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HOLOCAUST EDUCATION

TEACHING

UNCATEGORIZED



As we enter Genocide Awareness month in April, we offer our community an inside perspective on how to approach the important, yet challenging subject of the Holocaust in the classroom. Seasoned Echoes & Reflections teacher Lori Fulton, English 11 & Technical Reading and Writing instructor at Mattawan High School in Mattawan, MI, lends her perspective and approach to inspire students with these lessons from history to prevent future acts of hate.

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Why do you feel it is necessary to teach about the Holocaust?  

Teaching students about the Holocaust should be the responsibility of instructors in all secondary schools.  As a high school English teacher, I am amazed at how little my students know about this subject.  Sure, they know a little about Hitler and gas chambers, but they have no idea how the Versailles Treaty connects to the Nazis, most of my juniors assume all the death camps were in Germany, and none are aware of the 10 Stages leading to genocide.

More importantly, the Holocaust requires studying to prevent genocide from happening again.  We are raising a generation of students who will one day rule the world. They are subjected to the constant noise of social media, which unfortunately at times, is accompanied by hate speech.  They all have a sort of cyber-courage that makes them vulnerable to saying things online they would never say to anyone in person.  As a result, there is almost a sense of acceptance of anything online.  With that potentially comes the notion of denying the Holocaust, something that must be addressed as wrong and dangerous.

We live in a world where words breed hate, not just on the internet but from the mouths of our politicians.  We see vandals desecrating Jewish cemeteries and tagging buildings with swastikas, as well as Americans in parades wearing Nazi-like uniforms; we hear of news of a person going into a synagogue and killing innocent worshippers.    Our students see and hear all of this and need to know that hate didn't end or begin with the events of World War II.

Why should I teach the Holocaust?  If I don't, who will?  Who will provide students with the resources, the knowledge, and the ability to help them make up their own minds about that horrific time in world history? It is my duty and my desire to help students realize genocide can happen again and, as the next generation of Americans, they must do everything in their power to stop it.

What are some recommended strategies for teaching such a sensitive theme? How do you approach this important yet complex topic with your students?

We must approach the subject of the Holocaust with students in a sensitive manner to help them understand, remember, and hopefully eliminate future genocides.  This means sharing the stories of those who faced life-and-death situations simply because of who they were.  We cannot replicate their experiences through simulations, but we can learn from the experiences of others.

I start by introducing the idea of antisemitism.  From there, we study pre-war Jewry, the Treaty of Versailles, then how Hitler rose to power, steps leading to genocide, the Final Solution, resistance, liberation, and what happened to European Jews following WWII.

Furthermore, personal stories are essential ingredients in the teaching of the Holocaust. The testimonies on the Echoes & Reflection's website and USC Shoah Foundations’ IWitness powerfully say what I cannot say.

Holocaust Films, as well as literature, are also great tools to reel in my students.  Most of them are visual learners, so having new resources available to meet their learning styles is important to teach this complex subject.

I have traditionally shown Schindler’s List when teaching about the HolocaustI cannot think of a better movie for my juniors to really set the stage for deeper learning and truly connecting to the story of Schindler and the Jews he saved.  We discuss many questions that arise from the film:  Who else is considered  “Righteous Among the Nations” in the eyes of Yad Vashem--and what does that mean?  What would have happened if Schindler's ultimate objective to save Jews was discovered?  What happened to the survivors after liberation?  Would I have the courage to save someone if it meant my possible death?

Finally, I take my juniors to the Holocaust Memorial Center and Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  For some of them, they have never been much farther than the next town over.  A docent takes us through the museum to study the artifacts, as well as (again) the stories of individuals.  This comes to the penultimate point of the unit where a survivor speaks to my students about his or her experience.  This is life-changing for my students.  Many are in tears by the end of the survivor's story.

If students are emotionally drawn into this experience, I feel I've done my job.  They have seen a bigger picture of the Holocaust and genocide than they have ever seen before.  History has come alive for them, but more importantly, they have come full circle in their learning experience.  Most of my students will say the unit is the one they will never forget and graduates who return to visit express similar sentiments.

What specific resources would you especially like to highlight that support you in teaching about the Holocaust?

