News from Jane Addams Junior High School

  • February 24, 2018
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 Jane Addams JHS eighth-graders were riveted during an assembly this morning as they listened to award-winning author Fern Schumer Chapman share the story of her mother, 92-year-old Holocaust refugee Edith Westerfeld – and then heard from Westerfeld herself.

The presentation tied in with the students’ studies of the Holocaust in Language Arts and World War II in social studies.

Westerfeld was 12 when her parents sent her to the United States from their small village in Germany in 1938 to escape the Nazis. She traveled alone to live with an aunt and uncle, whom she had never met, on the south side of Chicago.

Chapman noted that her mother was seen as an “other” in Germany as a Jew, and then as a German in the United States. Westerfeld said she still remembers the one boy in her class who smiled at her.

“If you meet somebody new, smile at them – make them feel welcome,” Westerfeld encouraged the Addams students.

The students heard the story of Westerfeld’s emotional reunion in 2011 – after 73 years – with a friend she had met on the 10-day journey by ship to the United States. After hearing Westerfeld’s story, a group of junior high students from Naperville made it their mission to track down her friend, and Chapman showed a video clip of the reunion and of the two friends surprising the Naperville students with a visit to their school.

“It’s so cool that the kids were able to do that for her,” said Addams eighth-grader Julia.

Addams students asked Westerfeld many questions, including what it felt like when she found out what was happening in Germany, whether it was difficult to adapt to living in America, how she was treated when she arrived, and whether the discrimination she experienced in the United States felt the same as what she had experienced in Germany.

Several students stopped by to meet Westerfeld after the assembly, and Chapman stayed at Addams for the rest of the day presenting to the eighth-grade classes in smaller groups.

Other stories about the Jane Addams event: