A girl facing a museum display.
A UVA student explores a display at the National World War II Museum

As University View Academy (UVA) continues to celebrate National Volunteer Week, we highlight unique ways our families can and have served their community.

Earlier this year, seventh-grade ELA students had the privilege to hear from guest presenter Armin Guggenheim. Guggenheim was just a boy when he had to flee Nazi Germany. During his virtual presentation, Guggenheim recalled that his family’s history in Germany dated back centuries. He noted that both his father and uncle served in the German army in World War I. Despite his family’s deep roots in the country, attitudes towards the Jewish population in Germany changed. Books by Jewish authors were publicly burned, and patronage was banned at Jewish-owned stores. 

Guggenheim shared a photograph with the virtual attendees of himself when he was six years old, with a stamp on the photo labeling him as a Jew. He shared that he was expelled from public school in 1938 for his Jewish heritage, and many Jewish schools were closed down. In November of the same year Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass” occurred. 

“I recall a large mob of people that came into our village and raided Jewish homes,” Guggenheim said. “My grandfather was made to go down into a community well and clean it. My father was taken to a tavern and beaten.” 

Guggenheim and his younger brother were sleeping on the second floor of their village synagogue that night and barely escaped with their lives. 

“I recall even today the lights and the torches that flickered against our bedroom window,” Guggenheim said. “They were trying to ram down the door of the synagogue. After 45 minutes of trying, the mob left. If they had broken in, I would not be here today talking to you.” 

In an attempt to escape, Guggenheim and his brother were sent by their parents to Switzerland to visit relatives. 

“We didn’t know whether we were going to be there for a day or a week,” Guggenheim recalled. “My parents had found two separate families that would accept us. I’ve often wondered what went through my parents’ minds that day, knowing they may never see us again.” 

Eventually, the family was able to escape to America, sponsored by relatives who lived in Ohio. However, many of Guggenheim’s aunts and uncles were unable to flee and died in Nazi concentration camps. Ultimately, six million Jews perished during the Holocaust. There are countless stories of volunteers around the world who helped Jewish families escape and find safety during this time.

“A number of people three times the population of Chicago were targeted for no other reason than the way they were born,” Guggenheim concluded. 

Guggenheim’s presentation coordinated with UVA’s annual field trip to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. 

“This field trip is the culmination of all our subject areas,” said curriculum facilitator Selena Guilbeaux. “Math, science, history. It shows what we study and how it influences the world.” 

The museum offers a fully immersive experience with galleries engaging all the senses. Throughout the exhibits, the museum personalizes what can be an overwhelming experience by displaying the stories of individuals, both soldiers and civilian volunteers. Visitors can pick up a “dog tag” at the entrance that assigns them a real person whose life they can follow as they explore the galleries. 

UVA families stepped into a full-size model kitchen and living area of a 1940s American home and listened to President Roosevelt’s radio broadcast. They walked through snowy forests on the campaign trail to Berlin and explored a gallery of real salvaged planes from the era. Harrowing footage from Nazi concentration camps reinforced the reality of Guggenheim’s earlier presentation.  

“It’s important for students to be aware of their history, and it’s good to offer that in a different experience than the classroom,” said curriculum facilitator Nita Martin. “Understanding the past helps us to understand the present and the future.”

Mr. Guggenheim, the UVA learning coach who introduced him to the ELA teachers, and the UVA event team all served the learning environment at UVA by demonstrating the importance of experiencing history firsthand. Simply sharing your story may be a way to serve someone else. Join UVA this National Volunteer Week in remembering history and serving the present.


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