After spending several weeks last summer in Jerusalem as part of Echoes & Reflections Advanced Learning Seminar at Yad Vashem, I have gained deeper insight into resources that can support classroom instruction on the Holocaust. These include:

  • Echoes & Reflections’ new timeline helps show the events leading up to when the Nazis came to power, as well as what happened as a result of it.
  • Echoes & Reflections’ companion resource for Schindler's List, which includes survivor testimony, new handouts on historical context, and a series of discussion questions and writing prompts add to the unit and unpacking the film.

Nothing, however, is more important than the testimonies of survivors as far as I'm concerned.  Their recollections bring a perspective nothing else can-- not books, not films, not internet sources.  The pathos of survivors’ experiences motivates my students to keep learning. Overall, the resources available from Echoes & Reflections and their Partners help enhance my unit on the Holocaust and genocide, making it relevant and inspiring to my high school juniors.



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CLASSROOM LESSONS

TEACHING

UNCATEGORIZED



What do we, as Holocaust educators, seek to do? It’s a question with which I continuously grapple. It is impossible to deny that much of this history showcases the most devastating and bleakest views of humanity. Yet, despite this heart-breaking reality, as educators, we understand the critical importance of teaching our students the consequences of allowing antisemitism and other forms of bias and hate to pervade a society. From this realization, another equally vital question emerges: How do we best teach this history?

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The horrors of the Holocaust are undeniable, and though they must be taught, it is imperative that students are able to understand the material in a way that inspires them to engage positively with their communities to ensure that the past does not repeat. Art can act as an excellent gateway for students to effectively connect to the lessons of this history. Art raises questions seldom addressed when dealing with a historical subject. Art elevates viewpoints to a whole different level, which traditional historical approaches alone cannot inspire. While there are many types of art mediums from the Holocaust, poetry in particular is an excellent way to engage students. Poetry highlights an individual’s voice. This allows the reader to more fully empathize with the author’s experience and inspires both personal reflection and a greater understanding of the subject matter. Essentially, Holocaust poems are the whispers and cries from a dark past that we must bring to light.

A poem I often recommend educators introduce into the classroom is Five, by Hanuš Hachenberg, a Jewish boy from Prague who wrote these words in 1943 when he was 13 years old.

FIVE

This morning at seven so bright and so early

Five novels lay there, sewn up in a sack

Sewn up in a sack, like all of our lives

They lay there so silent, so silent, all five.

 

Five books that flung back the curtain of silence

Calling for freedom and not for the world

They’re somebody’s novels, somebody who loves them...

 

They call out now, they cried, they shed tears and they pleaded

That they hadn’t been finished, the pitiful five.

 

They declared to the world that the state trades in bodies,

And slowly they vanished and went out of sight

They kept their eyes open, they looked for the world

But nothing they found, they were silent, all five.

-Hanuš Hachenburg

Hanuš wrote this poem and others, for Vedem (“We Lead”) - a clandestine magazine produced by Jewish teenage boys imprisoned in the Theresienstadt Ghetto. There, amidst their crushing reality of ever-present death and disease, horrific overcrowding and hunger, living in constant fear of transports “to the east”, Hanuš and the boys of his dormitory performed an incredible act of resistance: they created. They secretly wrote stories, poems, jokes, and essays. They illustrated comics and drew fantasy drawings. They wrote bitterly about the inhumane prison they were forced to endure while trying to make sense of the hatred that had engulfed their lives.  Mourning their lost childhoods, they still dared to hope that the world they knew would one day be restored. They cautiously dreamed of a brighter future.  They remained determined to retain their human dignity in a world that had betrayed them, and their magazine was a means to that end.

Almost of all the young contributors to Vedem were murdered in Auschwitz and other death camps. Of the 7,590 children deported eastward from Theresienstadt, a mere 142 survived to be liberated. Of Hanuš, all that remains behind to show that a person of such sensitivity and brilliance ever existed are his beautiful Vedem poems and writings and a few black and white sketches. Not one photograph of this young man survives. We know almost nothing of his early life, except that it probably wasn’t a very happy one — following his parents’ divorce Hanuš spent 5 lonely years in an orphanage. The few people who remember Hanuš can only tell us that he was a frail, thin child with very dark and expressive eyes. Even in death he left nothing tangible behind. We will never have the solace of putting a memorial rock on his tombstone, running our fingers lovingly over the name engraved on its surface, sanctifying it with our tears. Auschwitz is his grave, and his poem Five is his epitaph.

