On Friday, April 19, a classroom was transformed into a museum and opened to the public. Inside the room were various Holocaust-related artifacts that were created by the history and English students of Jared Rio.
Rio said he came up with the museum idea while his sophomore students were reading “Night,” a book by Elie Wiesel about his experiences with his father in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
“I figured we needed to get a project that would fire them (students) up,” he said, standing inside the student museum at 3200 Jaguar Run.
Rio said he empowered his 250 students, primarily sophomores, to work on projects using anything and everything to create something that was “memorable” about the Holocaust.
“I didn’t want poster board,” he said. “I wanted people to come in and see things they can make sense of. When you put it all together, you can’t ignore what the Nazis did.”
As visitors entered the museum, one of the first things to catch their eye was a tattered jacket with a homemade Star of David sewn on the chest.
The yellow star — an iconic symbol of Nazi persecution — sets the stage for dozens of student-made artifacts and images of history that were on display throughout the museum.
Other iconic pieces included ragged shoes to symbolize the death marches that persecuted Jews had to perform after concentration camp evacuations, a large glass container filled with empty cyanide canisters and a wall of heartfelt farewell letters written by students from the perspective of concentration camp prisoners.
Using a list of topics, students were given the opportunity to choose their own projects. The average research time was two to three weeks for each piece, Rio said.
Zach Hoffert, 17, said he worked on a farewell letter and pieces that represented the Catholic Church’s position during World War II. He called the experience “moving” and “eye-opening.”
Accompanying Hoffert at the museum was his grandfather Elmer Ivins, a military veteran whose uncle and cousin fought in the war.
“I’m glad people are looking at it,” Ivins said. “I told my wife, We’ve got to go look at this. This should have never happened.”
A number of visitors to the museum appeared awestruck by the sights and sounds of the exhibits.
“I’m so impressed with the quality,” said Lisa Reza, who toured the museum with her 17-year-old daughter, Miriam.
Together they looked over a replica of Holocaust victim Arthur Weissman’s childhood bedroom, accompanied by a video of Weissman’s surviving sister, Gerda Weissman Klein, talking about the Holocaust.
“What is included in this exhibit is phenomenal,” Reza said. “It’s hard to believe it was done by high school students.”
Tonzie Burnett, who was visiting the museum with her family, appeared emotional as she stared at the farewell letters.
“I think it’s magnificent,” she said. “It’s like I can’t touch, but I can feel what it was like in Hitler’s days. Looking at it up close instead of a history book — it’s blowing my mind.”
Julie Laister went to see her 15-year-old daughter Mykaela’s piece on Oskar Schindler.
“I think it’s kind of surreal,” Laister said. “To see actual history — when students contribute to making a museum, it gives them a better perspective.”
Although the majority of the museum pieces were replicas created by students, a few genuine artifacts were contributed by Rio and sophomore Lloyd Bernhard.
Inside a glass case were actual symbols of the Nazi regime that included a swastika flag, soldiers’ helmets, medals, a dagger and a swastika armband.
Bernhard said his contributions came from the 80-year-old brother of his grandfather, who resides in San Jose.
“He never showed them to me, but I remember them talking about the Holocaust,” he said. “When this project came up, I thought this would be a good addition to the museum.”
Bernhard said the Holocaust was part of his family’s history, because his great-uncle fought the Nazis alongside Gen. George S. Patton.
“This is really important to me,” he said. “It’s my family connection. It’s unfortunate, but it’s something we have to remember.”
The museum was open to Kimball students until Wednesday, April 24.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or email@example.com.