PHILADELPHIA, May 2, 2014 — Some 400 Philadelphia and Delaware county school students got a first-hand lesson in the dangers of discrimination April 28 when state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, Holocaust survivor Judy Meisel, and the Anti-Defamation League delivered a special Holocaust remembrance at the National Constitution Center to students from Motivation High School, the Delcroft School and the Penn Wood Middle School.
“I am not Jewish, but I know the feeling of being an outcast and discriminated against,” Sen. Williams told students from the Philadelphia, Southeast Delco, and William Penn school districts. “I recall a time when men and women of color experienced horrific conditions simply because of the color of their skin.”
Williams has been invited every year to speak at Holocaust remembrances. This year, the senator and the Anti-Defamation League helped to mark the 85th birthday of Meisel, a human rights activist who was born in the same year as Anne Frank.
Meisel shared her experiences of the Holocaust and her support and passion for the U.S. civil rights movement with the students, including her local experience with racial discrimination in Folcroft in the 1960’s.
The ADL shared curriculum materials with teachers in advance of the program. Each teacher who attended received a copy of Meisel’s film and a remembrance bookmark. All teachers were invited to ask their students to write either a “thank you” note, essay or poem to the activist and share what they learned from listening to her speak.
“We thank Sen. Williams for helping to bring Ms. Meisel to us. She is an inspiration to everyone she touches,” said Wendy Shapiro, principal of the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. “Her incredible story of survival and her support of civil rights for all people struck a chord with the students.
“After seeing the documentary, ‘Tak for Alt,’ and listening to her speak about her experiences with civil rights, the students were so taken with Ms. Meisel that they lined up to hug her and take pictures. The students were left inspired to go out and make this world a better place,” Shapiro said.
Motivation High School Principal Rennu Teli-Johnson agreed with her counterpart’s assessment.
“This was an opportunity most will never get. Is because of this experience that I have directed my teachers to create a lesson plan around holocaust and genocide,” Teli-Johnson said.
Sen. Williams introduced legislation in 2013 (Senate Bill 47) to make instruction about the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations are part of the basic education experience.
“My legislation would provide instruction in 6th through 12th grades about the history of the Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust, and it would teach that genocide is a consequence of prejudice and discrimination,” the senator said.
Meisel’s appearance at the National Constitution Center was not the only one before Philadelphia area students. Arrangements were made for her film to be shown and then to present her throughout last week to schools in the senator’s 8th Senatorial District, including CAPA, the Philadelphia School for Creative and Performing Arts; Penn Wood High School; and Girard Academy Music Program.
Additional schools that Judy Meisel will be visiting include Bearing Witness Program at Archbishop Carroll High, St. Albert the Great High School, Springfield High School, Gwynedd Mercy Academy High, Penn Charter Middle School, St. Hubert’s, and Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.