I Never Met Elie Wiesel…

I felt such a sense of loss on Saturday when I heard the news of Elie Wiesel’s death. It felt so personal and profound. I never met Elie Wiesel, but I felt as if had lost someone I knew, someone I cared for, someone who, perhaps on some ridiculous level, I thought would always be here.

I have been so moved reading the tributes to him from those who knew him – as a friend, a teacher, or a speaker who forever changed their lives. I have enjoyed seeing friends and colleague post photos of their proud moments shaking his hand, looking at him so intently, listening for a word of wisdom or insight, which was no doubt plentiful.

For me, who has spent many years working in anti-bias education and now in Holocaust education, his presence was ubiquitous.  I think how often he is quoted in my circle – about the dangers of indifference, the precious gift of a life saved, about being a witness.  I recall first reading Night in college:  actually not wanting to read it, but feeling a duty to not look away, not to ignore the world that was lost and the cruelty of humanity. Now, at Echoes and Reflections, we offer a program and resources to support teachers in their teaching of Night, and we hear continuously how profound this reading is for students and what it means to teachers to teach his memoir, which can be difficult to grasp. However, they feel a sense of duty to get it right – to do him justice, to use his voice to give voice for the millions who lost theirs.

In some ways, I suppose it is all of these moments that make this loss feel so personal.  Elie Wiesel somehow managed to share the worst possible moments of his ruptured childhood with us. He brought us with him on this tortured path of trauma and loss, and the absolute worst of man’s inhumanity to man.  Yet in his survival – in his dedication to being a witness to the history, to challenging our continued indifference to hatred, racism, bigotry, and his commitment to the world – to life – he carried with him, and perhaps for all of us, a suggestion of hope for a better future.  Right now, the world feels more fractured than ever, but I say this without having lived through the Holocaust, so I know this is just one moment in time, my moment in time, to try to make a bit of difference. What will I do with it? What will we all do?

Lindsay Friedman is the Partnership Director for Echoes and Reflections. She resides in Chicago, IL.

Who is Margaret Lambert? – Teaching with Testimony and the 1936 Olympics

“It’s not like I had a natural talent for athletics… It was just plain fun.” – Margaret Lambert

Born Gretel Bergmann on April 12, 1914, Lambert achieved the German high jump record in 1931 and, as a young athlete, was committed to pursuing a career in athletics. In her 1995 interview with the USC Shoah Foundation, Lambert shared that with the Nazi rise to power, “Everything changed. People that you knew wouldn’t talk to you anymore,” and Lambert was excluded from organized sports because she was Jewish.

“Teaching with Margaret’s testimony, and sharing her story with students, adds a unique dimension and depth to learning about the Holocaust,” shares Robert Adler, a history, special education, and English teacher at Berks County Intermediate Unit in Pennsylvania. “Here is somebody who actually lived the experience,” he says, emphasizing that her unprecedented athletic career and discussion about life under the Nazi dictatorship is a powerful introduction for students to the study of the Holocaust, and the complexity of persecution, bias, and antisemitism.  

“In my classroom, we talk about Margaret’s life, how affected she was by the prejudice she faced, and the injustice of what she experienced. Margaret’s testimony brings light to the fear and trepidation people felt when the Nazis took over, people’s responses, and the way they changed their behavior. Suddenly her friends were not her friends. It is an experience that is relatable for today’s kids…”

In her testimony, Lambert explains that in an effort to continue her career she moved to the United Kingdom where, in 1934 she won the British high jump Championship with a height of 1.55 meters. However, under the pressure of an international boycott of the 1936 Olympics in protest of Germany’s treatment of Jewish athletes, the Nazi dictatorship exerted pressure on Lambert’s family and she was forced to return to Germany. In what Lambert describes as a “charade,” she was placed on the German Olympic team.

“The reason why I was put on the German Olympic team was that the Americans, the French, the English, they all wanted to boycott the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. I was the only Jewish athlete with world-class capabilities… If you can imagine what it feels like to compete in the Adolf Hitler stadium in front of only non-Jewish people who… didn’t have very nice thoughts about me. What is this Jew doing there?”

One month prior to the opening of the 1936 Olympics, Lambert tied the German high jump record of 1.6 meters when she won the Württembergian Championship. However, with the boycott movement subdued and international teams enroute to participate in the Olympic games, the Nazi regime officially struck Lambert’s accomplishment from the record books, and the German sports authorities removed her from the national team for under-performance.

Adler’s students examine the challenges Lambert faced and are able to draw connections to behavior they have witnessed in their own lives. “The Holocaust is devastating, but Lambert’s story encourages students to think critically about the way we behave toward one another and to take a hard look at what people can do, the strength of the human spirit, and to see the lessons we can learn from today.”

“We talk about how Margaret fought as best she could not to give into the pressures she experienced and I emphasize that history is ongoing and active. My students are moved by her courage and they are inspired to act on what they see happening today.”

