“Those who knew what this was all about must make way for those who know little…”

I first traveled to Poland in the summer of 2005. I had never left the United States and had no idea I’d return years later as a researcher and Fulbright scholar. The country had just joined the European Union. Cranes hung from the sky like praying mantises, new tarmac was laid in the airport, highways were expanding, and people seemed cautiously optimistic, if not hopeful. Just over a decade prior, Poland had still been under martial law implemented by the communist ruling government. Now it was the World Cup, Poland was in the semi-finals, and all over the city restaurants spilled into the streets as people gathered around giant outdoor screens. In the midst of this, our student tour walked through the winding cobblestone alleys of Krakòw, learning the history of the Kazimierz neighborhood, the former Jewish quarter of the city. Krakòw was a central city for the Nazi Party, and as such had not been razed to the ground with as much malice as its sister city, Warsaw, where over 80% of the city’s buildings sustained structural damage. Warsaw has a feeling of artifice, of new plaster and paint over old wounds. Krakòw has ghosts.

As I walked, our guide, a scholar from the Jaegallonian University read us “The End and the Beginning”, by Wislawa Symborska, Nobel prize-winning Polish poet,

“Those who knew
what this was all about
must make way for those
who know little.
And less than that.
And at last nothing less than nothing.

 Someone has to lie there
in the grass that covers up
the causes and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gawking at clouds.”

This poem hung above my desk for years, a grounding force for me in understanding and contextualizing Holocaust education and the role of conflict and memory. In it, Symborska speaks of violence and the paradox of post-conflict societies, “all the cameras have left for another war” she states. This idea of remembering and forgetting recently came up in a New York Times article, Holocaust is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds, which posits that 31 percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust. 41 percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.

As educators, what role do we play in acting as stewards of Holocaust memory? With the many constraints of time, materials, mandated testing, even language and cultural barriers, how can we bridge gaps of understanding when we teach the Holocaust? What role does memory play in understanding the events of the Holocaust?

In “Meeting a Moral Imperative, a Rationale for Teaching the Holocaust”, scholar David Lindquist writes that the primary rationale for studying the Holocaust involves the opportunity to consider the moral implications that can be drawn from examining the event. Studying the Holocaust, he argues, forces students to consider what it means to be human and humane by examining the full continuum of individual behavior, from ultimate evil to ultimate good. He argues that a moral imperative exists for the presence of Holocaust education in contemporary classrooms. Should that moral imperative extend to understanding the ability of time and distance to obscure the past?

The moral imperative for studying the Holocaust in the US and understanding the events of history is more important now than ever. America is facing its own role in triangulating the difficult geometry of past atrocities, making the vital calculus of truth and reconciliation, demarcated with the recent opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice , in Montgomery, Alabama. Bryan Stevenson, the head of Equal Justice Initiative which is spearheading the project, told The Jerusalem Post in 2016 that his design was inspired by what the ‘memory work’ monuments throughout Europe do in commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.  “Auschwitz is a place you visit. It sobers you with the horrors of the Holocaust. When you leave these places, you want to say, ‘Never again should we commit this kind of suffering and abuse.’” Stevenson aims to evoke the same feelings in Americans in the design of the first physical space dedicated to the victims of slavery, lynching, segregation and mass incarceration. The physical manifestation of suffering is educative in itself.

Echoes & Reflections structure of primary source documents becomes increasingly important in the work of bridging gaps in memory and understanding. The use of primary sources exposes students to important historical concepts and connects them directly with people in the past whose existence was impacted or extinguished by the Holocaust. Through primary resources, victims and rescuers ‘speak’ across time, using their diaries, letters, maps, and articles, to construct a view of the past not distorted, but intensified by the passage of time.

As teachers, questions of how time, distance, and desensitization impact our understanding of history are as important as the events of the past themselves. Only in exploring how we see the Holocaust, refracted through the lens of memory, can we come to understand and establish how the arc of human history changes us, calibrates our vision of the world, and weights even our most trivial and minute decisions each day.

About the Author: Melissa Mott is the Deputy Project Director for Echoes & Reflections at ADL.

“April is the Cruelest Month…,”

Wrote T.S. Eliot in “The Burial of the Dead,” the first section of The Waste Land. That line could not have been about April 19, 1943, when Jews in the Warsaw ghetto took up arms to resist Nazi soldiers who had come to deport them to concentration and extermination camps. Nor could it have been about April 7, 1994, when the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda began. The Waste Land was published in 1922. But, by some sort of irony, Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is often in April, as is the case this year. Also, the commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi begins on April 7.

On April 7, 1994, all of my wife’s relatives who lived on a hill called Kunanga, a total of 118 of four generations, were killed. Among the victims were my two aunts, Nyirabagenera and Kamamure, who were married to my wife’s cousins. What happened on that hill on that fateful day was also happening on several other hills and in several valleys across the mountainous country, and would continue to happen in the following 99 days. By July 4, when soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took control of the entire country, ending the genocide, over a million Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers had been killed. As a kid in 1959, I had seen houses go up in flames; unbeknown to me then was that the houses were torched because they belonged to Tutsis. Thirty-five years later when the genocide was carried out, I was living and teaching in Zimbabwe. Although I knew then of the many anti-Tutsi pogroms, I was not prepared for the incessant news of indiscriminate killings of Tutsis —the old, the young, the infant, and even the unborn. The news, though numbing, gave rise to a hatred for Hutus who had killed innocent beings just for who they were. They must have been monsters, I erroneously thought. You see, I had no historical references whatsoever for what was happening in Rwanda. I had not read Karl’s confession to Simon Wiesenthal, author of The Sunflower, to understand how ordinary people become perpetrators. Karl, a dying Nazi soldier, had been raised Catholic and had joined Hitler’s Youth and the SS, institutions in which he had been taught that doing what he was commissioned to do was a patriotic duty. Granted, I knew that approximately six million Jews had been killed during the Second World War, but I did not know why or how they had been killed. The Holocaust had never been part of my curriculum.

