Students plant daffodils, dedicate Holocaust Memorial Garden

Dawson Moomaw, left, and Aidan Compton, right, help create a portion of the Daffodil Project Holocaust Memorial Garden at North Fork Middle School in Quicksburg on Thursday. Courtesy photo North Fork Middle School.

Students at North Fork Middle School in Quicksburg helped dedicate the Daffodil Project Holocaust Memorial Garden on Thursday.

They planted 42 daffodil bulbs, and in November they will plant 250 more.

The goal of the worldwide memorial project is to plant 1.5 million daffodil bulbs to represent the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust. There are two other gardens in Virginia — one in Richmond and one at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Donna Shrum, an English teacher at the school, had her class read the “Diary of Anne Frank” when she found out about the project.

“When I started this unit I gave them a form asking them to tell me what they knew of the Holocaust. What do you know of Anne Frank?” Shrum said.

She told them of the recent events at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that turned violent and reminded them that “we still need to be on guard.”

The garden at North Fork is also in memory of Penina Weisz Bowman of Atlanta and the 42 members of her family who died in death camps during World War II. Bowman died March 30, on the day of her 71st wedding anniversary and the first day of Passover.

Shrum is helping Bowman’s family develop a 200-page manuscript Bowman wrote in 1975.  She shared Bowman’s story with her class.

On May 3, 1944, at just 17 years old, Bowman, her parents and siblings were forced from their home in Cluj, Romania, into concentration camps. They were sent to the Auschwitz camp in Poland, and her father and brother would later end up in Dachau, Germany.

Bowman went into shock, Shrum said, refusing to eat the food, which was not kosher, given to the prisoners.

Bowman’s sister forced a piece of sausage into her mouth. Bowman spat it out and asked her sister how could she force food on her that was not kosher, a term applied to food that follows the dietary and ceremonial customs of Judaism.

It was another family member, an aunt, who asked Bowman whether it was a greater sin to God to eat food that was not appropriate for someone of the Jewish faith or to die. Bowman began to eat again.

Bowman’s mother did not survive long in Auschwitz. Her father would later die in Dachau, a few months before it was liberated.

“She survived because the three sisters stayed together,” Shrum said.

After six months in Auschwitz, the three sisters were taken to Mahrisch-Weisswasser in the present-day Czech Republic. There they were forced to work for Telefunken, a German electrical company that made walkie-talkies, radars and more. Bowman soldered wires into telephones and radios.

After six months at the factory, the war ended, and the Holocaust survivors were liberated.

Bowman was in a displaced persons camp in Salzburg, Austria, when she met Harold Bowman, the man who would become her husband. Bowman visited the camp because he wanted to practice speaking Hebrew.

They fell in love and were married in 1947.

Shrum’s students wrote letters to the Bowmans’ three children, and also painted 42 river rocks to edge the daffodil garden.

Shrum said that all of the students were engaged in hearing the stories of Anne Frank and Bowman. One student, Lydia Foosnes, was especially interested and had many questions and a desire to learn more.  The fact that Frank and Bowman were young when they forced into the camps made the situation more real to Lydia, she said..

“It did. It’s so sad she (Anne Frank) survived so long and died of typhus with two weeks left (before the camp was liberated). Anne always had hope,” Lydia said. “Penina’s story is similar.”

Lydia is reading Bowman’s manuscript and said it was hard because she was able to visualize herself in Bowman’s shoes.

“It’s important we learn about past history,” Lydia said. “I want people to understand what happened in (the) past so you can correct it in the future.”