Adler also highlights that a number of other historical themes are brought to the forefront when students learn about Lambert. “Born in 1914,” Adler explains, “Her story is one about women’s roles too. She broke the norm with her independent spirit and the way she preferred to dress in pants. She asked tough questions about why she should be relegated to a particular role. In the 1920’s and 30’s it couldn’t have been easy. She wasn’t about to let herself be typecast and that is powerful for my students.”

Margaret Lambert’s life story is one of perseverance, persistence, and strength. As a talented athlete she faced extraordinary challenges and did everything that she could to follow her dreams.

In 1937, Lambert immigrated to the United States where, determined to leave her German past behind, she Americanized her name to Margaret. That year, she won the US women’s high jump and shot put championships, and in 1938, she again won the US high jump. She resigned from her career in sports after the outbreak of World War II.

Lambert married Bruno Lambert in 1937 and had two sons, Glen and Gary. She published a book about her experiences in 2004 entitled, By Leaps and Bounds and was featured in a 2004 HBO documentary Hitler’s Pawn about her athletic career in Germany. Following her career in sports she became a physical therapist and, at the age of 102, Lambert currently lives in New York.

In recent years the German track and field association has worked to make amends. In 1995, a sports complex in Berlin was named in Lambert’s honor. She and her husband were Germany’s guests of honor at the 1995 torch lighting at the Olympics in Atlanta. And, in 1999, the Laupheim stadium that Lambert had been banned from in the 1930s was officially named after her. Lambert’s 1936 German national record was officially restored in 2009.

Robert Adler has worked as an Alternative Education teacher at Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, PA since 2001.

Building on Number the Stars

In a recent article by Corey L. Harbaugh on the professional development of US teachers in the field of Holocaust education, the author notes that according to data collected for his research, “82.9% of students are introduced to, or experience [Holocaust] content during the years considered to be middle school in the United States… ” (Harbaugh, 2015, p. 381). Moreover, students in US schools are “much more likely to encounter Holocaust content in an English class than in a history class” (Ibid, p. 380).

Harbaugh’s findings appear to correlate with the long-standing popularity of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, a children’s historical fiction book focusing on the rescue of the majority of the Danish-Jewish community in the fall of 1943. Because this book is typically read in middle school, US educators who are trained in using Echoes and Reflections in their classrooms can capitalize on its popularity when students reach high school, and build upon what their students remember about the Holocaust from reading Number the Stars.

Number the Stars is a story about the friendship of two ten-year-old girls, Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen, who are living in Copenhagen, occupied by German forces during the Second World War. Rosen’s family, together with other Jewish families in Denmark, are warned that they will be deported. The Johansen’s, including their friends and family members, decide to hide Ellen and her parents as well as to actively participate in the operation to send Danish Jews to safety in Sweden.

Although this Newberry Award winning book was published over twenty-five years ago, it remains a widely read book by elementary school students across the United States. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Lowry’s book was the 82nd best-selling book of all time in the United States with sales above two million as of 2001 (the book was first published in 1989). The book continues to be purchased even after multiple editions, though this story can now be read gratis online. Moreover, students who wish to hear this book aloud (chapter by chapter) will also easily find it on YouTube.

According to Scholastic, the reading level of Number the Stars is geared for grades 4-6, yet clearly younger and older students are reading the book as well. According to Harbaugh, almost fifty percent of respondents in his study indicated that, “They asked students to produce a personal paper as an end-of-unit assessment strategy” (Harbaugh, 2015, p. 387). In addition to writing book reports, some students (who are clearly in elementary schools) reading Number the Stars are also creating “book trailers” or short films that are later uploaded on School Tube (URLs) and other sites.

What does this all mean for our growing network who have been trained to use Echoes and Reflections in their respective classrooms?  Although some organizations and institutions discourage the introduction of the Holocaust in elementary schools, de facto Holocaust-related books like Number the Stars are being widely taught in English language arts. It would not be surprising therefore that teachers using the Teacher’s Resource Guide in eighth grade or in high school would encounter students who recall reading Number the Stars at an earlier age.

In light of this reality, educators in the US may choose to build upon what their students remember from Lowry’s story, such as assigning the student handout in Lesson 7, “Rescue in Denmark.” This handout may provide additional historical context for students to deepen their knowledge about this topic, connecting it with their previous encounter when reading Number the Stars in younger grades. Witness testimonies, such as that of Leslie Banos highlighted in Lesson 7: Rescue and Non-Jewish Resistance will also buttress the students’ understanding, enabling them to gain a wider context of the Holocaust. In addition, the testimony of Leslie Banos will encourage eighth graders and up to think about dilemmas that real people faced during the Holocaust period as well as the choices that witnesses made during that difficult time.

All in all, Number the Stars has become an entry point for elementary school age children to begin learning more about the Holocaust through the friendship of two young Danish girls. It is hoped that the Echoes and Reflections Teacher’s Resource Guide will help US educators create a spiral educational process so that their junior and high school students will add layers of knowledge based on their encounters via English language arts curricula in US elementary schools.

