PRAIRIE GROVE – A mattress and a bed don’t seem like big things, but 14-year-old Samantha Kelly has a whole new appreciation for them.
The Prairie Grove eighth-grader and her classmates have been building memorials to the victims of the Holocaust to be part of a Holocaust memorial museum in the school’s library.
Other students at the kindergarten through eighth grade district will tour the museum Tuesday and Wednesday, and the museum will open to the public from 5:30 to 8 p.m. both days.
Kelly’s memorial is a replica mattress of the one described in Hana’s Suitcase, a nonfiction story the class read.
“[The mattress] just stood out to us,” Kelly said. “I don’t know. ... We were going to compare it to how lucky it made us seem. Some people don’t think it’s a big deal that they sleep in a bed, but prisoners had to sleep on hay. The comparison was really strong to us.”
The book tells the story of a Jewish girl who died at age 13 after the Nazis invaded what is now the Czech Republic.
A replica of her suitcase – marked with Hana’s name, her birthday and Waisenkind, the German word for orphan – made its way to a Japanese teacher decades later, who went looking for the person behind the suitcase.
For many of the students, this is the first time their history class is really showing them the human cost of historical events, said their teacher, Kate Bieschke.
This is the fifth year she’s done the memorial museum as part of the four-week World War II and Holocaust unit.
“The lessons we learned, it just kind of opened my eyes to see how cruel the world can really be, that we should treat others a lot better and with more respect and respect their differences,” 13-year-old Jimmy Zitnik said.
He made a model of the concentration camp Auschwitz, which had gas chambers that could each kill 6,000 people a day, he said.
Bieschke hopes her students take ownership of the Holocaust – and the prejudice and bullying that went along with it – through the projects, so they realize the impact of their own actions.