For me, Hanuš lives on in his poetry, and its power to move us. His maturity, sensitivity, and brilliance are almost palpable in each line that he writes. Reading the poems of Hanuš, I am overwhelmed by a deep sense of loss. And anger. And yet, his poetry offers us a conduit to connect students to his inner world, to give voice to his fear and despair, his anger, his hope, and his dread of being forgotten. It is a towering testimony to his humanity and individuality. The imagery in Five leaves us to face difficult and important questions to address with students:

  • How could such grotesque hatred have led to these young innocent lives being cut short, like unfinished novels? How was this possible?
  • What sack are the 5 books sewn into? Is it the closed sack of the impenetrable walls of Hanuš and his friends’ prison, Theresienstadt? Or are the novels engulfed by the indifference of the world, a world that would bury them out of sight, muffling their pleas and stifling their cries?
  • And the most heartbreaking question of all: If only the five books had been completed, if only they had been allowed to reach their natural conclusion, what might have been contained in their chapters and pages? What could Hanuš and his friends have given the world? Furthermore, what could a million and a half murdered children have given the world?

I think this is at the heart of what we, as Holocaust educators, seek to do. As we accept the challenge of teaching our students this painful history we can amplify it by the use of powerful mediums such as poetry; mediums that can inspire important and meaningful reflection. As educators, we want our students to be the ones to open the sealed sack, take out the forgotten books within, read their brief unfinished chapters, vow to remember the stories, and assure the voices behind them are still heard. By adding to our teaching the personal artistry of the poet, we not only honor the memory of Hanuš, his friends, and all victims of the Holocaust, but also inspire students to reflect on and create more healthy and humane futures.

About the Author: Liz Elsby is a Holocaust Educator and Museum Guide who has worked at Yad Vashem since 2006.

Looking for additional ways to teach about the Holocaust using art and poetry? Please explore the following resources from Echoes & Reflections and our Partners:

 



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CURRENT EVENTS

SURVIVORS



As a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, who survived the tragedy on February 14, 2018, I have spent the past year grappling with this question. By definition, a survivor is a person who continues to function or prosper, in spite of opposition, hardships or setbacks. I have always been in awe of Holocaust Survivors. I tried, but for much of my life I could not fathom what they had been through. Every Holocaust Survivor has a unique experience, but all have suffered loss and terror beyond imagination. They are my true heroes and I think about them daily – the ones I’ve met in person, and through books and movies. Their will to live, attitude of perseverance, hope for future generations, and willingness to share their personal heart-wrenching stories, so we can learn from them and keep their lessons alive, is inspiring.

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And yet, following the shooting, I felt guilty listening to others who called my fellow MSD teachers, my students and me “survivors.” The survivors I’ve always associated with that word had nothing left after the war -  no family, no possessions, no therapy, no service dogs, no support. Many were often told to “shake it off, move on, try to forget it, make a NEW life!” But, like them, we did survive a tragedy that needs to be told.

The value of sharing Holocaust Survivors’ stories and our own is very much motivated by my experience teaching a Holocaust course that was started at our school 5 years ago, to help students understand that the study of genocide is imperative to upholding world democracy. It is a yearlong course, divided into a History of the Holocaust semester and Literature of the Holocaust semester. There was no precedent for this class at our school, so the language arts teacher and I reached out for recommended resources from Echoes & Reflections. We based our curriculum on the comprehensive material in their original Teacher’s Guide and on their website, which provides educators and students access to Holocaust Survivor video history testimony to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. Motivated by these lessons, over the past 5 years MSD High School has had numerous speakers, such as Holocaust Survivors, liberators, and WWII veterans come talk with our students about the impact of this important historical event. We make an annual spring luncheon for area Survivors where the students are hosts, servers, entertainers, and most importantly – listeners. We also hosted a Kristallnacht commemoration event in 2017 with a Holocaust Survivor Band and invited the entire community. In essence, we are continuously trying to expose the students and our community to the lessons of the Holocaust through a personal lens in the hopes that others understand that hate is NEVER okay, being a bystander is NOT okay, and that we must all learn to be upstanders. In many respects, these lessons are no different in the aftermath of the shooting at MSD.

