He was a tough one. He had transferred into our school district, sent by an overwhelmed mom to live with his dad and stepmom. He resisted efforts from the other kids to include him in their groups and discussions and showed disdain for his parents and their rules. He had once written in a journal he had no family, although clearly both his mom and his dad were trying their very best to keep him on a safe path.
He showed little emotion when other students were visibly moved in our reading of Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl and the related study on the Holocaust. Mostly, he appeared disinterested.
Now that we were touring a renowned Holocaust museum, he looked away as the docents explained the exhibits. Even as we stood in an actual rail car that transported Jews to Auschwitz, he assumed the stance of the bored; hands in pockets, head back.
I matched my steps to his, to ensure he didn't slip away from the group. "What do you think so far, David?" I asked him as we moved into the next gallery.
He pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders.
The docent led us to a group of pictures of Latvians about to be executed by Nazis and Latvian collaborators. This picture in particular has always pierced me deeply and we stopped in front of it.
Our docent explained, "These women from the Epstein family had been forced to strip and were about to face a firing squad. Their dead relatives and neighbors are all around them. The elderly woman in the middle was not a part of their family. The mother of the girls, Sorella (some sources call her Rosa) Epstein, second from left, saw her, pulled her over with her daughters, and they all linked arms together. They didn't want this elderly woman to die alone, so they included her in their family."
My students couldn't take their eyes off the picture as she continued.
"You can see that even though everything else had been brutally stolen from them, down to their very lives, Sorella and her daughters valued family enough to hold on to it until the end. Even in their last moments they stretched their family to include this woman, so she could die with family next to her."
The docent moved to the next set of pictures and the students followed, again with David staying behind on a bench near the picture. I moved closer and around to the side, and although he still couldn't see me, I watched him.
He stared intently at the picture. I wondered what he was thinking although I didn't have to wonder very long what he was feeling. A lone tear streaked down his cheek. He pulled the collar of his shirt over his face and wiped it quickly. He raised his head, looked at the picture again, and then turned and joined me.
We walked a few steps and I patted his back and asked, "What do you think?"
He cleared his throat as we joined the rest of the group. "Family," he said as he nodded his head. "Family."