“I want to help my students understand the reality of the Holocaust and the power they possess to change their lives and their communities. I want to help provide them with metaphors for hope.” Amy Laitinen

Amy Laitinen is a ninth grade English and Creative Writing Teacher at Gwinn High School. Every spring students from her classes participate in a Fine Arts Festival where they share music selections, visual art, poetry, and One-Act Plays. The acting, lighting, costuming and directing are completely student orchestrated. After attending the 2009 Holocaust Educators Network Summer Seminar in New York City, Amy plans to collaborate with Heather Hollands, who attended the 2007 Summer Seminar, and other Gwinn teachers to engage students in cross-curricular lessons about prejudice, genocide, bullying and bearing witness to present at the Festival. Amy and Heather are committed to getting students involved in a service learning project to fundraise money to bring a Holocaust survivor to the school. More on the Holocaust at: www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/events/394) Read her Holocaust poetry below.


Amy currently serves as Youth Programs and Continuity Liaison along with Heather Hollands. They presented a workshop for the UPWP on digital storytelling and created a poetry writing contest for Upper Peninsula high school students by obtaining NWP Rural Sites Mini-Grants. An Upper Peninsula student was selected to represent the UPWP at a reading with U.S. Poet Laureate, Ted Koosler, at the Library of Congress along with Heather Hollands. She also was instrumental in organizing a Youth Writing Marathon on NMU’s campus for high school students. The UPWP hopes events of this nature will one day lead to a summer Youth Writing Camp. This October you’ll find Amy organizing the fifth annual Fall Writing Marathon, a wonderful day of food, fellowship, and writing, of course!


Wife and daughter of a military veteran, Amy was honored as Michigan’s 2006 Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year. Amy’s interests include cooking, gardening, working out, reading, writing, digital storytelling, and encouraging others to tell their stories. She won the 11th Annual Marquette Monthly Short Story Contest. Read her story at: http://www.mmnow.com/mm_archive_folder/01/0104/feature.html
Amy shares how she learned the art of storytelling in "The Things We Carry" (see Digital Storytelling tab).

by Ann Chappel

by Amy Laitinen

I am humbled entering Olga Lengyel’s townhome. It is a gilded, opulent space with butter-cream walls, damask drapes, carved moldings and inlaid glossy floors and credenzas. While I am intimidated by the unknown journey I face, I feel instantly welcomed here. I feel warm and embraced every time I hear David say, “We love our teachers.” Ultimately, Olga’s legacy is about love.
Over the course of the next two weeks we are walking, breathing verbs. We document, weep, laugh, feast, grapple, balance, connect, dream and question. Our hosts have planned our journey with careful precision and attention to detail. Though steeped in emotion, the ride has been easy to navigate because of our leader’s vision.
On our final day I realize, like the moon, I am entering a new phase of my life. I have gone through a series of changes while taking part in the Holocaust Educator’s Network Summer Seminar. I must revisit my identity box – I have new emotional artifacts to add. I am changed – I cannot be the same. From day number one Dr. Perl spoke us about themes. “One connection leads to another,” she told us and I was eager to soak up her wisdom. I have been in search of a symbol to lead me. A metaphor I could lean against and use as a lens to view the Holocaust.
Every day that I was in Olga’s home I found myself mesmerized by the glittering chandeliers in the conference room. Not just, “Wow, they’re shiny-and-pretty-drawn-in,” but deeper… I could feel something more profoundly significant about the chandeliers. My husband Mike confirmed their importance when viewing the images I had captured with his camera. As soon as he saw photos of Olga’s home he responded how the chandeliers drew in his attention.
For the past two weeks I have felt their presence as if they were 6,000,000 lenses that have helped guide us on our journey. Therefore, I offer up this poem:

Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass)
Crystal Night.
The temple explodes. A fingerprint
left on the shattered mirror, as evidence.

Encased lightening. April ice. Sparks-of-snow.
Bare feet. Chimes that gutter silver noise when
the winds-of-war rattle and rustle the frozen
branches torn from the trees.

A brooch ripped, still glittering, from
Mama’s sweater.
Sister’s jewels, a river-of-red running
down her ear.
Daddy plucked from the river, like a slim
fish – scales shimmering.
Brother’s eyes, once bright, now
moist. Echoed in every war child.

Shimmering lobes, faceted stories and
sacred places. Water frozen in time to
quench the eternal thirst.

Brittle strength, bearing radiant witness.
The glowing ember of Lady Liberty’s torch.
Illuminated diamonds
thrusting a closed flowered
fist in the face of
watery coffee, crusts of bread and meager soup.

A wreath of flickering memory, a mouthful
of sugar melting, a length of light.
The shard of mirror a tiny girl
used to bounce the sun’s rays.

Tenacious and twinkling, the vast
blackness of a salt-mine, spirit
of imagination, and a survivor’s sparkling
boyish charm. To splash across the room
like a camera flash and as humbling
as 6,000,000 tears.

The gilt of the liberator’s medals
and the glint of recognition
the moment when fear is
traded for joy.

The priceless beads of memory we
string hope through. The star in the sky
we attach ourselves to, so we can
fly away.
--Amy Laitinen: Gwinn High School Hometown: Negaunee, Michigan July 17, 2009
Read More:
Amy Laitinen Kristallnacht Still an Unforgettable Nightmare

For Gisa, Irving and Marion

I have been searching for you in thickets
of bright red poppies and blue volts of
barbed wire. Trying to touch the enameled
bracelets-of-shadow you wear on
your naked wrist. Help me cover your
emptiness with the sky like a prayer
shawl stitched of stars and light.

I desire to necklace the trees with
dances from your childhood and place
a stone from the Tigris and Euphrates
under your tongue
so you will never dream of thirst.

I have never known true hunger.
No memory of craving embedded
in my throat. No hank of want
crawling in my stomach --
though the human capacity for evil
leaves me parched
as a bullet casing.

Let us feast together on
sugar beets. I offer you gifts of
tomatoes and basil from my garden.
We will smell the soil together, count blades
of grass, and watch the day’s canopy spread
out like the belly of an aqua pearl.

I want to bang on the world with a pot
and spoon and ask the Nazis if they
were so damn smart why weren’t they
an instrument to measure and erase human
pain and suffering, instead of a vehicle
of propagation?

The mirror is cankered and you taught me
to be still and listen.
The world was silent – or maybe
so loud, nothing else could be heard.

(can we ever hear another voice over our own?)
Your stories are seeded like a bagel,
doughy with tunnels of loss in the middle.
Handed a packet of lies, the truth
was cut like the stone from the fruit.

I turn your words around in my head.
Try to tumble them smooth like
Lake Superior beach glass to cradle in my
palm and protect. I wish I could find
four perfect words to present you with,
but the best I can do is --

I’m sorry
Thank you

~Amy Laitinen: Gwinn High School Hometown: Negaunee, Michigan July 17, 2009