Richelle Budd Caplan has served as the Director of the European Department of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem since 2009, and has been working at Yad Vashem since 1993.

Meeting Ellis Lewin

All of the Holocaust survivors featured in Echoes and Reflections become near and dear to the hearts of facilitators. For me, Ellis Lewin’s testimony worked its way into my heart and never left.  I’m not sure if it is because he was such a young child when he was imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto and subsequently sent to Auschwitz, or if it is the way he tells his story, but, when Ellis speaks, he is transported right back to his childhood and he takes us with him. I have spent a lot of time analyzing his testimony and seeking to understand what was going on in his head at the time.

In Echoes and Reflections professional development programs, we use Ellis’s testimony to show what it was like for children when their world was turned upside down, when they were closed off from the world as they knew it, and everything changed.  As Ellis says, “It was the beginning of the end.”

When I introduce Ellis to educators, the room always becomes completely silent as he begins to speak, and it often remains silent for a few minutes afterwards. In fact, it is always me who breaks the silence.

In Lesson 5: The “Final Solution,” Ellis describes in detail what it was like when he arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. His retelling is horrifying and painfully detailed. And, it does another very important thing; it allows us to compare and contrast his account with the account of Elie Weisel, in the excerpt from Night, which is also in Lesson 5. Comparing and contrasting is essential when examining primary sources. It allows students to piece together the experience without having been there.

I live in Ohio, and although I knew that Ellis lives in Cleveland, I had no idea that he lives around the corner from me. For years, I kept saying that one day I was going to find a way to track him down and meet him. When I finally asked a friend of mine, who is also a Holocaust survivor, if he knew Ellis he said, “Sure, he is my best friend!” He gave me Ellis’s phone number.  

The first time I called and got Ellis’s voicemail, I cried. All he said was something like, “This is Ellis Lewin. I am not here. Please leave a message.” But that voice. There it was, the same voice I had been listening to for years. I will never forget the moment Ellis called me back and his name popped up on my caller ID. For a minute I was paralyzed, star struck, even. I answered and we spoke for a while. We made arrangements for him to come speak to a group of teachers.

Though Ellis knows what Echoes and Reflection is, I was never sure that he realized what an important part he plays for educators and their students as they study the Holocaust. Ellis is very proud of the testimony he gave to USC Shoah Foundation, and also of his ability to speak to students about his experience. I knew he would be so happy to see that he is helping students understand what happened and helping them think about their own responsibilities and choices in the world.

It has been such a pleasure getting to know Ellis. He is smart, funny, and incredibly charming.  He understands Holocaust education on a very deep level and grasps the pedagogy in an incredible way, particularly for a non-educator.

Family is an important part of Ellis’ life and they are invested in having his story told. They often join him when he speaks about his experiences and his daughter made a short video that they use before his talks at schools. In 2016, Ellis and his wife celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

As we move farther and farther away from the actual events of the Shoah, it becomes increasingly difficult and yet even more important to remember that the Holocaust happened in modern times, in one of the most enlightened countries in all of Europe, and to a group of people who were targets, not because of something they did or didn’t do, but because of their religion. Taking time to remember the victims of the Holocaust and to think about what the world lost is important because we need to honor their memory.

Having Ellis in my life has been such a privilege. I want him to know that the victims will never be forgotten and the survivors are not alone.

Jill Rembrandt is the Deputy Project Director for Echoes and Reflections. She resides in Cleveland, Ohio.

Human Rights and Genocide Awareness – Where Do I Begin?

Human Rights and Genocide Awareness Month offers a unique opportunity for educators to think about meaningful ways to raise complex and challenging topics with students.

In an effort to bring students, “safely in, and safely out,” seasoned Echoes and Reflections’ educators Kelly Bales and Tyrone Shaw discuss, “Where do I begin?” and share their different approaches to introducing students to the Holocaust and other genocides.

Where do I begin?

“When I speak with my students about the Holocaust and about genocide for the first time, it is hard to anticipate their reactions,” Bales shares. “Will they be shocked? Interested? Horrified? I try to start the conversation about genocide with something that is relevant and familiar to my students…”

She notes that because students are familiar with human rights as a buzzword she starts there, and challenges them to identify examples where they think human rights have been violated. “We look at recent cases of young teens in urban areas… I bring in examples from history such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Together, we begin a dialogue about what factors contribute to human rights violations, which begins a longer discussion about the way our choices and actions today are influenced by the way we understand the Holocaust and other historical human rights abuses.”

Shaw begins by asking his students to look within. “Who am I?” he asks, and challenges his students to consider, how studying the Holocaust and other genocides might inform their lives today. “My students encounter real life experiences of classism, sexism, and racism,” Shaw explains. “But, they don’t always have the tools or the language to talk about it… In my course, we develop those skills and explore the social construction of identity…” He adds that in starting with identity, his students gain a strong understanding that human rights abuses, the Holocaust, and genocide, don’t “just happen.” “They are the result of choice, prejudices, and a lot of people remaining silent.”

