Vets, Holocaust Survivors Give Oral History Lesson to Fairfax County Students

Some middle school students in Virginia put away their history text books on Thursday to learn directly from the people who have lived some of the world's most historical moments.

World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors and civil rights activists visited Rocky Run Middle School in Fairfax County to sit down and talk with students.

“It’s one thing to be able to read about it, whether it’s a textbook or on the internet, and it’s certainly another thing altogether to be able to talk to the people who made that history,” said Jamie Sawatzky, a history teacher at Rocky Run Middle School.

Fifteen years ago, Sawatzky invited a veteran to share their story for his class.

Sawatzky's "iWitness to History Day" has since grown to include more than 100 people who experienced history first-hand.

“Oh I enjoy it. I enjoy it. Talking to these kids, seeing the bright kids asking bright questions and trying to come up with the right answer,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Frank Cohn, a 90-year-old WWII veteran.

Cohn said he has been speaking to the students for 12 years.

“Hopefully, they get the appreciation that war is hell and this is not something to be desired to go into. This is something to be avoided,” Cohn said.

Many students sat on the edge of their seats while listening to Cohn and others' stories.

“You get to see it not only from a facts point of view, but also an emotional point of view from the people who were actually there,” said Shelby Ale, a seventh grade student. “It’s definitely one of the best days here.”

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