Past and Present, Face to Face

On April 2, Colchester High School Advanced Placement US History students had the opportunity to learn about World War II through the personal stories shared by members of our greater community.

Trudy Allstadt and Dr. Richard Austin

Trudy Allstadt shared her experiences about the war, including the story of how she and her family escaped Hitler’s Kristallnacht and eventually Germany altogether. She lived in London during her teenage and early college years, and she described surviving the prolonged bombing of London. Dr. Richard Austin, a retired surgeon, served several years in the Pacific Theater as a pilot with the United States Naval Air Corps (a former portion of the United States Navy), flying bombing raids over Iwo Jima and the Japanese mainland. Dr. Austin and Ms. Allstadt spoke passionately about the level of US patriotism and the extent of support for the war and veterans during and immediately after WWII.

In 2008, Our Great War: Memoirs of World War II from the Wake Robin Community, Shelburne, Vermont was published, an incredible collection of stories from Wake Robin community members about their experiences during WWII. The stories describe veterans, Holocaust survivors, women who worked in US factories, and much more.

(You can listen to a VPR podcast featuring some of the Wake Robin residents and their stories here.)

The guest speakers captivated the students’ attention; the students asked the speakers about the impact their wartime experiences have had on them over the course of their lives, how much the public (in the US, in the military, and in Britain) knew about the Holocaust, if they ever wondered if the Allies would lose the war, their social lives during the war, and a myriad of other questions. A sampling of students’ written reflections are as follows:

It made the war and its whole legacy seem so much more real.

It helped me appreciate and connect to WWII experiences of members of my own family.

I have never heard personal stories from WWII before, and it was extremely eye opening.

Learning about WWII from the point of view of someone who experienced it is a lot different than reading from a textbook.

We’re probably the last generation to have the opportunity to hear these first-person accounts, and I honestly feel lucky to have gotten the chance to hear them! These types of things are what I enjoy most about history.

In addition to identifying other guests to share their historical experiences from different eras, CHS teacher Erin Brady envisions future projects in which students meet and interview other seniors living in our community. This concept fosters the very community engagement, collaboration, and multigenerational learning partnerships our citizens endeavor to create, as is affirmed throughout the Colchester School District Vision and Strategic Plan.

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