DeSoto County Exhibit Shares the Memory of the 1.5 Million Children Lost in the Holocaust
Susan Powell likely wouldn’t have been successful as a teacher in the DeSoto County School District if she was afraid of challenging her students.
At the start of the 2009-10 school year, Powell and her teaching colleague Melissa (Swartz) Wheeler issued a challenge to kids at Horn Lake Middle to collect 1.5 million pennies – one to represent the memory of every child that died in the Holocaust. With a big assist from the Memphis-Area Home Education Association (MHEA) “Generation SC” organization, that goal was met in a three-year period.
Since then, the Unknown Child Foundation, Inc. was started and now, through March 10 at the DeSoto County Museum in Hernando, the Unknown Child Holocaust Exhibit will be on display.
“We’re blessed to have a temporary spot to showcase what we’ve got thus far,” said Powell, now a Spotlight teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Olive Branch. “We were so thankful to (museum Executive Director) Brian Hicks that we’re able to be there during this time.”
Once there, patrons will be able to cast their eyes upon a specially-constructed “Pennies Wall” that contains less than two percent of the 1.5 million pennies collected by the students. Local architect Doug Thornton was commissioned to design that aspect of the exhibit.
“The feedback that I have received has been wonderful,” Powell said. “The people are suggesting it to their friends, promoting it and saying this is a wonderful opportunity that’s available for a short period of time, and it’s worth your trip to Hernando.”
Opened in September, the exhibit also features an Unknown Child sculpture by Israel sculptor Rick Wienecke. It depicts a faceless child in the ovens of Auschwitz, where most of the children died.
“The response to the exhibit at the museum has been very good,” Unknown Child Foundation board member Diane McNeil said.
“There is a man in Memphis that’s in the billboard business, and he has 10 billboards up for us that are about the exhibit. I think we’re going to get more and more visitors.”
Powell was fortunate in mid-December to accompany members of the Pleasant Hill Elementary National Honor Society to the exhibit on a field trip.
“We had a survivor (Jack Cohen) come and speak,” she said, “so that was very rewarding for them to meet a survivor and ask questions. It was very touching for the students when they watched Mr. Cohen walk and touch those pennies, and that they could see his face and the hurt when he remembers every penny represents a life.”
There are plans in the works for the exhibit to have a permanent home at the Circle G Ranch in Horn Lake, but in the meantime, McNeil is working hard to stay connected with the students that began this project.
“We’re just trying to keep tabs with them,” she said, “because we want them to walk through with their own children, and say, ‘I helped start this.’ It’s just amazing to see.”
The DeSoto County Museum is located at 111 E. Commerce Street, and open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Call (662) 429-8852.
For more details on the Unknown Child Holocaust Exhibit, visit: www.unknownchild.org.
Chris Van Tuyl is a DeSoto County resident and former newspaper journalist who enjoys the company of his wife and pets, and watching sports.