That was to change 14 years later when I had opportunities to learn about the Holocaust, which to me was an entry into learning about the genocide against the Tutsi. These opportunities included a seminar on Holocaust education at The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI) in 2008; an Echoes & Reflections seminar at Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Centerin 2011; a TOLI educational tour of Poland’s Holocaust sites and Israel’s historical sites in 2012. From these educational opportunities, I learned two fundamental lessons: one, that all genocides have histories; two, that genocide is preventable. Irving Roth, a Holocaust survivor who spoke at the 2008 TOLI Summer Seminar I attended, used the term “signposts” along the road to the Holocaust to underscore the fact that the Holocaust was not a spontaneous event: there had been the Nuremberg race laws, which codified policies of discrimination against Jews; the Kristallnacht Pogrom, when several synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed; the letter “J” on Jewish identity cards, which made it possible for Nazis to single out Jews for any nefarious purposes.

The road to the genocide against the Tutsi too, like all roads leading to genocides, had signposts. Using criteria of scientific racism, the Belgian colonial administration had noses of individuals in Rwanda measured to determine who was Hutu and who was Tutsi. Gerard Prunier in The Rwanda Crisis quotes a colonial administration document which described Tutsis as having “features [that] are very fine: a high brow, thin nose and fine lips” and as being “gifted with a vivacious intelligence”; Hutus as being “short and thick-set with a big head” and “less intelligent”; and Twas as having “a monkey-like face.” The administration also issued identity cards with Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa labels, and enacted policies that favored Tutsis and discriminated against Hutus and Twas. For example, it removed Hutu chiefs and replaced them with Tutsis. In the late 1950s, when the Tutsi elite demanded political independence from Belgium, the colonial administration switched its allegiance to the Hutu. In 1959, rumors of an attack of a prominent Hutu leader by a group of Tutsi young men sparked the first anti-Tutsi pogrom. In 1962, following Rwanda’s independence, the exclusively Hutu government continued the policy of issuing identity cards with Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa labels in order to enforce discriminatory policies against Tutsis. For example, teachers were mandated to regularly do a headcount of Tutsi students in their classes so as not to exceed the allowed quota. In her memoir, Chosen to Die, Destined to Live, Frida Gashumba wrote, “The head count of Hutus and Tutsis came to be a three-month occurrence, as the headmaster complied with the government’s directive…. Each time the Hutu children would laugh at us and goad us, and neither the headmaster nor our teacher would make any attempt to shut them up.” The Hutu government also oversaw anti-Tutsi pogroms in 1963, 1967, 1973 when all Tutsi students were expelled from the only university in the country then, and 1990.  Perhaps worst of all signposts on the road to the genocide was the dehumanization of Tutsis; they were called cockroaches, rats, and snakes, which justified their extermination.

In On Austrian Soil, one of the texts we used at the 2008 TOLI Summer Seminar, Sondra Perl wrote: “You are not responsible for the past. But I think you do have, that we all have, a responsibility to the future…. Not to turn our backs. Not to be silent [in the face of any form of social injustice].” Perl’s primary audience was educators, who have the responsibility to teach against prejudice, discrimination, and persecution—beliefs and practices that potentially lead to genocide. That ordinary people in Germany and in Rwanda became genocide perpetrators indeed speaks to the failures of institutions, such as schools, which taught or tolerated prejudice and hatred. This April month we remember the Holocaust, the genocide against the Tutsi, and other genocides to recall mistakes of the past so that they are not repeated.

About the Author: Gatsinzi Basaninyenzi, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Alabama A&M University.

 

 

The Couriers in the Resistance: Fierce, Young, and Female

If there is a single story of female resistance that amazes and intrigues me to no end, it would have to be the story of the intrepid women who served as “couriers” during the Holocaust. These Jewish women and girls traveled between isolated ghettos with nothing but forged documents and incredible moxie to protect them. They brought information and inspiration, as well as ammunition, to the Jewish underground movements trapped in the ghettos. It is safe to say that without these bold and fearless women, resistance in the ghettos might not have occurred.

The pronouncement made on New Year’s Eve 1942 gives context to this story. The pronouncement, one of the most powerful primary sources contained in Echoes & Reflections, can be found in the unit on Jewish Resistance. Abba Kovner, its author, was a young activist in the Vilna ghetto who became aware that tens of thousands of Jews had been murdered in the forest at Ponary in the fall of 1941. On New Year’s Eve 1942 Kovner stood before about 150 youth group members and called for armed resistance:

“… Hitler is plotting to annihilate all the Jews of Europe. […] [T]he only response to the enemy is resistance! Brothers! It is better to die as free fighters than to live at the mercy of murderers.”

Kovner’s proclamation represented a turning point: it was the first time anyone had posited in writing that the murder of the Jews was more than just haphazard localized incidents; that there was a plan to murder all the Jews of Europe. It was also a turning point in the response it demanded: armed resistance against the Germans.

But how could this call for resistance be spread? Jews were trapped behind the walls and fences of isolated ghettos. They were not allowed to travel by train. They were marked by the Star of David so they could be easily hunted. Their mail was censored and they were forbidden to have radios. These German policies intentionally cut off contact among Jewish communities, and they were very effective. And even if the call for resistance could somehow be disseminated, how exactly were the Jews to resist? They had no arms, no ammunition, nothing but their bare hands.

In this seemingly impossible situation, there were those who stepped into the breach. We call them the “couriers”. The couriers were generally young women and girls who belonged to youth movements and were dedicated to the cause of resisting the Germans. They braved danger and death in order to serve as the lifeline between Jewish communities throughout war-torn Eastern Europe. Disguised as non-Jews, with braided hair, peasant kerchiefs on their heads and false names, they transported information, newspapers, money, and ultimately also ammunition and weapons across borders and into ghettos. They relied on forged travel permits and sheer chutzpah to bluff their way through multiple police inspections, document checks, and border controls. They were always at risk of being unmasked, and always under the threat of death. Their task required great courage, quick wits, and nerves of steel. It was said of these women by Emmanuel Ringelblum, Jewish historian and founder of the Oneg Shabbat archives in the Warsaw ghetto,“Nothing stands in their way. Nothing deters them. […] How many times have they looked death in the eyes? How many times have they been arrested and searched? […] The story of the Jewish woman will be a glorious page in the history of Jewry during the present war.”

