DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It is one week before the school year ends and summer begins, but 180 eighth graders from Venus Middle School in rural Johnson County had their hearts set on touring the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.
They became the first students for an in-person visit since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year after Jaqueline Camarillo wrote a letter urging the museum to let them come.
“I feel like the Holocaust was one of those moments in history that was important. It will always leave an impact,” she said.
The Museum’s President and CEO, Mary Pat Higgins said, “I just can’t tell you how much that meant to us.”
She said they are fortunate to have many teachers in North and East Texas who are passionate about teaching students about the Holocaust.
“But I haven’t seen a student before reach out and implore us to let them visit. That was really moving and different,” Higgins said.
Since the 6th grade, these students have been reading about the Holocaust, the deliberate and calculated murders of about six million European Jews.
They said seeing the exhibits up-close though were both eye-opening and overwhelming.
Hunter Fudge, another eighth grader at the school said, “It made me realize just how serious it was. The people who had done it were people, they were human, and they still had done this to others.”
Camarillo agreed. “Think of the millions of people who died: men, children, women – all of them. They had families.”
Their English teacher, Benjamin Vollmer, has made it a yearly tradition for eighth graders to come here.
His students worked on projects, including this book they presented to the museum, that’s filled with their poems and essays.
Vollmer said, “If you just feed it to them, they don’t comprehend it. So the projects are a way for them to express what their understanding is.”
One of the primary missions of this museum is to educate students, which has been more challenging during the pandemic.
Higgins said, the museum developed virtual visits for students. “This engaged them. They could ask questions. They would take polls and it was really important to us because we don’t want to miss a generation of students. We want to be sure they know this history.”
Vollmer said he’s noticed a change in some students. “I don’t think, I know. I know because I watch the attitude change and even the way they treat each other from the start of the unit to the end.”
Fudge said he’s seen that as well. “There were people who had actually used some of the terms that were used in the Holocaust against people and those people once they heard about all that had happened, and done the projects, they just stopped using those words.”
This month, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that creates the Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Anti-Semitism Advisory Commission.
It will produce studies on anti-Semitism in Texas and work with schools and universities on methods to combat it.
Vollmer said he has become emotional during some of the lessons, which has surprised students. “I want the kids to see that the Holocaust should make you emotional and it should upset you. I can touch their mind all I want, but if I don’t touch the mind and heart, it’s knowledge that’s going to get lost.”