2019 Wwiihero

Academics, Middle School

Students Interview Survivors of World War II

Seventh grade Humanities students had the special opportunity on Thursday, March 7, to engage in deep conversations with individuals directly affected by World War II. The interviews were part of the culmination of a curriculum unit on the war.

Students split into groups and listened to the personal stories of Anita Stein and Heida Brenneke, who grew up in Germany during the war; Lillian Horita and Atsushi Kiuchi, Japanese Americans incarcerated in U.S. internment camps as children; and Denes Kalotay, who grew up in Hungary and lived through German occupation. This is the fourth year 7th grade students have interviewed survivors of WWII.

For an hour, students conversed with their guests about specific war time experiences. Students asked Denes Kalotay if he was aware of the gravity of the situation in his hometown as a child.

“War is a horrible thing, but it doesn’t mean people behave in a way you can’t read them,” said Denes. “As a kid, I sensed that. My parents were scared, and that is how I knew I should be scared.”

Atsushi Kiuchi discussed his days at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, where the perimeter was surrounded by 15-foot-high barb wire fence. He recalled having to return to the barracks at 9:00 pm, and afterwards, the search lights would be on the entire night. At the end of the discussion, he gave a plea to the students to always remember what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

“Racial prejudice, war time hysteria, and failure of the political leadership: Those are the three reasons history gives for the internment,” said Atsushi. “As long as those three things are still happening, we can’t say an interment like this will never happen again.”

Augustina H. was particularly struck by the personal stories she heard during the interviews. She mentioned listening to Heida Brenneke describe how she fled during the Allied bombing of Hamburg, despite being sick with scarlet fever and in a hospital.

“You can listen to lectures and watch videos to learn about the war, but meeting Heida and Anita let me feel from their eyes what it was like to see and live in the war,” says Augustina. “These interviews provided me a whole new perspective, and I truly learned how much it affected people’s lives.”

2019 Wwiibody