Why were the couriers predominantly women? The Germans imposed the death penalty on any Jew found outside the ghettos. Jewish men on the streets generated suspicion – why weren’t they at work? In addition, men could easily be identified because they were circumcised. It was much easier for women: they had no physical sign of their Jewishness.  They could stroll the streets, seemingly carefree. They were also more likely to speak the local language; many had been educated in secular schools in Polish, while their male counterparts had undergone religious instruction in Yiddish.

Vladka Meed, who appears in the Echoes & Reflections unit on The Children and Legacies Beyond the Holocaust, worked as a courier on the Aryan side of Warsaw. She smuggled weapons into the Warsaw ghetto that were later used to resist the Germans in the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which occurred 75 years ago this April. In her book, On Both Sides of the Wall, Vladka tells of having to quickly repack a carton of dynamite into smaller packages in order to pass it into the ghetto through the grate of a factory window. As she and the Polish watchman, who had been bribed, worked frantically in the dark, the watchman trembled like a leaf. When they finally finished, the watchman “stood there flushed, drenched in perspiration and unnerved. […] ‘I’ll never risk it again,’ the watchman mumbled. ‘I was scared to death.’” In addition to smuggling weapons into the ghetto, Vladka smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto, finding hiding places for them in the hopes of saving their lives.

The word “courier” does not do justice to Vladka and others like her. They were much more than messengers. They were the first to smuggle weapons into many of the Eastern European ghettos, risking their lives to do so. They brought hope, along with information, to Jews who would otherwise have been cut off from the entire world. They were incredibly brave and many died trying to fulfill their missions. They are icons of heroism, and they shatter many common stereotypes: that the Jews went to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter, and that women are less capable than men of resistance.

About the Author:  Sheryl Ochayon is the Project Director for Echoes & Reflections at Yad Vashem.

For more information, please see the following resources:

For a more in-depth discussion about Abba Kovner and resistance, view the Video Toolbox film on Jewish Resistance.

The full text of Abba Kovner’s Pronouncement is contained in Yitzhak Arad, Yisrael Gutman, Abraham Margaliot, eds., Documents on the Holocaust, Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland and the Soviet Union (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1981), p. 433.

For short films about the Oneg Shabbat archive, see The Oneg Shabbat Underground Archive In The Warsaw Ghetto and Emanuel Ringelblum.

Emmanuel Ringelblum’s full diary entry can be found in Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum, Jacob Sloan, ed. and transl., (New York: Schocken Paperback, 1974), pp. 273-274.

Vladka Meed describes her travails in Warsaw during the Holocaust in her book, On Both Sides of the Wall (Israel: The Ghetto Fighters’ House, 1973), p. 129. Her testimony can be seen on the IWitness website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIBERATORS AND SURVIVORS: THE FIRST MOMENTS

“When we walked in the gates, every so often there were one or two or three dead bodies on the ground…alongside some of the buildings were large wooden wagons…with bodies stacked like cordwood.”
– Howard Cwick, on liberating Buchenwald concentration camp, from the Survivors and Liberators unit
 

Seventy-three years ago, on January 27, 1945, the concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviet army.  While other camps were liberated by the Allies both before and after this date, it was the liberation of Auschwitz, perhaps the most potent symbol of evil in our time, that was chosen by the United Nations to be the date for an annual commemoration of the Holocaust.

In the preamble to its resolution creating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the UN General Assembly specifically chose to honor “the courage and dedication shown by the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps…”

This year, to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we at Echoes & Reflections have created a new resource which, likewise, shines a light on the liberators in those first unique moments after liberation. We are proud to unveil the latest film in our Video Toolbox: “Liberators and Survivors: The First Moments.”

“Liberators and Survivors” provides an entry point for US history teachers into the study of the Holocaust. The story of liberation is a powerful and natural bridge between the study of the military war itself, and the study of the genocide perpetrated against the Jews under the cover of that war. The film interweaves liberators’ testimonies with those of the Jewish survivors they liberated. It describes the intense emotional effect that seeing piles of lifeless bodies and half-dead survivors had on many young American soldiers, who questioned, “How can people do things like that?” It documents, with primary sources, the reaction of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who immediately understood the need for evidence to counter the distinct possibility that no one would believe the horrendous scenes of brutality the soldiers had witnessed. It discusses the compassion that many of the American liberators showed those they had liberated, attempting to provide care and suspending their military missions in order to do so. It also highlights those liberators who were moved to become a moral voice in later years, sharing their unforgettable stories and pleading that humanity learn from their experiences.

The survivors speak of the compassion shown by their liberators, and of their reaction to the American soldiers.

The film was specifically developed for use with students in the classroom. While most historical film footage of liberation contains disturbing visuals including mountains of corpses, we took great care not to include graphic visuals, making the film suitable even for middle school students. The film supports your teaching by opening with footage of WWII, and with a series of maps to illustrate the progress of the Allied armies. But it goes beyond the historical event of “liberation,” presenting the event through the personal stories of the soldiers who were eyewitnesses. It helps educators present this human story to students in order to venture out of the sphere of WWII and into the subject of the Holocaust.

Listening to the stories of the soldiers and survivors we meet in the film, and reflecting on their courage, compassion, and humanity gives real meaning to the purpose of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Join us for webinars on January 22, 2018 and January 24, 2018 where we will discuss the stories of liberators and survivors.

About the Author:  Sheryl Ochayon is the Project Director for Echoes & Reflections at Yad Vashem.

Applications Now Open! 2018 Echoes & Reflections Advanced Learning Seminars

Don’t miss out! This summer, we are excited to offer two advanced learning opportunities for experienced Echoes & Reflections educators. Consider applying for one of these international programs led by our Yad Vashem colleagues.

Advanced Learning Seminar at Yad Vashem (June 19 – 29, 2018)-This year’s applications have now been now closed. 

