Desoto County News

Holocaust children still remembered with Unknown Child Exhibit

Remembering the 1.5 million Jewish children who died in the German Holocaust Final Solution of the Nazis during World War II remains the drive of the Unknown Child Foundation in DeSoto County. 

What started as a class project by students at Horn Lake Middle School to collect 1.5 million pennies to symbolize that youthful loss of life remains alive with what is called the Unknown Child Foundation. There is also a continued push for a memorial that would be part of the Circle G Ranch in Horn Lake, the honeymoon cottage location and ranch owned by music legend Elvis Presley and wife Priscilla Presley.  

For now, the pennies that the middle school students and others had collected remain part of an exhibit at the DeSoto County Museum in Hernando. 

Susan Powell, the teacher who with Melissa Wheeler started the Pennies Project that has led to the Unknown Child Foundation and the planned memorial.

DeSoto County News sat down with Susan Powell, one of the teachers who initially started the project and asked for an update on the project and the importance of a Holocaust exhibit in DeSoto County.

The Pennies Project started with Horn Lake Middle School teachers Powell and Melissa Wheeler during the fall of 2009-2010 to bring the topic of the Holocaust to life. Powell’s students began reading about the Holocaust and were disappointed and some angry that the Holocaust had not been taught to them before, because it was such a sad time.  

“They never knew that children had perished in the Holocaust because of their beliefs, religion, and that they are Jewish,” Powell said. “They could not even understand how it could occur.” 

Following meetings with a couple of Holocaust survivors and their families, the survivors came and spoke to the students and the thoughts of starting a project began. It was decided that pennies are something that are not valued and the children were not valued. They began collecting the 1.5 million pennies that symbolized the number of children lost in the Holocaust and also the enormity of the lives that died.  One-point-five million pennies equals $15,000.  

How to display the pennies and not just put them away began the drive to build the memorial that is to be located on the site of Circle G Ranch in Horn Lake, the ranch home and honeymoon cottage of music legend Elvis Presley and Priscilla Presley. The site was chosen because of the Presley family’s Jewish connection; his mother was Jewish.  

Architect Doug Thornton of Hernando provided his services to design the memorial. In the meantime, pennies and a statue provided by Canadian sculptor Rick Wienecke are being displayed as part of the Unknown Child Project exhibit at the DeSoto County Museum in Hernando.  

Where are we at with the Unknown Child Project and getting it finished?

Powell: “What we have done recently is to hire a marketing firm, we are at a soft launch and we will have a full launch scheduled for the beginning of the year. They’re helping us with our social media platform and with our website development, information that we are posting to our website.  We also have a letter of intent with the Circle G Ranch to build the memorial in Horn Lake on that property as soon as we have funding and with things, of course, with Circle G, and with them being ready for them to begin building.  That is our hope and what we are wanting to have for DeSoto County. We would love to have somewhere for our students to go and visitors to go to our county and see the wonderful things that we have here, and also be able to go to a place that would honor and remember the children who perished during the Holocaust. “ 

What does the Unknown Child Project exhibit at the DeSoto County Museum show?

Powell: “It tells the story of the major events of the Holocaust.  Pennies are used around the sculpture’s display, which has a child sitting at a crematorium, but he’s reaching through the door to the promised land of hope. The ground on the other side that the child reaches through has olive leaves that symbolizes healing and there is a butterfly that represents freedom.”

Why is it important to continue telling the story of the Holocaust here in DeSoto County? 

Powell: “We think it is important because we never want history to repeat itself. We want our children to know what happened and what can happen. The foundation’s mission is to empower our current and future generations to value and hold all children safe, regardless of their ethnic, social, economic or religious backgrounds, so the horrors of the past can never occur again. That is our mission and that is so important to us that these children are educated.” 

Why is it important to have the Unknown Child Project exhibit now at the DeSoto County Museum? 

Powell: “(Curator) Rob Long has been such a blessing. It is a free field trip for our students in this area or wherever. We have had students come from other states and nearby states to see our DeSoto County Museum. He has done such an excellent job in displaying the exhibits that are there. He has added materials for the Holocaust exhibit. He talks about the Goodman family who were Jewish and their move to DeSoto County and he has various artifacts there that are part of the exhibit. Although they take donations, admission is free.”

You can learn more about the Unknown Child Project by visiting the website, Unknown Child Foundation

Germantown, Tennessee High School’s GHS-TV recently did a segment on “Crosstalk,” one of its television programs, spotlighting the Unknown Child Project and the DeSoto County Museum, which is shown here.  

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