Resources – Deepening the Conversation

Building on the conversation about human rights, Bales introduces her students to the Holocaust and other genocides. “I rely heavily on primary and secondary sources,” Bales shares. “Echoes and Reflections is an excellent tool for any teacher in reaching students… I generally start with Lesson 2: Antisemitism. Students understand being discriminated against or targeted because of their skin color, race, or national identity… Echoes and Reflections’ primary sources help me introduce the idea of antisemitism and explain its historical origins.”

Shaw adds that building from identity, “I use the three definitions of the Holocaust that appear in Lesson 1: Studying the Holocaust.” He asks students to explain why there are different definitions and why each group might think differently about the same event. “We then do an activity where students discuss the way identity influences our perspectives on events and I use the Pyramid of Hate to explore this further.”

Bales shared that a key component of introducing students to the study of the Holocaust and other genocides is exposing them to the idea of being a bystander. She uses Echoes and Reflections Lesson 7: Rescuers and Non-Jewish Resistance and notes, “Many of my students identify with the people and their experiences that are highlighted in this lesson–the power of the individual becomes evident.”

Both Bales and Shaw utilize resources from Lesson 4: The Ghettos to support their students in understanding the context. In framing a conversation about this lesson, Shaw uses resources from this lesson in conjunction with the external resource, Iris Marion Young’s, “Five Faces of Oppression,” to explore the idea of powerlessness and the experiences of marginalized, oppressed groups. Bales’ students read Excerpts from the Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak, which she feels helps them better understand what life was like for Jewish people in Europe during the Holocaust.

Key Messages

“I try to focus on the survivors and emphasize that life did not end for the Jewish people after the Holocaust,” Bales shares, emphasizing that people’s experiences rather than the numbers and statistics are central to the study of human rights and genocide. “One action, one statement, one look, could have changed or altered people’s lives… Human interactions and human behavior are key to these historical events… What can we do as individuals to bring attention to this? What is our role as human beings? It is important to have these conversations with your students.”

Shaw adds that, “What I hope students take away is an understanding of some of the reasons the Holocaust and other genocides have taken place and continue to take place. I hope they come to understand that atrocities like these are not random or inevitable. They stem from society not acknowledging and respecting human rights.”

Kelly Bales has been teaching at Tates Creek High School, an International Baccalaureate School, for four years. She is an alumna of the 2015 Charlotte and Jacques Wolf Conference in New York. Tyrone Shaw is in his fourth year of teaching at McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C. He teaches World History I, AP World History, and an elective focused on Social Justice, the Holocaust, and Genocide Studies.

From Sympathy to Empathy – Placing the Individual at the Heart of Holocaust Education

Tabari Coleman and Esther Hurh are part of the team of Holocaust education professionals that deliver Echoes and Reflections professional development programs nationwide. As educators dedicated to fighting antisemitism and all forms of bias and preparing teachers to deliver accurate and authentic Holocaust education to today’s students, Coleman and Hurh spent two weeks in December 2015 with Echoes and Reflections at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel, studying with scholars, experts, and fellow educators. In the following writings, they reflect on their personal journeys, share their learning, and consider how to most effectively bring the experience of individuals to the center of Holocaust education in US classrooms.

Tabari Coleman – As I think back to when I first learned about the Holocaust, my memories are mainly of sympathy for all those who died. At the time, I think my teachers thought it was more important for me to be shocked by the deaths, the pictures of piles of bodies, and the enormity of six million Jews perishing during this terrible time. Not once did we consider the individual lives that were lost, or individual stories about people’s parents, children, grandparents, neighbors, or friends.

Since engaging with Echoes and Reflections, I’ve wondered how that history could have been made more relevant in my own life and the lives of our students. As I prepared to come to Jerusalem, friends and colleagues asked why I would come so far to learn about the Holocaust since I’m not Jewish.  I was reminded of how valuable it has been in my professional development to meet and hear from Holocaust survivors and how their stories have changed my perspective on this history.

The survivors’ stories are what took me from sympathy to empathy. As we relate to their stories, we see ourselves. I saw my grandparents, my family, someone I loved being mistreated for something as small as their religious identity. Each of us, whether it is because of our race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, or religion, can relate to being the “other.” We make the Holocaust relevant for students by highlighting individual stories, bringing an individual face to six million, and allowing our students to understand them not only as victims, but as human beings.

At Yad Vashem, we also examined strategies to help teachers talk about life before the Holocaust, highlighting the activities that students can relate to: going to school, laughing, playing music, and writing. Until, one day it all changed. One day their world stopped and was forever changed. By taking the time to help students understand even one or two individual stories, they have a chance to see themselves. I see that learning as even more valuable than fully understanding all the historical facts and figures. The numbers only tell us part of their stories; the photos, diary entries, poems, and other primary source materials complete the story.

