Jan. 25—Greensburg Salem senior Lillian Gatons learned something disquieting during an elective course at the high school on the Holocaust.
"People are starting to think the Holocaust wasn't real and aren't learning about it," she said. "That made me want to create a night dedicated to people who lost their lives in the Holocaust."
Gatons, 17, of Greensburg has organized a Holocaust Museum Remembrance Night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday in the high school library. The event is open to the public.
Gatons tapped the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh for resources, displays and guest speakers to bring focus to the murder of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, along with millions of others, by Germany's Nazi regime and its collaborators.
Friday's event, which serves as her senior project, coincides with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held on the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of concentration camp survivors at Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland.
Visitors to the library will find a Holocaust timeline and displays relating the stories of survivors, including women who started the next chapter of their lives by moving to the Pittsburgh area.
For younger kids and those who might find the main displays overwhelming, Gatons has arranged for a space where they can paint ceramic butterflies that symbolize children killed in the Holocaust. Also representing remembrance, hope and the resilience of survivors, the ceramic figures are part of educational programming developed by The Butterfly Project, based in San Diego.
Speakers to share
Gatons scheduled two speakers she contacted through the Holocaust Center.
Debbie Stueber of Blawnox will tell the story of her parents, Holocaust survivors Kurt and Edith Leuchter, now in their 90s and living in Florida. Natives of Austria and Germany, respectively, they were forced to leave their homes under Nazi rule and survived hiding in France — where Kurt Leuchter served in the French resistance — before they came separately to the United States in 1946.
Other members of Stueber's family weren't as fortunate. Three of her grandparents and an uncle perished along with others who were sent to Auschwitz.
For the past several years, Stueber has told area audiences about the experiences of her parents, who are expected to make a virtual appearance at Friday's event. She noted her mother's Holocaust journey became the basis for a play that premiered last year in her native town of Bruchsal.
Stueber said her speaking engagements are part of her mission to carry on her parents' legacy of keeping alive knowledge of the Holocaust.
"It's the responsibility of my generation and of the next to carry the torch," she said.
Marcel Walker, supervisor and project editor, will discuss "Chutz-Pow!" — a series of four comic books developed by the Holocaust Center that tell the stories of heroic Holocaust survivors and activists, including some with Pittsburgh-area connections.
Walker, who lives in Lawrenceville, has illustrated stories in all four of the issues and also wrote one of the tales — that of Irena Sendler. A Polish activist and social worker, Sendler belonged to an underground network credited with rescuing 2,500 Jewish children in Poland.
In addition to being engaging, Walker said the "Chutz-Pow!" books serve as a "tool to dismantle antisemitism."
Walker is not Jewish. But he said he is conscious of the common need to eradicate all forms of prejudice and racism.
"If you start with antisemitism, you are doing the work of tackling these other -isms," he said.
Course explores Holocaust connections
Matthew Boe, who teaches the Holocaust course at Greensburg Salem, has served as a mentor for Gatons as she developed her senior project.
He said the course recognizes ways the Holocaust is relevant to other events throughout history — including the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 11 worshippers on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
"The thing I try to incorporate in the course is humanizing a dehumanizing event," Boe said. "To make connections with some of the victims and apply those understandings to the world around us."
Fellow instructor Christopher Gazze is Gatons' adviser for her project.
"She has grown so much throughout this process but has always focused her efforts on remembering the survivors and victims of the Holocaust," Gazze said.
"We learn about the Holocaust for a reason: because it's important that we never repeat the past and that we learn from others' mistakes," Gatons said.
She is hoping those who attend the high school event will "start their own research about the Holocaust."
The lessons Gatons has taken from her Holocaust research speak to the value of individual lives and freedoms.
"Everyone deserves to be treated as an equal," she said. "Be your own person instead of following the crowd; otherwise, bad things can happen."
Visit hcofpgh.org for more information about the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and the "Chutz-Pow!" comic books.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .