It seems such a simple thing, a young girl visiting a museum
with her family during a trip. But for Gertie Harris, that visit
proved to her how one person can make a difference.
During a visit for the 2008 summer Olympics, Gertie, 13, of
Winnetka, visited a Shanghai, China, museum where she encountered
the story of Dr. Ho Feng Shan, who is credited with saving
thousands of Jewish people by issuing them visas into China during
So struck by his story, Gertie says she decided to turn her bat
mitzvah into a research project on Ho.
But when visiting the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education
Center soon after its opening last spring, she noticed Ho's name
missing from the museum's "Fountain of the Righteous" listing
heroes who saved Jewish lives. Gertie wanted to know why.
As a result of her efforts, Ho's name was added to the fountain in
November-with Gertie there to watch.
"I feel really honored to have his name put up," says Gertie, the
oldest of Jason Harris' and Loren Deutsch's four children.
"Somebody can really make a difference like he did in a lot of
other people's lives. Just an ordinary person can do this if they
just put their heart to it."
What activities do you do?: Dance, play soccer
and play the violin. She says she "definitely" likes to hang out
with friends and go shopping in downtown Chicago. A student at
Washburn Junior High in Winnetka, she says her friends would
describe her as someone who gets excited about things easily and
likes to have fun.
The biggest lesson from this: "If you just put
your mind to it, you can do it. Big things happen to small people
Do you see yourself as a hero?: "Doing things
like this is what makes the world a better place. If everybody was
doing service things and helping out around the community, we'd
have a different world."
What do you envision yourself doing next?: Gertie
says she's proud of what she accomplished for Ho. "I didn't think a
small opportunity could be such a big thing." She says she
definitely wants to stay in touch with the Illinois Holocaust
Museum. "I don't know what's next."
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