It was an impressive sight to see.
Students and visitors walked quietly and spoke softly as they viewed more than 80 exhibits commemorating Yom Hashoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day. For 18 years, students in the Holocaust Studies class at Thomas Jefferson High School have created an annual museum that provides a startling reminder of how far evil can go while, at the same time, honoring victims and celebrating stories of survival.
Cathleen Cadigan, who teaches the Holocaust Studies class and AP U.S. History at TJ, first began the project in 1997. What began as a small display in her classroom grew enough to move to the library. Now the museum nearly fills the school’s auditorium.
“For most of the people, there are no memorials, no gravestones,” Cadigan said. “This is our way of remembering them.”
The presentation began with two videos that provided an overview of the Holocaust. Upon entering the auditorium, visitors saw two long rows flanked with student projects from years past. In the center of the auditorium, a memorial featured stars with the names of Holocaust victims on them.
Each student in the semester-long Holocaust Studies class focused their research on a single year. As crowds gathered, the students discussed their projects with visitors and answered questions.
Many of the older projects focused on the stories of individuals who were involved, either as victims or persecutors, during the Holocaust. Seeing victims as individuals help students connect with them, Cadigan said.
Students from E.H. Cary Middle School, the campus that sits directly diagonal from TJ, also attended the event.
“I hope that I can be in this class when I get to TJ,” said Jose, a seventh-grader at Cary.