Being in Jerusalem has been powerful on another level, because this sanctuary didn’t exist for the Jewish people in 1933 when most of the world turned a blind eye to their pleas for help.  Seeing a community thriving after more than half of its population was killed gives me hope.

Hate, bias, and discrimination are the building blocks to genocide. Educators have a responsibility to ensure the next generation never forgets what happens when oppression goes unchecked.

Esther Hurh In high school, the Holocaust was another set of paragraphs to read in my textbook.  It might as well have been a list of factoids written on the side of a cereal box. I came away with a basic framework about World War II, Hitler, and Nazi Germany. I knew about the murder of six million Jews, and remembered Anne Frank. Now, several decades later, I recognize that the Holocaust, and Holocaust education, is so much more than facts and figures.  

The Holocaust is, more than anything, a human story.

When looking at what happened as the Nazi anti-Jewish policy evolved into the establishment of the ghettos and, later, concentration and extermination camps, I ask myself not only about death but also about life.  How did Jews live and cope in the face of increasing dehumanization?  How was it possible that families could stay physically, emotionally, and mentally intact in the various ghettos, designed explicitly to confine, control, and weaken the prisoners?  

As I studied at Yad Vashem to enhance my work with teachers, we thought about how to help students better understand the Holocaust. What moves us, and what will be memorable for them, are the stories of people.  It begins before the Holocaust.  Learning about people’s lives prior to the war helps us appreciate the transformation and what they lost.

At Yad Vashem, we considered the importance of recognizing emotions that give meaning to these events and therefore to these people.  Visual history testimonies communicate how survivors felt about the situation in the words, the tone, and the pace of their voice, and their body language.  Margaret Lambert’s testimony helps paint a picture of life before and after 1933.

Diaries can trace the changes in people’s psyche.  Dawid Sierakowiak who lived in Lodz and died in the Lodz ghetto wrote at the start of the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939: “Long live humor; down with hysteria!”  Fast forward to April 15, 1943 in the ghetto: “I feel myself beginning to fall into melancholy.  There is really no way out of this for us.”  

We also studied inanimate objects and considered how they tell a story of how people reacted in the face of dehumanization and despair.  A series of posters found on the walls of the Vilna ghetto advertised theater productions, symphonies, and basketball games, which were attended by many.  Incredulous as it may be― to care about anything above the physiological needs― these events brought some respite in their hellish reality.  Jews made an effort to find light in the darkness, to stave off despair as much as they could.

Individualizing and therefore humanizing the story is what has connected me to this history.  As we spent this week looking more deeply into material that will enhance our Echoes and Reflections professional development programs, I couldn’t help but keep asking questions about how people lived in this upside-down world and, in the same breath, how others could participate or else let it happen.  

Students, like me, are curious about more than the numbers and facts. Helping them see the individual stories and consider the moral decisions and dilemmas Jews faced, opens up new perspectives. The Holocaust begins to resonate differently when we see people with full lives impacted in terrible ways, and understand the struggle and the choices people faced in order to survive.  Like the individual threads of a tapestry—with their various colors, textures, lengths and thicknesses― these individual and unique stories intertwine to create a larger, richer, more complicated, messy, and confusing narrative that have no pat answers but rather inspire more vexing questions. The stuff of drama. The Human Story.

Tabari Coleman is the Project Director for the A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute for the Missouri and Southern Illinois regional office of the Anti Defamation League. Esther Hurh is an education program consultant and trainer with 20 years of expertise in civil rights, diversity and inclusion, bullying prevention, and Holocaust Education. She currently resides in Chicago, IL.

Deciphering the Noise: Teaching Teens Through Holocaust Testimony

There is a lot of hate and fear to go around these days. With the recent attacks in Paris and the larger civil unrest happening across the United States, the current social climate is difficult to comprehend, even for adults. How do we recognize the face of hate and intolerance in 2015? How do we counter acts of violence that rock our foundation to its core? How do the youth of today envision countering such acts?  

The current generation of youth must navigate a complex social, economic, and political climate and they often struggle to make sense of the world around them.  Technology adds to the complexity.  We are in the midst of a technological revolution and the rapid development of digital platforms as extensions of ourselves in the 21st century.

So, the question is, how do we teach the Holocaust to today’s youth? This is an increasingly important question.  How we, as adults, educators, mentors, and authority figures, help the youth of today see the nuances of the world, while still being grounded in the history of the past, and the mark of the Holocaust in defining the 20th century. Answering that question is about identifying the personal and the political. It is about showing students a way to see the events of the Holocaust as relevant to their own lives, to a larger historical legacy that we all share and must grapple with. History never lives in a vacuum.

In our partnership with Echoes and Reflections, one of the ways that we seek to help answer these complex questions is through the integration of testimony with the teaching of the history. At USC Shoah Foundation – Institute for Visual History and Education, we see testimony as the key to critically engaging with these complex stories that allow for students to see the relevance of the past to their present. The Institute’s theory of change asserts that when students and teachers work with testimony, they will experience attitude and behavior changes that will make them more likely to contribute to civil society. Our online IWitness program provides students with the tools to explore testimony through a variety of activities that target student’s abilities to think critically, gain multi-media skills, and to deconstruct stereotypes.