Educational Journey through Poland with Yad Vashem (July 14 – 20, 2018)-This year’s applications have now been now closed. 

For any questions, please contact: Sheryl Ochayon, Program Director, Echoes & Reflections, the International School for Holocaust Studies, at sheryl.ochayon@yadvashem.org.il or info@echoesandreflections.org.

About the Advanced Learning Seminar at Yad Vashem:

We invite you to apply for the 3rd Echoes & Reflections Advanced Learning Seminar at Yad Vashem! The 10-day seminar in Jerusalem, Israel will offer an opportunity for in-depth learning about the Holocaust, Echoes & Reflections materials and visual history testimony, as well as a chance to explore Israel.

This year, the seminar fortuitously dovetails with, and includes participation in, the 10th International Conference on Holocaust Education being held at Yad Vashem. Attendance at the International Conference during the final three days of the seminar will give participants the chance to hear from world-renowned international scholars, to meet educators from around the world and to attend special artistic performances arranged for conference participants.

Successful applicants are asked to commit to post-seminar work to support the reach and impact of Echoes & Reflections in the United States, with highest priority to arranging an Echoes & Reflections professional development program for teachers in their local area. Alternatively, participants may be asked to write a blog, create a lesson plan, present at a local conference, etc.

Additionally, please note that if you are selected to attend the seminar on the basis of this application, your participation will be conditional on your successful completion of a project created for the seminar by Yad Vashem, through which you will explore prewar Jewish life on the basis of Pages of Testimony from the Yad Vashem Hall of Names. You will present this project, which will be done in 5-person groups, at the seminar.

This application must be submitted by February 1, 2018. Successful applicants will be notified by March 1, 2018, and will have until May 1, 2018 to complete the project. The costs of tuition and the hotel stay for all ten days of the seminar are fully subsidized. Participants will be reimbursed up to $1000 for their airfare to Israel.

About the Educational Journey through Poland with Yad Vashem:

We invite you to apply for the 2018 Echoes & Reflections Educational Journey Through Poland with Yad Vashem! The 5-day, 6-night journey will offer an opportunity for in-depth learning about the Holocaust in the places where it occurred, highlighting Echoes & Reflections materials and visual history testimony, as well as a chance to see Poland, a cradle of Jewish history and tradition, and a major site of its near-destruction.

This is the first year that Echoes & Reflections is offering this powerful journey to 25 of its educators. The Journey will be led by Sheryl Ochayon, Yad Vashem’s Program Director for Echoes & Reflections and a seasoned guide in Poland. We will visit sites including:

Warsaw, a major center of Jewish prewar culture as well as the site of the largest ghetto in Europe and the foremost acts of both Jewish and Polish resistance during WWII;

Treblinka, the most lethal extermination camp created during the Holocaust;

Lodz, the longest-lasting of the ghettos created by the Germans, and the subject of an entire unit in Echoes & Reflections;

Krakow, where Jewish life once blossomed and is now returning, and the place where Oskar Schindler and others rescued Jews at risk to their lives; and

Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the extermination camps of the Holocaust.

The Journey will give participants a chance to collaborate with other educators about best practices in bringing their experiences to bear in the classroom, and the most effective ways to use Echoes & Reflections materials to do so. Discussions will be held every evening at the conclusion of the day’s explorations.

Successful applicants are asked to commit to post-seminar work to support the reach and impact of Echoes & Reflections in the United States, with highest priority to arranging an Echoes & Reflections professional development program for teachers in their local area. Alternatively, participants may be asked to write a blog, create a lesson plan, present at a local conference, etc.

Additionally, please note that if you are selected to participate in the Journey, your participation will be conditional on your successful completion of a project created for the Journey by Yad Vashem, through which you will explore prewar Jewish life on the basis of Pages of Testimony from the Yad Vashem Hall of Names. You will present this project during the Journey. Your participation will also be conditional upon your attendance at three Echoes & Reflections webinars of your choosing between January 1, 2018 and June 1, 2018.

This application must be submitted by February 15, 2018. Successful applicants will be notified by March 15, 2018, and will have until May 15, 2018 to complete the project. The costs of tuition, hotel stays on a full board basis for all five days and six nights of the Journey, entrance fees and ground transportation are fully subsidized. Participants will be reimbursed up to $1000 for their airfare to Poland, and must arrive in Warsaw by July 14, 2018.

Teaching about Genocide, Preserving Human Rights

International Human Rights Day, December 10, marks the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This landmark occasion happened the day after the Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. These back-to-back dates were not coincidental, and they are inherently meaningful to any educator who teaches about the past; particularly for Holocaust educators, since both of these documents have their roots in the Holocaust. In our current climate, this anniversary feels somehow extra pressing. Almost daily, we are assaulted with news of human rights violations and instances of what could be called genocide—from the Rohingya in Myanmar to the continuing violence in Syria—and it is easy to feel overwhelmed.

As educators, we have faced the challenge of teaching topics related to violations of human rights, and genocide in particular. We can easily imagine that many of you struggle with the balance between worrying about the emotional toll of the subject on your students, while also knowing the critical importance that teaching about genocide can have in the prevention of future atrocities. We know that when teaching about the Holocaust, larger questions surrounding genocide will inevitably arise in the classroom. For the past several years, the Echoes & Reflections team members have heard teachers express a need and desire for a path forward to explore this broader topic, and we are pleased and proud to be able to now provide that guidance.

