Weston Middle School Hosts Holocaust Speaker Deb Mrowka

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Deb Mrowka addresses students in the auditorium at Weston Middle School on Monday, March 20. (Photo courtesy of Weston Middle School)

Weston Middle School hosted a guest speaker as a culminating event to mark the completion of their One School One Book reading of Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz.

The guest speaker was Deb Mrowka from the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. On Monday, March 20, Mrowka shared her mother’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor, providing students with a lived account of the atrocities that occurred during that time.

The school selects a book during the One School One Book program, and each student receives a free copy to study collectively. It is an opportunity for teachers of various disciplines to approach a topic in the selected book and incorporate aspects of the subject matter into their curriculum. This year, WMS participated with grades 6 – 8 reading Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz. Prisoner B-3087 is centered around a young Jewish boy in Poland in the 1930s. The 4 – 5 grade students read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. World War II history and the Holocaust are central themes in both stories.  

Mrowka’s presentation allowed students to hold several artifacts from the Holocaust, including her mother’s Star of David, which she wore during her imprisonment. Mrowka also shared other personal effects, such as ration cards, postcards, and a belt made from electrical wire salvaged from airplanes wrecked during WWII. Mrowka’s mother, Eline Hoekstra Dresden, was imprisoned at De Schaffelaar in Barneveld, in the Netherlands, in 1943 and later deported to Westerbork camp; Canadian troops liberated Hoekstra Dresden in April of 1945. In 1958 Hoekstra Dresden emigrated to rural Oregon with her family.

Hoekstra Dresden’s experiences align with the main character in the book, Yanek, and students were able to compare the two stories. This exercise helped students better understand the impact of the Holocaust on individuals and society as a whole. They also discussed the role of silence and indifference to the suffering of others in perpetuating such atrocities. After the presentation, students returned to their classroom to write an essay about which concentration camp was the most damaging to the main character in the book. 

“Weston Middle School is proud to have had the opportunity to host such a powerful and impactful guest speaker as part of our culminating event,” said Athena Weston School District Superintendent and WMS Principal Ann Vescio.

This is the fourth year that WMS has done a One School One book reading, promoting literacy and critical thinking among all students.

“We were very honored to have had this opportunity, and we would like to extend our gratitude to all those who made it happen,” English Language Arts teacher Amanda Stewart.

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