A good example of the power of testimony can be seen in the IWitness activity entitled “Kristallnacht.” The activity, which was developed for use with Echoes and Reflections, illustrates a powerful example of anti-Semitism and the systemic cultural violence that marred Europe before World War II. In 1938, Germany unleashed a number of violent acts against the Jewish population across Germany and Austria known as “Kristallnacht” or the “Night of Broken Glass.” This IWitness Information Quest allows students to explore a variety of primary source material, including film footage, photographs, and survivor testimony to make sense of how this event fits within a larger Holocaust history.  

As students complete tasks associated with this activity, they are asked to create a word-cloud by the end to demonstrate a personal understanding of the historical information, including a better understanding of anti-Semitism across Europe.  Engaging with testimony from someone like H. Henry Sinason, who as an adolescent experienced violence and hatred first hand, allows students to develop empathy for others who are experiencing violence.

By learning about the specificity of the Holocaust through personalized testimony, students can begin to decipher the noise of larger social, political, and cultural events that not only paint the past, but also contribute to current positive social change relevant to their own community and peers. Through participation, we can help students make sense of this current and past landscape. And, we can provide the necessary tools for students to be engaged and to be active participants in countering hate in today’s world.

Dr. Stephen D. Smith is the Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation ‐ The Institute for Visual History and Education.

Taking Responsibility: The Value of Holocaust Education for Students

In 1994, the New Jersey Department of Education implemented a mandate that required Holocaust and genocide education for all K-12 students. The legislation was finalized shortly after New Jersey experienced an upsurge in ethnic hate speech and vandalism. Believing that there is a link between violence and ethnic and racial intolerance, the New Jersey legislature determined that teaching the Holocaust and genocide “must be made a priority” if the State’s ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity was to remain one of its strengths.

Dr. Paul B. Winkler has been an instrumental force in guiding New Jersey’s Holocaust education policy since the 1970s. With over 50 years experience as a teacher and administrator, and as the current Executive Director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, his leadership has informed the implementation of Holocaust education statewide.

Winkler shares, “I am proud that New Jersey led the way with a well-thought-out approach that will not only lead to a thorough understanding of the history of the Holocaust, but to steps that will ensure that tragedies like the Holocaust will never happen again.”

Since 2005, Winkler has worked closely with Echoes and Reflections to offer professional development opportunities to educators implementing this mandate. “Echoes and Reflections is an outstanding professional development program and that is why we have gone out of our way to recommend that schools and programs in New Jersey utilize it,” Winkler shares. “Our teachers use it because it is an incredibly good resource and provides educators excellent guidance and value.”

The Role of Educators

As a strong proponent of the impact education can have on students, Winkler shares that, in the case of the Holocaust, it is important that teachers consider more than the history, the knowledge, and the facts. “In Western society, we have always believed that education, particularly universal education, is the answer to most of the world’s problems. But, the perpetrators of the Holocaust were highly educated people with expansive knowledge. Engineers designed the crematoria; doctors prepared and implemented the experiments. How was this possible?” And, what does that mean about the role of education and the role of teachers?

Winkler suggests that Holocaust education requires educators to consider deeply the way they teach and how they choose to present information. The Holocaust is unlike other subjects in that it requires teachers to take a particularly active role in developing students’ critical thinking skills that will enable them to identify and analyze human nature and behavior.

Understanding that genocide is “a consequence of prejudice and discrimination” is central, according to Winkler. “The issues of moral dilemma and conscience have a profound impact on life.” Examining these subjects highlights the personal responsibility that each citizen bears to fight antisemitism, racism, and all forms of bigotry and hatred wherever and whenever it happens.

Taking Responsibility

According to Winkler, the Holocaust raises many questions that inform students’ behavior in the world: “What is our individual responsibility? If we see something evil, should we report it? What if reporting it would endanger your job or personal safety? What is our responsibility as a nation? Are we collectively tasked with speaking out against persecution and injustice in our communities? What about injustice in other parts of the world?”

Winkler highlights the power in asking these questions and considers the impact of this line of questioning the most important lesson for students when studying the Holocaust. As students confront these and many other difficult questions it becomes clear how individual choices have an impact on other people and one’s broader context.

The New Jersey mandate to teach Holocaust and genocide education is a strong statement about the value of teaching respect and building strong communities. It encourages a “depth of conscience” in students that ultimately highlights one’s personal responsibility to combat prejudice of any sort. With the Commission emphasizing the importance that students grasp the consequences of ignoring those who hate, Winkler feels that Holocaust education will play a central role in encouraging awareness in students.

“The Holocaust remains one of the most disturbing and horrific events of all time…” Winkler adds. “If we are to ensure that it is never repeated, we must understand how the Holocaust happened in the first place, and spend time thinking through what these lessons can teach us about our lives today.”

