By Carl Zebrowski
Editor of Hakol
One suitcase had a small stuffed horse in it. Another had a toy red 1930s car. One a paintbrush and paint-smeared palette. All of the several pieces of luggage lined up in a row and opened up had handwritten letters and old photos in them.
Eighth-graders at Trexler Middle School packed each of the suitcases to represent a specific Holocaust victim who was forced to pack up and leave home to go to a Nazi camp. The luggage was on display in the JCC’s Kline Auditorium for the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley’s Community Celebration and Annual Meeting on June 8.
Under the guidance of teachers Becky Hann and Conchetta Marucci, the students worked in pairs or small groups, each researching one Holocaust victim to learn details about that person’s life. They used the information they gathered to guide them in packing a suitcase that represented the person’s story.
The suitcases were displayed museum-style along a wall of the auditorium. Each contained a letter written to a loved one, real or representative artifacts, photos of the person and family members, and other items. An introduction written by the students provides background for each suitcase story.
One of the suitcases was dedicated to the young Lilly Applebaum, whom Russians marched away to a camp. The suitcase contains an urn representing her grandmother’s ashes and medical supplies representing first aid that was provided during the march.
Lilly wrote letters attempting to contact her grandfather. One shown here, protected under glass in a frame, appears under Lilly’s heading “First Letter” and is dated April 30, 1945, after Allied troops had been liberating camps.
“I’m so worried about you,” it reads. “I’ve miss(ed) you since that day I left to the forced march. I walked for days without eating nor drinking any water. I was starving. I’ve been trying to meet you but it’s been so difficult. I hope I can return to see you again.
“There has been a lot going on in my life. I got taken by the Russians because I’m a Jew.
“If you got weak, they will shoot you.
“While walking, you will see dead bodies everywhere.”
Lilly survived the camps, the war and the aftermath. As the informational placard the students supplied with the suitcase reads, “(November 5, 1928 – She is alive).”