Alexander Quine, a Ferris High School sophomore, recently interviewed Holocaust survivor Carla Peperzak of Spokane. Quine put together a four-minute film of the interview experience and showed it to fellow students in his advanced filmmaking class.
“My class was surprised,” Quine said. “They told me they learned more from her than from their schoolbooks.”
Quine is one of several young people involved in Sunday’s Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust at Temple Beth Shalom. This year’s theme: “Confronting Holocaust Denial.”
“It was important to bring our young people up to speed on the phenomenon of the Holocaust, as it is often mentioned as only a footnote to their study of World War II in school,” explained Hershel Zellman, chair of the planning committee for the observance.
Another Ferris film student, Alan Cerimovic, interviewed and created a short film about Eva Lassman, a Holocaust survivor who also lives in Spokane.
And in the creative writing contest for this year’s observance, nearly 100 students throughout Spokane wrote essays repudiating Holocaust denial.
“We introduced the subject of Holocaust denial with the intent that students should view it as a form of hate speech,” Zellman said.
“Anytime anyone intentionally attempts to change the history of someone else there is the possibility of it gaining legitimacy and forever negatively impacting the targeted group of people. That is the lesson about the danger of Holocaust denial.”
The presence of Aryan Nations sympathizers in the Inland Northwest makes the message even more vital here, Zellman said.
“One of their methods is to proclaim that we concocted the ‘lie of the Holocaust’ in order to attract international sympathy and support for a Jewish home in the holy land,” he explained.
A few months ago, a student approached Joan Conger, who teaches the advanced filmmaking class at Ferris, and asked if her students might be willing to film the observance on Sunday.
“I was so excited they approached us,” Conger said. “I’ve encountered some ignorance about the Holocaust – and even some denial. It’s very upsetting. I wanted my students to understand this is a really serious subject and it hasn’t gone away.
“Students sometimes trivialize horror,” she added. “They don’t know how to handle it. It’s very difficult for my students to understand what a real documentary is, as opposed to reality TV or fictional pieces. When they are shown a real documentary of real life, they are floored. They don’t see life the same way after experiencing that.
“So to actually interview someone who has had real life experiences with the Holocaust, it is a real gift to Alex and Alan. And it’s a gift to my students who get to watch the films.”
Quine couldn’t believe it when Peperzak told him that some of her friends were picked off the streets by the Nazis and sent away to concentration camps. She never again saw some of those friends.
Before meeting Peperzak, “I took my friends for granted and took for granted they would be here,” Quine said.
Now he hopes his friends, and others who see the Holocaust survivor films, realize that what happened to victims during World War II “was a big deal, and it could happen again.”