Team Preserves Stories of WWII Veterans and Holocaust Survivors

By: Mary Baumgartner, DI participant

I have been in DI for six years. During those six years, I have learned a lot about teamwork, responsibility, and how to be creative. But I never imagined how greatly the last two years would impact my life—how it would permanently change who I am and how I do things. This is the story of the S.A.V.E. team.
At the beginning of my seventh grade year, five people gathered at a table at Culver’s—a restaurant similar to McDonalds, and very popular in Wisconsin. This is where our story begins. This is where we decided to do Project Outreach for our Challenge. For the next couple of weeks, we thought of ways in which we could improve our community, but none of them really struck us until we saw an article in the paper about Wisconsin Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, and how they were bringing World War II veterans to their memorial in Washington, D.C. We decided that we needed to help these veterans to feel honored.
Someone suggested interviewing them and recording their stories. We all agreed that was a brilliant idea. One girl on our team, Bailey, is Jewish, and had her bat mitzvah coming up. She asked if we could interview Holocaust survivors, and we all agreed.
Over the course of that year, we interviewed 15 vets and 10 Holocaust survivors. Their stories were put on a four-disc DVD set and distributed to different schools and libraries. We also hosted a screening of the movie “Honor Flight” at Arrowhead High School. We ended up getting first place at our Regional Tournament, third at our Affiliate Tournament, and sixteenth at Global Finals. We also won the only Torchbearer Award in the Project Outreach Challenge. (The Torchbearer Award honors teams and/or individuals whose solutions have had extraordinary impact in and beyond their local communities.)
After the next year, which consisted of partnering with the Milwaukee Admirals Hockey Team to host a World War II Veterans Appreciation Night, interviewing more than 20 veterans and Holocaust survivors, intense planning, and organizing/attending numerous meetings and conversations, we made it to Global Finals again. We had worked so hard, and we were ecstatic that we would have another chance to tell their story.
We took a van to Knoxville. When we got there, the registration line was long enough that our Team Managers told our team to “go do something.” If you’ve been to Global Finals, you know there is no shortage of things to do there! We ended up going inside the giant human hamster balls and rolling all over the football fields. The next day, we met our buddy team from Veracruz, Mexico. It was really interesting because we learned that even though their culture is very different than ours, we could bond over so many things, from books to movies to pin trading. We did a lot with them, and had an amazing time.
During our Core Challenge, a lot of people came out to support us. It was exciting because throughout Globals week, people we didn’t even know came up to us and commented on our project. We also learned a lot about other teams’ Challenge solutions and different ways to solve them.
Our DVD set has been accepted into the U.S. National Archives and the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Our project has gone farther than we could have possibly imagined. We have DVD sets in museums from California to Washington D.C., and there are still more stories that have to be preserved. We are working on our next DVD set this summer.
My personal experience has been one of wonder. When I started this project, I didn’t know the first thing about World War II. I didn’t know what D-Day was, or how it was different from V-J Day. I didn’t know what Japan had to do with the war. I didn’t even know what countries the Allied powers and Axis powers consisted of. But the more I learned, the more I wanted to keep learning, and I found myself gobbling up information about World War II. The veterans who we interviewed were all so kind to us, and we became very close to them. One veteran even joked it was like having five more grandchildren!
I think that’s why these stories need to be preserved. Not only to make sure nothing horrific like this ever happens again, but to honor the people who saved our country. They truly are the Greatest Generation, and they need to be remembered as such.
For more information on the S.A.V.E. team’s story, visit their offical website at SaveHistory.org