New Paltz High School (NPHS) students in Grades 9 and 10 English classes spent an entire day reading and learning from the book Night by Elie Wiesel, a narrative account of the author’s experience in the Holocaust. During the meaningful all-day assembly called “Night in a Day” – held annually in remembrance of the Holocaust events – students and staff members read passages and poignant vignettes from the book, interspersed with videos and speeches. In between the day’s readings and presentations, they stood somberly taking turns to read aloud the names of children killed during the Holocaust, pausing in silence for reflection.
NPHS librarian Joanna Arkans, who helped organize the event, explained that one of the goals of the English Department is to share the experience of hearing a survivor’s story. “This allows us to carry on the memory of those lost, as well as to make connections to events of today,” Arkans said. “We look at current Holocaust denial movements and explore the importance of learning history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Though the Night in a Day program originated at Highland High School, it has taken on a life of its own within the past decade at NPHS. In addition to reading the book, students were given a printed glossary of definitions of terms, concepts, locations, people and Jewish holidays that are mentioned in the book. Students were asked to record evocative words and passages and reflect on what ideas they found striking, sad, inspirational or even unfathomable. They were also encouraged to contemplate the concept of hope as a choice.
Grade 9 student Angie Pinto of New Paltz said that she felt there were a lot of powerful moments and words that stood out to her in the book. “I want to remember that Elie ended up with hope and wrote this book because of it. He was in a terrible situation and persevered.”
“I liked the book a lot; I think it’s a really important read to better understand the experience of an average person in the Holocaust, instead of just knowing what happened. It’s a lot more personal,” said Oscar Vandermer, who is in Grade 10. His fellow classmate concurred. “Another powerful aspect of it was the encouragement between the father and Elie: how consistently they keep each other alive with their words and their determination to live,” said Grade 10 student Gabriel Cook, adding how he found that will to be memorable.