Boardman Center Middle School is honored this month to have an art display titled, "A Boy from Absa: Bill Vegh." The display serves as a time line for Vegh, who survived the Nazi concentration camps in World War II.
While the display is open to the public, it has also become part of a teaching tool for several different classes at BCMS. The art classes are studying the display from an artistic view while the English classes are looking at it from the literature standpoint. For students seeing and reading the Bill Vegh story, the impact goes far beyond a simple class study.
"It must have been a very upsetting time to be a Jew," said seventh-grader Colin Russell. "It's ridiculous that they had to be killed just for their religious beliefs."
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Center Middle School students Devin Whitaker, Anna Sherman, and Colin Russell check out the portable Holocaust display titled, 'A Boy from Absa: Bill Vegh,' which tells the tale of a survivor. The display will be at the school through Nov. 11 and is open to the public.
The display and study of the Holocaust hits home for one BCMS eighth-grader. Anna Sherman's great uncle wore the tattooed numbers of a concentration camp on his arm. With close family ties and seeing the Bill Vegh display, Sherman has been able to look at her family's history.
"I find it interesting that survivors can still talk about it," she said. "And it's interesting to know there are still people in the world today who think the Holocaust didn't happen. Where have they been?"
It was the discounting of the Holocaust and the Bill Vegh story that began the journey to the finished art piece on display at BCMS. Rochelle Miller, daughter of Vegh, said her father was in seven different concentration camps during World War II. He was a young teen when he was sent by train to the camps. After the war and at age 18, Vegh came to America to live.
"He had lost a good part of his family, but he was ready to put that all behind him," Rochelle said.
He tried to hide his horrible past as he made a life for himself and his family. Rochelle said she was age 13 before she even knew what the numbers on her father's arm meant.
"Until I was 13, I didn't know anything about the Holocaust," Miller said. "Then my father began to speak in bits and pieces [about it]."
It was at age 25 that a college professor went public with the comment that the Holocaust was made up and never really happened.
"At that moment my father knew he had to change his life a little bit," Miller said. "He began speaking about his experience to schools and churches."
Vegh became a voice for those who suffered and died in the Nazi concentration camps. He was a regular at BCMS where he told students about the Holocaust from the view of a person who had been through it. Vegh died in 2009, but his story was destined to live on. According to BCMS teacher Lori Szoke, close friend and BCMS teacher, Jess McClain wanted to construct a display in Vegh's honor and to continue his work and getting the truth out concerning the Holocaust.
The idea was to put together a portable display that could easily be moved around. The planned display would cost close to $60,000 to complete. The Jewish Community Relations Council, along with volunteer funds and donations, helped make the monetary goal and Arthur Einzig was brought in to design and assist in building it.
Einzig said the idea was to construct an artistic piece that served as a timeline in the life of Bill Vegh. The piece would include items like handwritten letters from Vegh describing his experiences.
"We also found the Nazis were very good record keepers," Vegh said. "They kept extensive paper records as well as photographs and films."
The completed display fits into a relatively small case, but when it is set up, it creates a wall-size mural. Miller said she couldn't be happier with what has been done with her father's story.
"It is truly an honor to see the exhibit," Miller said. "This exhibit will live on forever thanks to the wonderful teachers who got behind it."
With the loss of Vegh, Szoke said the plan is to have another survivor come in and speak to the students. Gerda Klein spoke about her Holocaust experiences on Wednesday. Her story has been documented in a book titled, "All but my Life". In the end, the goal is to present the Holocaust to the students so they never forget or allow such horrible acts to ever take place again.
"It's amazing and ridiculous how so many had died," said eighth-grader Devin Whitaker.
Einzig told Whitaker that to put a proper prospective on it, one can take the entire population of present-day Ohio and then kill half of them. That would be what it was like in the Holocaust and how devastating it was for those who survived it.