The story behind our involvement with Echoes & Reflections’ new educator resource, “Teaching about Genocide,” is deeply personal. The authors of this post met as graduate students and fostered a friendship that has spanned nearly two decades and has included research trips on three continents. We have taught at the university level and led educational experiences at sites of genocidal violence. Our experiences in Rwanda and at sites of Holocaust remembrance in Europe have steeped us in a deep sense of responsibility to continue to educate about the dangers of unchecked hatred and violence. In the words of Paul Parks, an African-American WWII veteran who witnessed Dachau after liberation and played an active role in the American Civil Rights Movement, “I know what the end of bigotry looks like…from the standpoint of the bigot…I’ve seen it, and I don’t want that ever to happen again.” (To hear more from Paul, explore the Survivors and Liberators unit that features his experiences during WWII or IWitness to watch his testimony). We have seen what “the end of bigotry” looks like; we have seen the powerful effect that learning this has on students’ and we know that it is complicated, delicate work. We urgently feel the importance of supporting fellow educators as they engage in these topics with their students. Given our history, we jumped at the chance to work together on the development of a resource to help teachers approach the subject of genocide in the context of their students’ Holocaust education. Getting to work with a good friend and colleague on a topic of critical importance to your value system and to the world was a gift, yet,we weren’t sure how to begin.

So we came to you. This past spring, we conducted a nationwide survey that resulted in responses from nearly 200 teachers from 25 states plus the District of Columbia.  We asked you—the Echoes & Reflections community—what you needed. In addition to seeking introductory materials about the concept of genocide and how to frame that with students, we learned that age-appropriate, primary source-driven content, including brief videos, would be effective and welcome classroom tools.  The resulting resource uses Dr. Gregory Stanton’s model of the “Ten Stages of Genocide” to help you navigate this topic with students.  The site includes a number of resources, including more than 20 clips of audio-visual testimony from survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Armenia, Cambodia, and Rwanda, as well as brief overviews of the genocides discussed in the testimonies, and a graphic organizer to help students engage with the testimonies from survivors of genocide (for other tips on how to effectively use testimony in your instruction, explore this document).

We hope that as teachers approach International Human Rights Day, this new Echoes & Reflections resource can serve as another helpful source to continue to do the good work that you do every day—teaching about the past to build a better future.

About the Authors:  Dr. Amy Carnes is the Program Manager – Development at USC Shoah Foundation and Dr. Emily Musil Church is a Historian of Africa and Human Rights at USC Shoah Foundation.

Learning, Growth, and Making Connections in Our Fast-Paced World: Highlights from 2017 Advanced Echoes and Reflections Programs

We live in a world that moves fast. We run from one thing to the next while texting our half-formed thoughts in 140 characters or less. We are bombarded with sound bites and news headlines. At Echoes and Reflections, however, we believe that it’s critical to invest in slowing down and making time to engage in deep learning and reflection with one another. We especially believe this when it comes to learning about the Holocaust.

We can all agree that professional development for teachers is critical, and that during the school year your time is limited, which is why we are proud to offer a range of programming that is short, focused, and introduces you to the content and pedagogical skills needed to effectively teach about the Holocaust.

Beyond our webinars and half- and full-day programs, we are also responsive to those of you who want to enhance your knowledge about the Holocaust, explore new instructional strategies for the classroom, and make connections to a network of like-minded educators. This is why we sponsored two advanced programs this summer: the Echoes and Reflections Advanced Seminar at Yad Vashem and the Charlotte and Jacques Wolf Educators Conference on Echoes and Reflections held at the Anti-Defamation League.

The nearly 60 educators from across the country who participated in these two programs have worked with Echoes and Reflections in the past, are currently using the materials in their classrooms, and wanted to learn more! They dedicated their time, knowledge, and experience to join these professional learning experiences. Each of the 60 has a story to tell about participating in these programs; we have chosen to share highlights from six of them:

Building Confidence with New Teaching Tools

Luz Brito has been teaching English as a New Language (ENL) for fourteen years at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, NY. Brito attended the Charlotte and Jacques Wolf Educators Conference in both 2016 and 2017. Participation in the Wolf Conference has sparked her interest in teaching about the Holocaust and she finds the Echoes and Reflections resources to be practical and engaging for her student population of English Language Learners.

After the Wolf conference, Brito shared that she now understands the importance of teaching about the Holocaust as a human story, and has decided that survivor testimony and diary entries will be incorporated into all of her Holocaust lessons.

“Meeting and hearing from Holocaust survivors is a privilege that has inspired me even more to teach about the Holocaust. Each of their testimonies has renewed my commitment as an educator to teach my students to become responsible and caring citizens. Listening to survivors’ personal accounts of the Holocaust is a unique experience,” Brito said.

A Life Changing Experience

Nicole Barth is a US History/AP Government teacher at South Forsyth High School in Cummings, GA. One year after being introduced to Echoes and Reflections and using the resources in her classroom, Nicole Barth attended the 2017 Echoes and Reflections Advanced Seminar at Yad Vashem.

Barth journeyed to Israel with the hopes of being able to explore a country she had never seen before and learn from the best in the field. However, she claims that her experience far exceeded her original expectations, “What I got out of this trip was so much better. I made lasting friends and was able to network with other educators whom I can continue to work with and use as resources.”

Listening to survivors speak at Yad Vashem was a life-changing experience for Barth. She felt that every story was both extremely meaningful and unique. Now that Barth has had the opportunity to attend the Advanced Seminar she is invigorated to return to her classroom and share the knowledge she gained with her students.

Holocaust Educators Have Heart

Emily Bengels is an theater and French teacher at Readington Middle School in Whitehouse Station, NJ. As someone who has dedicated her life to teaching and empowering youth and has experienced firsthand acts of contemporary antisemitism in her community, Bengels believes that now more than ever she must work towards fighting hate. She strives to do this by promoting compassion, love, and understanding among her students through the lessons and teachings of the Holocaust.

Prior to attending the Advanced Seminar, Bengels had used many of the Echoes and Reflections’ lessons in the classroom. Bengels applied for the Advanced Seminar to gain more knowledge about human resilience in connection with the Holocaust. She feels that Echoes and Reflections is a model program for its emphasis on individual spiritual resistance.

“My new saying is: Holocaust educators have heart,” said Bengels in reference to her lasting impressions of the Advanced Seminar.

A Meeting of the Minds

Wendy E. Lockard is the reading specialist at St. Jerome Catholic School in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Lockard has a long history with Echoes and Reflections. She first learned about the program through the Anti-Defamation League’s “Bearing Witness” program in 2011, hosted two professional development programs that year, and participated in the Charlotte and Jacques Wolf Educators Conference on Echoes and Reflections in 2014.

