What You See

What You See by Samara Haynes - Photo by Ruby Stillman

You think that naming a class “Holocaust, Genocide, and Modern Humanity” is kind of a downer. I walk in as the only sophomore, and Jew, in a room full of uninterested seniors.

You took this class as a way to get an easy A, and you heard the teacher didn’t assign much homework. I took this class because it teaches the history of the greatest tragedy my family line has endured, and the teacher’s son is in Hebrew School with my little sister.

When you see the pictures of emaciated women in striped uniforms, it is surprising; it makes you uncomfortable. These images are not new to me, I feel no shock. I search for recognition in each face, knowing that I could find myself staring at my own reflection through the screen.

You glance over at me when the teacher talks about descendants of survivors, and fidget with a pen on your desk. I stand proud and share the story of my great-grandfather, whose name I carry to future generations.

You look at your phone while the speaker drones on for the 30th minute, bored of this field trip only one hour in. I hold back tears while a man I have never met shares the story of losing his whole family in a single day.

You look at me as our tour moves through the museum exhibit, and whisper, “She kind of looks like Anne Frank.” My face turns red; I move to the other side of the group.

Someone draws a swastika on the tables in the cafeteria. You roll your eyes and say, “It’s just a drawing, why do we have to talk about this anyway?” I feel unwelcome in my school, and I know that those symbols are only the start.

You post on Instagram, “If people could hide from Nazis in attics for months, we can survive a few weeks at home.” I comment, “How do you not understand that this is incredibly disrespectful?”

I leave this class with college credit and infinite pride in my heritage. I hope you leave knowing something about the defining event of my family’s history and why my synagogue has security guards outside.

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Samara Haynes
Samara Haynes is a junior at Montclair High School in Montclair, New Jersey. She is an outspoken activist for climate justice, and is on her school's crew team. She enjoys hiking, playing guitar, and walking her dog.
Accompanying photo: “Guardian of Masada” by Ruby Stillman