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Display of Emotion : Powerful Exhibit at Irvine High Recalls Horrors of the Holocaust

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

While some students ran, laughed and finished their lunches on sunny Tuesday afternoon at Irvine High School, the mood inside the school’s darkened theater was solemn.

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The haunting score from the film “Schindler’s List” played in the background as students moved slowly and nearly silently through a display of photographs and posters describing the rise of Nazism in Germany and the genocide of millions.

“I can’t even look at this one,” said senior Jessica Hess, 18, quickly turning from a picture of a Jewish woman cradling her baby as a soldier points a rifle at them.

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The exhibit from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles is part of a weeklong series of events at the school titled “Celebrating Our Diversity Together.”

The goal of the exhibit is to provide students with a jolting lesson about the Holocaust. It certainly had that effect on many of the 50 students who helped organize it.

“I got choked up when I talked about it,” said Hess, one of a group of students who guided visitors through the display. “My emotions get into it as well as the words themselves.”

For the exhibit, students and faculty members transformed the theater into a dark memorial to victims of the Holocaust. The posters and photos provided by the Wiesenthal Center were arranged on the theater stage below a giant swastika illuminated by red stage lights.

“It’s not the same as if this had been done in the daylight,” said junior Rosa Tena, 16, another program volunteer. “It’s not a normal exhibit. People take it more seriously.”

Since the exhibit opened Monday, it has been visited not only by students but also by community residents.

“People are shocked by it. They talk about it a lot afterward,” said senior Casey Teele, 17. “It creates a lasting impression.”

That is exactly the goal, said English teacher Eamon Kane, who designed the exhibit and helped bring it to Irvine High.

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“Students are silenced by it, if not sobered by it,” Kane said.

The volunteers spent several weekends researching the Holocaust and meeting with a concentration camp survivor. They also visited the Wiesenthal Center to familiarize themselves with the often graphic images.

The students said that some of the exhibit photos are difficult to view, such as one showing parents separated from their child by a wire fence.

Senior Anat Sharoni, 17, said that helping to organize the exhibit gave her new insights into the Holocaust, even though her own Jewish grandmother lived through the experience in Europe.

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“I tried to communicate with my grandma, but she was too depressed by” the Holocaust, Sharoni said.

Hess, whose Jewish relatives survived the Holocaust, said: “My family never spoke of it. My (relatives) went to their graves without speaking about it. Unfortunately, I won’t know about their experiences. But I have learned more about what happened.”

The exhibit will be open to the public today from 3 to 7 p.m. Irvine High School is at 4321 Walnut Ave.


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