Returning this year for the 10th Annual Wolf Conference, Lockard hoped to gain new tools for connecting her students to visual history testimony and “to be in the midst of those who believe, like me, that Holocaust education is a valuable subject, and who love and dedicate themselves to Holocaust studies in order to foster greater tolerance and equality among their students.” She was not disappointed.

Like Barth and Bengels, Lockard felt the impact of being around so many dedicated and passionate educators. She describes the conference as a “meeting of the minds,” sharing that “participants strive for authentic knowledge and current methodologies to further enhance their Holocaust and social justice programs already in place. Sessions are conducted in an atmosphere of professionalism and openness which, in turn, lends itself to forge lasting friendships.”

Creating Critical Thinkers and Action Takers

Tyrone Shaw is a World History and AP World History teacher at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC where he also teaches an elective course focused on Social Justice, and Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Shaw was just beginning his career in education when he first attended the Charlotte and Jacques Wolf Educators Conference in 2010 as a preservice teacher at Syracuse University. Reflecting on his experience in 2010, Tyrone shared that he learned a tremendous amount about the Holocaust and best practices for teaching about this difficult topic.

He returned this year for the 10th Annual Wolf Conference with an expectation of refreshing his pedagogy for teaching about the Holocaust and learning about new strategies from colleagues, but gained much more. The conference exceeded Shaw’s expectations and gave him a renewed sense of purpose when teaching about the Holocaust. He has been inspired to begin incorporating some of the new content he learned into his Holocaust lessons this year.

What motivates Shaw to teach about the Holocaust? “I want my students to understand what injustice looks like, and the signs that indicate it is happening so they can name it when they see it happening around them,” he said.

Time to Reflect

Jill Dragiff is a social studies teacher at Christ Church’s Academy in Jacksonville, FL. Dragiff has spent the past five years engaging with Echoes and Reflections through its online courses and webinars. After receiving an invitation to apply to the Echoes and Reflections Advanced Seminar at Yad Vashem and gain the opportunity to meet some of the experts behind this Holocaust education program, she immediately applied.

“The description of this program sounded like something I could only dream of being able to do… I hoped to meet other educators who were as passionate as I am about Holocaust education and to learn from their perspectives and experiences,” said Dragiff.

Like Shaw, Dragiff believes that by teaching the lessons of the Holocaust she can fight intolerance and foster increased levels of empathy among younger generations. Dragiff was further inspired by how the sessions consistently gave her the time to reflect on how students absorb the material, which she believes will make her teaching more effective and give her students’ a deeper connection to the Holocaust. “If we concentrate on teaching our students about the life of individuals, families, communities— their hopes and dreams as well as their life experiences —we will remember them as people and not numbers,” said Dragiff.

Slowing-Down, Learning More, Digging Deeper

Sixty educators decided to slow down, learn more, and dig deeper. They wanted to become more effective Holocaust educators and share their learning with students. They accomplished this and so much more. While we cannot offer Advanced Programs like these more than once a year, the response to these programs reminds us of the need to stay connected to the content and to one another however we can, and whenever an opportunity presents itself. Connect with Echoes and Reflections at an upcoming program.

The Choices We Make: What I Learned from Anne Frank and My English Teacher

Turning sixty-five can be a time to think back on one’s career while also considering whether it might not be time to retire and get to that mountain of books that have been gathering on the nightstand and spend more time with the grandchildren. For me, receiving my Medicare card has also been a time to reflect on the important people who have shaped my journey as an educator and as a person. There are many, of course, but two are at the heart of my story. One, Anne Frank, I met only through her Diary; the other Ms. Riley, was the English teacher who introduced me to Anne’s Diary, and who was instrumental in my becoming an educator.

Ms. Riley introduced me and my 7th grade classmates to The Diary of a Young Girl in 1964, the year that was to become known as “the year that changed America.” I remember vividly the race riots in major US cities; three Civil Rights workers being murdered in Mississippi; President Johnson declaring a “war on poverty”; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being signed into law; the US contemplating entering a war that a year later one of my brothers would be drafted to fight in; and the murder of Kitty Genovese prompting inquiries into what became known as the “bystander effect.”  All of this was taking place to the soundtrack from a new group out of England—The Beatles. In her Diary, Anne writes, “I live in a crazy time.” Looking back, I guess I could say I did too. It was with this backdrop that I read the Diary of a Young Girl and began to think about many of the questions that would follow me into adulthood.

I can’t say that I remember reading Anne’s Diary and thinking very deeply (if at all) about her being Jewish or that the terrible events that caused her to go into hiding were the result of a systematic assault against Jews. I didn’t know anything about Jews, or Judaism, or antisemitism. The Diary certainly wasn’t presented in the historical context of Nazi ideology, the Holocaust, or WWII. It was taught as a diary written by a young girl who was facing a very difficult situation and chronicling her thoughts and feelings.  This is not a criticism of Ms. Riley’s teaching; in fact, as Professor Jessica Landfried writes, “When the Diary was published in 1952, there seemed to be a response that universalized Anne into a non-Jewish person that could represent all victims of racism. However, in the 1990s Anne reemerged as a Jewish victim and became the symbol of the Holocaust” (Landfried, 2002).

I remember the classroom discussions about Anne Frank and her Diary even though they were over fifty years ago. Ms. Riley, a young teacher, sitting on the edge of her desk, encouraged us to think about difficult topics like fear, and loneliness, and fairness. Perhaps it was the times in which we were having these discussion that has made them all the more memorable; perhaps it was just the fact that middle school students are often trying to make sense of the world in which they live and have a strong, if not idealistic, sense of fairness in human relationships. The most memorable discussions were the ones that focused on those who helped the Franks and the others in hiding. Ms. Riley asked us to think about what makes a person help another even at great risk. On January 28, 1944, Anne writes, “The best example of this is our own helpers, who have managed to pull us through so far and will hopefully bring us safely to shore, because otherwise they’ll find themselves sharing the fate of those they’re trying to protect. Never have they uttered a single word about the burden we must be, never have they complained that we’re too much trouble. ..That’s something we should never forget: while others display their heroism in battle or against the Germans, our helpers prove theirs every day by their good spirits and affection.”