The late Dr. Paul B. Winkler served as the Executive Director of The Commission on Holocaust Education in New Jersey. Winkler was formally involved in Holocaust, genocide, and prejudice reduction education since 1974.

Why Teach About the Holocaust?

A new statewide initiative is being implemented in Pennsylvania that encourages educators to integrate Holocaust education into their curriculum. Act 70 provides, “Children with an understanding of the importance of the protection of human rights and the potential consequences of unchecked ignorance, discrimination and persecution.” Pennsylvania has determined that, “It is a matter of high priority that children in this Commonwealth be educated concerning the Holocaust, genocide, and other human rights violations.”

Randi Boyette, Associate Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia Regional Office, and Cynthia Murphy, Director of Curriculum, Technology, and Resources at Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit 9 (IU9), talk about Pennsylvania’s efforts to prioritize Holocaust education through Act 70.

Enacting Act 70

As a convener of the Regional Consortium of Holocaust Educators in Greater Philadelphia, and consultant on the Act 70 Implementation Committee, Boyette shares, “The Department of Education has made a strong commitment to increase Holocaust, genocide, and human rights violations education in Pennsylvania… Act 70 is the document that says, ‘We think it is important to teach about the Holocaust, this is why, and we at the Department of Education are going to help you do it.’”

Pennsylvania consulted experts from across the country in the development of Act 70. Dr. Kori Street, Director of Education at USC Shoah Foundation, joined Boyette, along with representatives from the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education, and more.

Murphy works with educators in fourteen districts in Pennsylvania and is responsible for facilitating and providing professional development for teachers and administrators. In implementing Act 70 she shares that, “As educators, we have the responsibility to teach the Holocaust in a thoughtful, purposeful, and safe way for our kids. We have that opportunity, that obligation.”

Why Teach the Holocaust?

“Holocaust education is so linked to character education, civic engagement, and the kind of people students are – or can be,” Boyette shares. “That is the power of Holocaust education. It engages students intellectually while also appealing to their hearts.”  Murphy echoes that this is best achieved when strong pedagogy is coupled with compelling material. “When our teachers have a good understanding, our students get a good understanding. It is our responsibility to make sure that they know what happened in the past, and that teachers use this material in a way that fosters empathy.”

Holocaust education presents the unique opportunity to contemplate hard questions about human nature, and challenges students to consider their own choices while learning about an important period in history.

Key Components of Comprehensive Holocaust Education

Act 70 outlines curriculum guidelines to teach the Holocaust effectively to students. “Echoes and Reflections, along with IWitness, are excellent examples of resources that meet the Act 70 guidelines in terms of its pedagogy. The Pennsylvania Department of Education sees Echoes and Reflections as a wonderful partner in offering teacher training programs,” Boyette shares.

Act 70 encourages the inclusion of the following subjects where appropriate in instruction:

  1. Discuss the breadth of the history of the Holocaust, including the Third Reich dictatorship, concentration camp system, persecution of Jews and non-Jews, Jewish and non-Jewish resistance, and Post World War II trials.
  2. Include the definition, history, response, and actions taken in the face of genocide, including the Holocaust and any other genocide perpetrated against humanity.
  3. Discussion of human rights violations, antisemitism, racism, and the abridgment of civil rights.

“I think Echoes and Reflections is going to make it easier for Pennsylvania teachers to be compliant with Act 70,” says Boyette. “It is crafted to keep the focus on the lives of the victims and not the perpetrators, and it contextualizes the history while complying with Common Core.” Resources in Lesson Components on the Echoes and Reflections website relate directly to the guidelines in Act 70.

Examining the Holocaust challenges students to consider difficult questions. “How did people stand by and watch?” Murphy asks. “Echoes and Reflections is so rich with primary sources that it makes you think and wonder about why people made the choices they made. Listening to survivor testimony and hearing their stories is really impactful to students as well as teachers. You can’t put yourself in their place but it’s a question that will challenge kids to really think. What is the level of responsibility for people who knew and how do you determine the difference between guilt and blame?”

Professional Development in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has added Holocaust education resources to their website and will be offering professional development opportunities for educators statewide.

Echoes and Reflections is hosting 18 professional development programs in Pennsylvania in October and November 2015. Teachers will learn about the requirements of Act 70 along with effective teaching strategies to help students understand what happened during the Holocaust, why it happened, and how it relates to different issues they face today.

Cynthia Murphy is the Director of Curriculum, Technology, and Resources at Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit 9 (IU9), in rural northwestern Pennsylvania. Randi Boyette is the Associate Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia Regional Office.

Teaching Night– Strategic Approaches

In recognition of the 55th anniversary of the publication of Night by Elie Wiesel, Echoes and Reflections’ Deborah Batiste, Project Director for the Anti-Defamation League, and Shani Lourie, Director of the Pedagogical Division of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, share their expert strategies for teaching this memoir.

