q: What events did you plan?
A: We had a moment of silence in the quad during break, and I spoke to my history class and a couple of other history classes during my free period about the Holocaust. Also, posters were hung up so more people know that Holocaust Remembrance Day was today.
Q: Did anything surprise you?
A: It surprised me that not all the students knew much about the Holocaust. They said things like, “Yes, we know what it is,” but they don’t really know the meaning of the Holocaust and what was happening.
Q: Was your family a part of the Holocaust?
A: My great-grandparents were Holocaust survivors. They survived by hiding in a Polish farmer’s house for about a year.
It was very rough for them because they had food only once or twice a week in really small amounts. This was because the Nazis came to check if there was anyone hiding in their house. The Polish farmers and my great-grandparents didn’t want to get caught, so they bought small amounts of food and shared. This resulted in small amounts of dishes and food, which made it seem like (my great-grandparents) weren’t there.
Q: What were your emotions on Holocaust Remembrance Day?
A: Every year, it makes me think about how the Holocaust affected my religion, and how can I help to spread the awareness. Every year, it makes me happy to (be from Israel) and part of the Jewish culture.
Q: How did you get Holocaust Remembrance Day started at SCDS?
A: It actually all happened because I asked (head of high school Brooke) Wells if there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day at the school, and he said no, and I was like, “OK, well then maybe I can make one.”
I started by talking to the teachers to get an idea of what to do. I wanted to do something for the school and my friends that would allow them to understand the Holocaust better.
Q: Have you participated in Holocaust Remembrance Day before?
A: In my old school back in Israel, every year we had a ceremony and a moment of silence for about two minutes. Also, the students always came wearing black, which is why I tried to have people wear black at Country Day.
Q: Who helped you prepare?
A: I started off alone, and I soon figured out that I can’t do it all by myself and I have to get some help from other people, such as my classmates and teachers. So I went to my math teacher, (Patricia) Jacobsen, Mr. Wells and also to (assistant head of school Tucker) Foehl. I also contacted some of my classmates to help me with the posters.
Q: How does your family observe Holocaust Remembrance Day?
A: When my family and I lived in Israel, we used to go to Tel Aviv, where there was a memorial event and a ceremony. Every year we would go there and light candles. We also respect the day by not listening to music that we usually listen to and being calmer.
Q: How do you think the event went?
A: After the event, I received lots of messages like, “Good job on the event,” and “I learned so much about the Holocaust. Thank you for doing this.” This told me that I did my job by spreading awareness and that now more people know about the Holocaust. That is so important because that was the whole point of the day: spreading awareness and teaching people what I know.
Q: Do you plan on doing the same thing next year?
A: I’m really hoping to do the same thing next year and make it even bigger by maybe having a ceremony and maybe involving the gym. I would like to involve the whole school next year.
—By Dylan Margolis