These discussions had a great impact on me in two ways. One, I wanted to be just like Ms. Riley and teach great pieces of literature and have students discuss complex themes and grapple with questions like the ones Anne’s Diary posed. My journey to becoming an educator began in 1964. The second is more complicated. At the end of reading The Diary of Anne Frank, Ms. Riley challenged us to ask ourselves if we would have helped Anne Frank. A sound pedagogy for teaching about the Holocaust does not ask students to imagine what they might have done, as no one can ever truly answer such a question from the comfort of the present, but this was 1964, and there was no “pedagogy for teaching about the Holocaust.” There was just a young, idealistic teacher asking soon-to-be teenagers to think about the kind of people they wanted to be. I carried that question with me throughout my life. At various stages I thought I knew the answer but then something in my life would change and I would have to admit to myself that I was back to not knowing. The most memorable was when I had my own children and realized that my answer was “No, I would not help Anne Frank if it meant putting my daughters at risk.” And then my daughters became adults and I thought, “Yes, I would help Anne Frank.” And, round and round for over 50 years I struggled with the question Ms. Riley had posed to us.

Not long ago, I came across a quote that is attributed to Anne Frank, and even though I am unable to verify she was the author, I like to believe she was. The quote, “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. First we make our choices. Then our choices make us,” helped me understand what Ms. Riley had been asking us. I believe the question she asked was not meant to be literal, but symbolic; it was an opportunity to begin to explore what it means to be a good person, a fair person, a person who takes risks, and a person who refuses to be a bystander. She was also impressing upon us that the choices we make as young people begin to guide our lives, as one good (or bad) choice leads to another and another until they have simply become who we are.

My choice to become an educator resulted in working with thousands of students and hopefully helping them love literature, to think deeply about what they were reading and the human relationships that literature helps readers explore. Working with students led me to other choices in the education field including working closely with teachers and developing curricula, including Echoes and Reflections.  My choice to keep the story of the Holocaust relevant for generations to come and to keep Anne Frank’s story alive was a choice that was borne out of a deep respect for a young girl who, in one of her last diary entries before being arrested by the Nazis, wrote, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” At every juncture of my personal and professional journey, I have made choices and over time those choices have made me.

As for teaching about the Holocaust, I have been in big cities and small towns in every region of the country. In some places teaching the history is mandated and in other places teachers are taking a risk to teach this content—some of their students are hearing that the Holocaust never happened from social media or even in their own homes. These teachers have made a choice and over time that choice has made them.

Your students live in their own “crazy time,” and are trying to make sense of their world. Let’s do all that we can to help them make brave and caring choices—choices that will eventually make them brave and caring people.

Join the conversation! We invite you to share about a teacher or book that had an impact on your life, or specifically, share what Anne Frank has meant to you.

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.

Telling the Story of the Holocaust: How Do We Get It Right?

Why do people all too often talk, or even teach, about the Holocaust in ways that trivialize it or get the facts wrong?

And, more importantly, how do we get it right?

A recent incident where students in upstate New York were asked to “argue for or against the ‘Final Solution’” illustrates just how wrong things can go. Similarly, there have been a series of inaccurate comments in the media recently, everything from Hollywood being compared to 1930s Germany to extermination camps referred to as “Holocaust Centers.”

How can we explain this?

On the one hand, the constant barrage of information, and perhaps more importantly, misinformation, does not help; and when alternative accurate sources of information are not readily available – or sought out – such misinformation may become a substitute for facts.

In schools, we see efforts such as that in New York and other locations where teachers, often with the best of intentions, seek ways to compel students to go outside their “comfort zones” to learn about this history. Almost every year we learn of teachers assigning students to take roles of “the Jews” during the Holocaust to help them develop empathy for the victims, largely resulting in upset, complaint, and distress for students, families, and the school community. While simulation-type activities may seem to be a compelling way to engage students, ultimately they trivialize the experience of the victims and can leave students with the impression that they actually know what it was like during the Holocaust.

What we can take from examples such as those described, is the complexity of both teaching, and really learning, about the Holocaust.  

On the positive side, due to media attention, we have also seen a broader awareness in the general population that Holocaust education is critical and relevant. At Echoes and Reflections – a partnership program of the Anti-Defamation League, USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem – we have worked with almost 40,000 committed educators since 2005, providing them with authentic and credible materials and resources for the classroom.  

How can this be addressed?

The truth is, the Holocaust is not easy to understand and certainly challenging to teach. Yet, teachers should not shy away from the challenge. We want them to have the confidence, knowledge, and skills to approach this teaching with commitment and courage. While there are a range of excellent educational resources and activities available to educators, which can help to provide accurate information about the Holocaust, without a sound pedagogy for teaching this complex topic, the impact will be limited and the impact will likely not last.

Recognizing this, Echoes and Reflections recently released “Pedagogical Principles for Effective Holocaust Instruction” and these principles include:

  • Define terms;
  • Provide background on the history of antisemitism;
  • Teach the human story;
  • Make the Holocaust relevant;
  • Encourage inquiry-based learning and critical thinking; and
  • Ensure a supportive learning environment.

Beyond supporting effective teaching about the Holocaust, we ALL have the opportunity to use the Holocaust’s current presence in larger community conversations and in the media as a teachable moment, and as a platform to encourage critical thinking and dialogue beyond the school walls.

What can you do?

Stay curious, and ask questions. As we are reminded of just how complex the story of the Holocaust is, we should be willing to question what we are hearing in the media or from other sources, and ask whether it makes sense. If it doesn’t, question the assumptions or misinformation, and seek out accurate and reliable sources of facts.

Keep talking. Engage family, friends, neighbors, and when appropriate, policymakers, in a dialogue about how you want the Holocaust to be remembered and discussed. Let’s continue to affirm the societal importance of educating and ensuring that the meaning and relevance of this watershed event in history is not lost.

