Q and A: Jill Rembrandt and Kim Klett on Teaching Liberation and Using Lesson 8: Survivors and Liberators
About The Author
Jill Rembrandt and Kim Klett
Jill Rembrandt (left) is the Associate Project Director for Echoes and Reflections in the Midwest. She develops and oversees trainings and implements marketing initiatives for middle and high school educators. She was formerly the Associate Project Director at the Anti-Defamation League in the Cleveland Regional Office and has also served as the Director of Education and Public Programs at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Jill has a BA from The Ohio State University and studied Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University. She is on the Board of the Ohio Council on Genocide and Holocaust Education.
Kim Klett (right) has taught English at Dobson High School since 1991. She teaches A.P. English Literature and Holocaust Literature, a semester-long course she developed in 1999. She also sponsors A World of Difference and Dobson's No Place for Hate Coalition. Kim is a member of the Regional Education Corps at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was a Mandel Fellow with USHMM in 2003. She became a Carl Wilkens Fellow in 2010 and continues to work in the anti-genocide movement. She volunteers for the East Valley JCC and the Welcome to America Project, and is on the board of directors for the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors' Association.
How does one talk about liberation and the end of the Holocaust with students? Jill Rembrandt, Associate Project Director for Echoes and Reflections at the Anti-Defamation League, facilitates professional development programs for educators and Kim Klett, a 12th grade English teacher in Mesa, Arizona, teaches an English elective called Holocaust Literature. Kim uses Lesson 8: Survivors and Liberators in her classroom.
In this Q and A, Jill and Kim share their ten years of experience incorporating the topic of liberation into training programs and classroom instruction. They explain the ways they utilize resources in the Teacher’s Resource Guide to facilitate meaningful and engaging conversation with students.
Q. Jill, how do you introduce the topic of liberation to educators?
A. In my training programs, particularly when thinking through Lesson 8: Survivors and Liberators, I model teaching with testimony. I like to highlight the testimony from Anton Mason. He was in the same barrack as Elie Wiesel, and when Anton described the experience of being liberated he said, “We are free, but how will we live our lives without our families?”
This is a poignant moment that makes the complexity and mixed emotions of survivors apparent. In my training programs, I open up the conversation for discussion and we explore liberation and all its complexity together as if we were in a classroom. We ask tough questions, consider the obstacles that survivors’ faced and think about this time period from many angles.
Exploring this with educators and thinking through how they can bring this topic to their students helps us to understand the lasting impact of the Holocaust and what it really meant to have survived.
Q. Kim, how do you prepare to teach students about liberation and survival? Can you share some best practices for getting comfortable with the material?
A. Echoes and Reflections is great because it condenses a lot of material for you and makes it accessible in one place. I recommend finding out what you don’t know, thinking about what you need to know, and then using Echoes and Reflections, along with additional resources to fill in details and guide you. Look for the background and timeframe of what you’re teaching. Start small and then branch out from there.
Q. Kim, how do you talk about liberation and the end of the Holocaust with your students?
A. In my class we actually start with Darfur. I bring in present day examples so that students are aware that genocide is still happening. We learn the history of antisemitism, using components of Echoes and Reflections Lesson 2, and build a timeline on the wall to visualize the history.
Throughout my class we go from one book to another and I provide context along the way. The Sunflower, for example, deals with people’s feelings after liberation and the question of forgiveness. Should I forgive, can I forgive? I help students think about that and share photos from Echoes and Reflections that guide our discussions. I particularly like including the pictures from Lesson 8 of families, children in school, and eating with their parents, that show life continuing and the process of rebuilding beginning.
I find that liberation is also a really good time to talk about the role of the US in the Holocaust. I show my students Paul Parks’ testimony and we talk about the effect that liberating camps had on the young men in the armed forces. My students in ROTC are humbled to learn that for survivors, the soldiers were heroes. It is important for the students in my class who will be enlisting to see the positive role that the military can play and has played historically.
In addition, the testimonies and IWitness activities in Lesson 8: “New Beginnings- Journey to America” and “Information Quest: Howard Quick,” highlight survivors talking about the pride they feel in being American and the experience of being an immigrant. My immigrant students relate to these stories and feel connected to the sense of pride in being a part of this country.
Q. Jill, what is important for educators to remember when helping students think through the complexity that marked the end of the war?
A. Teachers have a chance to encourage students to dig into the psychological questions that come up for all the people involved in liberation and consider how people were able to move on and rebuild their lives.
Remembering that we facilitate the questioning and encourage the exploration is important in talking about the end of the war. I find “A Liberators Letter Home,” to be a particularly helpful tool in introducing this discussion. It is always interesting to encourage both educators and students to think about the mental place survivors and liberators would have been in at this stage.
Q. Kim, what kinds of responses do you get from your students after they engage with this material? What kind of impact does it have on them?
A. I would say that for a lot of them our unit on liberation makes them proud of their country. For others, it motivates them to emulate the soldiers, to do the right thing, and try to help people in need. It is inspirational for sure, and for the students it’s an eye opener. I want them to realize that genocide and the Holocaust is much more complex than people remember or think.