Nine years after launching a school-based project to collect 11 million canceled stamps to honor the memory of victims of the Holocaust, students at Foxborough Regional Charter School, a public charter school in a town south of Boston, surpassed their unlikely goal, a testament to their persistence and commitment to an inspiring project that has garnered attention from around the world and in local and national media. The Holocaust Stamp Project set out to collect 11 million stamps to represent the lives of 6 million Jews and 5 million other victims of intolerance who perished during the Nazi genocide.
In my October 2 article for Jewish Telegraphic Agency, I reported the latest news that on Friday, September 29, a community volunteer for the project delivered some 70,000 canceled stamps to the K-12 school, bringing the total of stamps collected to 11,011,979, according to Jamie Droste, the school’s student life adviser who oversees community service learning for the high school.
By chance, the goal-setting delivery was made on a day that a team of reporters from the NBC Boston affiliate was at the school to report about the project.
How it began
The project began nine years ago in the fifth-grade classroom of Charlotte Sheer as an outgrowth of her students reading Number the Stars, the award-winning work of historical fiction by Lois Lowry set during the Holocaust. By collecting 11 million stamps, one stamp at a time, Sheer envisioned the project as a way to make tangible the incomprehensible magnitude of the genocide.
From its modest beginnings of collecting a few thousand stamps, the Holocaust Stamp Project has transformed into an all-volunteer community service component for the school’s high school students. It has also attracted volunteers from the community who help with the time consuming process of counting and sorting the stamps.
Through the project, students learn about the importance of acceptance, tolerance and respect for diversity, according to Sheer and Droste, who has directed the project since Sheer’s retirement about five years ago.
Among the beloved volunteers was Gabe Trost, a local resident who was a child when he fled Poland with his family for the U.S in 1936. Trost died at age 92, just over one-year ago, on September 18, 2016.
Working on the project was an opportunity to remember relatives who perished during the Holocaust, he said in a 2015 interview for an earlier article I wrote about the project.
“I feel this is a worthwhile project,” Trost said. “You don’t want the world to forget. The students are helping to keep the memory alive.”
The project has caught the attention and respect from individuals and organizations the world over. Their stats are impressive:
- Stamps have arrived from 47 states and 22 countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel and Ireland.
Some are sent a few at a time, including from Holocaust survivors or their family members and others have been donated in batches of thousands; a few collectors have contributed rare stamps.
Stamps transformed into memorable collages
As part of the project, students are transforming thousands of the stamps into meticulously crafted colorful collages whose intricate designs reflect a Holocaust-related theme.
Thirteen have been completed so far, with a goal to complete 18 collages, according to Droste. The collages have been displayed for the community during Holocaust Remembrance programs.
In the spotlight
The project was recognized during Holocaust Remembrance ceremonies last spring with an award by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. The ceremony took place at Fanueil Hall, Boston’s historic site on the city’s Freedom Trail, steps from the New England Holocaust Memorial. In its statement, as reported by Matt Lebovic for Times of Israel, the JCRC said,
“For eight years, the Holocaust Stamps Project has served as a springboard for using world history to teach tolerance, acceptance, and respect for differences. Charlotte Sheer and Jamie Droste have opened the minds and hearts of students, teachers and community members, inspiring colleagues to bring their teachings into their own classrooms.”
Droste and Sheer are actively seeking to find a permanent home for the collection, where the collages and collection can be properly stored and displayed.