Make connections. Ultimately, our goal is to reach young people to build the next generation of champions who will remember this history and tell the story. To do this we need to connect with families and caregivers and ensure that they not only understand the stories their children are hearing, but that their children’s schools are teaching about the Holocaust with proper context and sound instructional strategies.

How then do we start to get it right? We do all of the above, we stay engaged with the world, we keep talking and connecting, and in the words of Holocaust survivor Roman Kent, who was recently interviewed by Mic, we never let ourselves forget that “Ignorance is not an excuse.”

Let’s Talk about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Over the past ten years, I have had the honor of delivering Echoes and Reflections professional development programs to thousands of educators across the United States. During that time, I have seen the differences from state to state with respect to when and how the Holocaust is covered in school or district curriculum; however, my experiences have also taught me that the similarities greatly outweigh the differences. Educators care deeply about teaching the Holocaust and feel a profound responsibility to provide accurate, authentic, and sensitive instruction―instruction that honors the memory of the victims and provides an opportunity for students to think critically about what the Holocaust can teach us about the moral and ethical choices people make and the impact of those choices.

Another striking similarity is the selection of texts that teachers across the country have told me they use in their classrooms―namely, The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s Night, and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The first two titles have been part of the canon of Holocaust literature for decades, and while there are certainly cautions for how to use these texts  effectively, they are the words of those who experienced the events about which they write and show respect for the survivors and the victims. But, let’s talk about that third title.*

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas calls itself a fable―a story of two young boys who meet in a place that most readers understand to be Auschwitz but that the characters do not know as anything other than where they are at a particular moment in time. In fact, the word “Auschwitz” never appears in the text. Soon after the book was published in 2006, Boyne shared in an interview that he was well aware of the complexity of writing about a topic like the Holocaust and was therefore careful not to portray the storyline as anything other than fiction, changing certain aspects of concentration camp history in order to serve the story. Like any fable, there is no expectation that this story be factually accurate; the purpose is to convey universal “truths” and moral lessons. Boyne hoped that his fable would challenge readers―especially young readers―to think about the “fences” that divide groups of people and be inspired to work to dismantle them whenever and wherever possible.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether students are clear that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a fable when they begin reading it? This is particularly important when students have an opportunity to self-select texts for independent reading, a practice used in many language arts classrooms. Without adequate framing, students may believe that they are reading a novel based on fact, and walk away with historical inaccuracies in terms of time, place, and events that result in gross misinformation about the Holocaust in general, and Auschwitz specifically.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas can leave students thinking that being in Auschwitz wasn’t that “bad”―after all, the inmates who walk around in pajamas seem “fine,” and children move around freely and have clandestine meetings at a fence that is not electrified and even allows for crawling underneath.  Boyne’s book never reveals or even hints at the constant presence of death that permeated Auschwitz, nor the forced labor, starvation, brutal beatings, and dehumanization. The author’s portrayal of young Bruno’s innocence and naiveté about what was happening in the camp his father directed yards from his home allows the myth that those who were not directly involved can claim innocence.

One can argue that works of fiction set during the Holocaust do not present themselves as attempting to tell the history of the Holocaust; however, a topic as sensitive and tragic as the Holocaust if not presented carefully can disrespect the truth of the experience, lead students to doubt the facts of the Holocaust, or cause confusion. Often when romanticized events compete with factual information, it is the romanticized events that will be remembered. For me, this has been reinforced when adults that I have spoken to do not realize that Chelmno extermination camp had an almost zero survival rate and cite Jane Yolen’s fictional Briar Rose as their source of understanding about this camp. In lieu of historical knowledge, the romanticized story of a young female protagonist escaping from Chelmno became what readers knew (or believed they knew) about the camp. It is critical for readers of Holocaust fiction to have accurate historical knowledge so that they are not confused by the historical inaccuracies often found in fictional accounts of the Holocaust.

It is for all these reasons that at Echoes and Reflections, we do not recommend using this text in teaching. Instead, we encourage teachers to select authentic memoirs or diaries that can resonate with teenage readers while giving them accurate information about the Holocaust.

That being said, I have discussed The Boy in the Striped Pajamas with teachers who use it. They often respond that this is a book that resonates for their students; they are thrilled that students are interested in the story and express empathy toward Bruno and Shmuel. While it is true that we can never truly understand what the victims or survivors experienced or felt, Holocaust fiction can appeal to certain readers whose empathy can be aroused from efforts to imagine themselves in the plot.

In my conversations with teachers, I have asked them how they deconstruct these responses with their students. While all good teachers hope to foster empathy in their students, what exactly can students learn from stepping into the fable-like world of two young boys that leads them to think they understand what happened at Auschwitz? Why does the book engender so much empathy for Bruno?  Are students able to consider how they would have felt at the end of the book if only Shmuel had died? Does the story of Bruno and Shmuel add to their understanding of this tragic time in human history?  If Elie Wiesel’s Night honors how Jews fought for survival in Auschwitz and The Diary of Anne Frank is a testament to the human spirit, does The Boy in the Striped Pajamas honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust?  Such questioning allows students to think more deeply about the text―how and what they are feeling and for whom.  

If educators do ultimately make the choice to teach The Boy in the Striped Pajamas with students, it should be done with the greatest care and preparation. Using primary sources including visual history testimony should always be the first choice of teaching materials as they help students be clear about what happened historically and what did not and could not have happened.  In response to queries from teachers about use of the text, Echoes and Reflections recommends that students study the material in our Teacher’s Resource Guide Lesson 5: The “Final Solution.” This will allow students to raise issues and questions about the narrative based on accurate historical knowledge. An activity for helping students analyze fiction about the Holocaust is outlined in Making Connections.

Let’s have a discussion! We invite you to share your experience with this text or others: What literature do you use with students and why? How do you prepare students for reading these texts, and how do you encourage critical analysis of what they have read?

* The focus here is on the text, not the film, even though the commentary here can apply to the film as well. Depiction of the Holocaust in film is a topic that warrants its own discussion.

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.