By KATHERINE LEWIS
NaplesNews.com, Originally published April 1, 2008
The students climb the metal stairs and walk into the boxcar. Already in the morning heat, it is stifling and dark.
“I can’t imagine being in there with 100 people,” said Kent Coyne, 14. “It felt claustrophobic in there.”
Between 90 and 130 men, women and children were crushed into each boxcar, which measure 10 feet wide by 30 feet long, en route to one of the Nazis’ numerous concentration camps.
For students at the Community School of Naples, the boxcar that took those people on that terrible journey is also a classroom.
The boxcar is on loan from the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida, which is piloting a program that will bring the relic to every middle school, high school and university in Southwest Florida.
The goal is to make history come alive for the students, while reminding them of the cruelty and atrocities that can result when people don’t stand together to prevent them.
“It is something visual that is going to allow our students to understand the scope of how horrible this was. It is important to our history to ensure that this never happens again,” said Kathy Francis, associate head of the Community School of Naples.
The Community School of Naples is the first school to have the boxcar on campus. The Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida delivered the boxcar Monday and set it between the middle school and the upper school on the campus.
Students will tour the boxcar all week.
Eric Miles, who teaches modern world history, brought his students to see the boxcar Tuesday.
“This supplements the material they’re being taught in class. They can flip through a textbook, but coming out to see this helps them appreciate the gravity of it all,” he said.
Jacqueline McCormick, chairwoman of the Upper School’s history department, said it was exciting for the students to be able to see the boxcar, go inside and touch it.
“I had no idea how small they were,” she said. “When you think about putting 120 people in there, it is just unbelievable.”
McCormick said the boxcar is the culmination of a lesson on genocide that students had been learning about since February. She said students had listened to speakers from the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida and had seen the play “Miracle in Rwanda” about the genocide there.
The students also are able to view an original copy of “Mein Kempf,” which is a book written by Adolf Hitler and considered to be the Nazi Bible, that the school acquired.
The experience of getting to go inside the boxcar was intense for some students.
“It is scary bring in there,” freshman Caitlin Lavery said. “I can’t imagine what it was like to be in there with 100 other people.”
The boxcar was located by the Holocaust Museum’s president emeritus, Jack Nortman.
He and his family purchased the boxcar and brought it to Naples last year. The 10-ton freight car arrived from the Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, in May, and has been undergoing restoration ever since.
Nortman dedicated the boxcar to his parents, Morris and Rose, who spent six weeks in a boxcar like the one he restored. They survived.
Nortman said the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida is looking for underwriters to help pay to move the boxcar from school to school. To help, call (239) 263-9200 or visit www.holocaustmuseumswfl.org/make-a-donation/.