With years of classroom teaching, educator training, and curriculum development experience, Batiste and Lourie highlight elements of the Echoes and Reflections Teacher’s Resource Guide that support students’ contextual and historical understanding of Night.

Providing Context with Echoes and Reflections Resources

“I recommend getting a sense of what students already know prior to reading Night, and use Echoes and Reflections resources to help fill in the gaps,” Batiste says. “Whenever possible the teacher can then add necessary context.”

Night, which begins in 1941, portrays a town where life was continuing much as it always had, relatively undisturbed by the Holocaust or the war, which had begun two years prior with the German invasion of Poland. “In March of 1944, when Hungary was invaded and Wiesel’s experiences began, the war was actually almost over and approximately 5 million Jews had already been murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators,” Batiste says. “Yet, when the Jews of Sighet are round up it is a shock.” Batiste recommends using the Echoes and Reflections timeline to help students understand the chronology of events. She adds that such an understanding gives deeper meaning to Wiesel’s words, “The beloved objects that we had carried with us from place to place were now left behind in the wagon and, with them, finally our illusions.”

Lourie agrees with the importance of providing context. “Early in the book Wiesel talks about Jews being targeted, being sent to the ghettos, being sent away… We have to raise the question of ‘Why? What was it like in the world at the time?” Both Batiste and Lurie highlight Echoes and Reflections Lesson 2: Antisemitism, which is designed to help teachers translate abstract ideas (e.g., antisemitism, propaganda, stereotypes, scapegoating) into active learning experiences. This context offers students the tools to create a framework for processing and organizing difficult information. In particular, the Summary of Antisemitism helps introduce a basic understanding of the context and ideology behind the Holocaust. “The memoir offers Wiesel’s account. It is also important to have a broad sense of what happened,” Lourie says.

Later in the text, Wiesel describes his experience in the spring of 1944 when his parents’ home was absorbed into the ghetto in Sighet and extended family members came to live with them. Building on the exploration of antisemitism and Nazi racial policies, Lesson 4: The Ghettos, offers educators resources to discuss the larger context of the “Ghettos in Europe” and offers a comparison with the larger ghettos in Lodz and Warsaw that were in existence for longer.

In addition, Batiste recommends utilizing Reflect and Respond to encourage student to consider the way ghettos marked the end of freedom for Jews. Integrating testimony offers additional insight. She highlights Joseph Morton who describes the experience of living in the Lodz ghetto in Poland, and shares that in the several years he spent in Lodz, he lived in a constant state of fear.

The “Final Solution” and Auschwitz

Night raises profound questions for students,” Batiste notes. “I dig deeply into Lesson 5: The “Final Solution” with educators and together we think through how it connects with Night. Teachers always have wonderful ideas about how these resources can enhance their teaching and encourage students to think in complex ways about the ideas presented.”

Lesson 5: The “Final Solution” offers historical information and personal stories from survivors of the Nazi extermination camps. An excerpt from Night and the accompanying resources in the Teacher’s Resource Guide, ask students to consider why families were forcibly separated. Testimony from survivors offer additional insight and include Ellis Lewin, who describes his arrival at Auschwitz, and Abraham Bomba, who describes his first moments in Treblinka.

“I always show the Auschwitz Album,” Batiste notes. The photographs provide a visual reference for the selection process that Wiesel describes in Night. In his book, Wiesel says, “I could not believe that human beings were being burned in our times; the world would never tolerate such crimes,” to which his father responds, “The world? The world is not interested in us…”

Lourie recommends doing a deep read of this passage and supporting students in considering how the world responded and the idea of responsibility as discussed in Lesson 9: Perpetrators, Collaborators, and Bystanders. “What made it possible for people to live?” she asks, “In 1944 what did the world know? What did the world do? I have found that art, like Thou Shall Not Kill, is helpful in deepening students learning and promotes critical thinking. Consider moral questions: What is the foundation of morals? What the artist is saying in this piece is everything is crushed. If the Holocaust crushed it, what is left?”

“The book ends when Elie sees himself in the mirror. What happens after? How does one reconstruct life?” Lourie asks. She recommends referencing Lesson 8: Survivors and Liberators and discussing returning to life and what it means to be a survivor with students. Batiste emphasizes Anton Mason’s testimony as a powerful conclusion for a lesson on Night. Also a survivor from Sighet, Mason describes the day he was liberated and that the first person he talked to was Elie Wiesel. In his testimony he says, “We are free but how will we live our lives without our families?”

Preparing to Teach Night?

Register for an Echoes and Reflections professional development program that focuses on materials and instructional strategies that prepare teachers to effectively teach Elie Wiesel’s Night. Our Night programs also provide additional background on the memoir that teachers can integrate into their instruction.

Deborah Batiste is the Echoes and Reflections Project Director at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). She resides in Ocean Pines, MD and has facilitated professional development programs for Echoes and Reflections across the United States since 2005. Shani Lourie has been at Yad Vashem since 2002 and is currently the Director of the Pedagogical Division of the International School for Holocaust Studies.