I was teaching a Holocaust Studies course at MSD on February 14, 2018 in room 1214 on the first floor of the 1200 building, when a former MSD student began to shoot up our school. I have been teaching at MSD for 18 years and 10 of those years were spent in room 1214 – a Happy Learning Place for me and my students. The walls were adorned with posters of photos of Holocaust victims and there was a large yellow banner in the back of the room that stated: “We Will Never Forget”. That banner was given to me by a Holocaust Survivor. Although this room was dedicated to honoring the atrocities of the past, it was also a room full of promise and hope.

That day, we began the 90-minute class with student presentations on how to combat hate and hate group tactics that may be present on their soon-to-be college campuses. We then moved on to an IWitness activity from the USC Shoah Foundation about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and we watched testimony from German Jewish Athletes who were banned from participating. During the activity we started a discussion on important players during those Olympics and I asked if they knew Adi Dassler. Nicholas Dworet, a senior who just earned a swimming scholarship at the University of Indianapolis, knew it was the German shoemaker who started Adidas! We were all so impressed and he was smiling ear to ear, just as we heard loud shots in the hallway outside our classroom door.

The students immediately flew from their desks to find cover, in a classroom that had no Safe Space. Within seconds, the shooter was blasting his AR 15 into the glass window that runs vertically down the center of the door. The sound was deafening as the bullets flew through the glass randomly aiming at anything that moved. It was complete chaos. Students screamed while they watched their classmates, their friends, get hit with a barrage of bullets. The shooter wounded four of my students and murdered two beautiful souls, Nicholas Dworet, the star athlete, and Helena Ramsay, a beautiful young lady who stated at the beginning of the year that hate would someday be eradicated. They will never fulfill their dreams for the future, as those dreams died in the very class where they were learning how to combat hate. The lessons of the Holocaust came into room 1214.

Following the tragedy, the #NeverAgain movement was not a coincidence. The students over the years who took the Holocaust Studies course knew this slogan, studied this slogan and realized after this shooting, that it was up to them to make changes. Most of the March For Our Lives students learned the term “upstanders” in Room 1214. In part, this learning experience sparked a youth movement that is unstoppable, and my students have set an example for youth around the world. What they do matters! Following the tragedy, not taking action was NOT an option. Speaking out and speaking up on causes such as gun control, school safety, voter registration, and mental health reform has become a key focus in our community and many others have taken their leads from the students in Parkland.

So, like the Holocaust Survivors that we treasure, we too, have a story to tell and it becomes everyone’s responsibility to pass it on. As you walk out the door of my new classroom – a portable among many temporarily placed on the outdoor basketball courts, you can’t miss a very large Echoes & Reflections poster with a quote from the Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel: “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.”

We now live by these words: "If we don’t do it, who will? The world is watching."

About the Author: Ivy Schamis is a Social Studies teacher from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.



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GET INVOLVED
FAQs

You may have questions about Echoes & Reflections and we are here to provide you with answers. We encourage you to spend time exploring our site to learn more about our work and to view the FAQs below:

1Where are programs held?
Echoes & Reflections provides conveniently scheduled online offerings and in-person programs across the country. Please visit our Prepare section to learn more about the professional development opportunities we offer.

2How much does it cost?
Echoes & Reflections believes that learning about the Holocaust is a fundamental right of all students and thanks to our generous funders, we are able to offer programs and materials to secondary educators across the country at no cost.

3Is there evidence supporting its impact?
Echoes & Reflections is committed to a rigorous mixed-methods evaluation approach. In 2014, the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (NCSS) released its findings of a study with educators using Echoes & Reflections. Findings included:
• 94% reported the program increased or significantly increased their students’ knowledge about the Holocaust.
• 92% indicated that Echoes & Reflections was a better or a significantly better program when compared to similar programs.
• Further data is available on Our Approach page »


4How can I bring Echoes & Reflections to teachers at my school?
The first step is to familiarize yourself with our resources and professional development opportunities. If you are interested in setting up a program in your community, please contact us at info@echoesandreflections.org

5Does the program address standards?
Absolutely. Echoes & Reflections classroom content is designed to address rigorous national, state, and local education standards in meaningful ways.

6Will teachers who receive the training receive professional development credits?
Because requirements for awarding professional development hours or continuing education units vary widely from state to state, teachers will need to check with their school administration to see if Echoes & Reflections meets specific requirements for their district. Many program hosts award credit that complies with local requirements, and a certificate of attendance can be provided to educators in attendance upon request.
If you have any other questions or wish to receive an informational packet, please let us know here.


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