Every year, the Holocaust Education and Reflection (HEAR) Club at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in suburban Philadelphia creates a special school legacy project, with the goal of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. One year, it was a flower garden dedicated to the children of the Holocaust. Another year, it was butterflies stenciled on the walls of the school stairwells, commemorating the poem The Butterfly, written by a young Holocaust victim, with the iconic line “I never saw another butterfly.”And for 2017-2018, it is the Cattle Car of Dreams. At first, the project’s title seems a bit jarring. How could a vehicle that transported Jews to their deaths, obliterating their hopes for the future, be described as a “cattle car of dreams”?
The idea for the project arose this past fall when a group of HEAR Club members traveled to Whitwell, Tennessee, home of the famous Paper Clips Project, to attend a dedication ceremony. While there, the students and their club adviser, Barrack teacher Susan Schwartz, stood together inside an actual German cattle car at the Children’s Holocaust Memorial at Whitwell Middle School. From this deeply moving experience emerged the idea to permanently display a replica of this cattle car at Barrack and fill it with students’ hopes and dreams, as a way of honoring the children of the Holocaust who never had the opportunity to realize their own dreams. The replica car was constructed for Barrack by the father of Sandra Roberts, one of the Whitwell educators who founded the Paper Clips Project.HEAR Club members asked their fellow Barrack students to write down their dreams for the future on colored paper — becoming a veterinarian, visiting the Galapagos Islands, living in a world without anti-Semitism, and more. Hundreds of pieces of dream-laden paper are now preserved in the replica cattle car.
The dedication of the cattle car took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. At the dedication, HEAR Club presidents Emma Dorsch, Ben Rothstein and Gabe Bryant gave an educational presentation to their peers. Rothstein described the macabre scene witnessed by the soldiers who entered the gates of Auschwitz in 1945. He added that many leaders knew what the Nazis were doing and that the world is still struggling to deal with the history of Nazi atrocities. Bryant described how Jews arrived at the death camps:
Families, just like ours — doctors, lawyers, athletes, architects, students,babies — were thrown into these cattle cars, but were not treated with the same respect given to animals — no food, water or even air.
Dorsch, who was one of the students on the Whitwell trip, described how the experience at Whitwell was the driving force behind the creation of Barrack’s replica cattle car.
The Cattle Car of Dreams is permanently on display in the Barrack lobby. Not only is it a symbol of the Holocaust, but it is also a physical representation of the ongoing relationship between Whitwell and Barrack. In fact, students from both schools are currently collaborating on a research project involving letters from Auschwitz that were donated to Whitwell Middle School.