An eighth-grade Loudoun County teacher is melding his family’s history with classroom technology to share a memorable civics lesson.
George Cassutto, a teacher at Harmony Middle School near Hamilton, shared the story of his parents, Holocaust survivors Ernest and Elizabeth, in a lesson taught via Skype to his students and students at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn.
Cassutto has spent much of his 33-year teaching career working to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to the next generation. He first launched online history curriculum in 1995, when he had his students create Web pages documenting what they’d learned. “That was cutting edge. Now, it’s almost like you can’t teach without it,” he said.
He’s recently broadcasted his lessons on the Holocaust to almost 100 students at a time through video conferencing.
Cassutto’s father, Ernest, and his father’s fiancée, Hetty Winkel, went into hiding in 1942 when Jews were rounded up in the Netherlands. The couple was separated in 1943 and Hetty was arrested by the Gestapo. After the war, Ernest learned Hetty had died at Auschwitz in January 1944.
Ernest hid in a series of safe houses until he was arrested in March 1944. He was the only Jew in a Rotterdam prison who survived. Someone removed the yellow Star of David—identifying Jewish prisoners—from his door the night before he was to be transferred to a concentration camp. He later chronicled the story in his book, “The Last Jew of Rotterdam.” He went on to become a Presbyterian minister, and later forgave his captors.
Cassutto’s mother’s story of survival is just as powerful. He describes it as, “Anne Frank with a happy ending.”
She was 11 years old when her family hid in an attic of an Amsterdam home. She later took on the identity of the adopted child of a teacher. She learned in 1960 that her parents had been gassed to death at Auschwitz concentration camp, and the teacher became her legal guardian.
Cassutto said he wants his students to not only know the history of the Holocaust so something like it is never repeated. But he also wants to pass on a lesson they can apply in their everyday lives.
“The big message I want them to leave with is eliminate prejudice, be accepting,” he said. He also challenged the students to stand up for justice when given the chance.
Eighth-grader Sophie Coates has learned about the Holocaust before, but she said Cassutto’s personal story particularly struck her.
“It’s an amazing story. I was really shocked to hear some of it,” she said. “When you hear about how it actually effected people, it puts things into perspective.”
Learn more about the Cassuttos at cyberlearning-world.com/memorial/dadmom1.htm.