Lessons from an Echoes & Reflections Trainer: Addressing New and Challenging Subjects in Holocaust Education

When introducing myself at an Echoes & Reflections training, I often tell the teachers that I have the best of both worlds:  I teach high school students by day and work with teachers and adults at other times in professional development to educate them about the lessons of the Holocaust.

Having taught high school English for the past 27 years has been rewarding, allowing me to learn along with my students and to learn about them. In 1999 I developed a semester-long Holocaust Literature course, which sent my teaching in a new direction.  For someone who hadn’t even learned about the Holocaust in high school, I had a lot to catch up on.  I took courses, read voraciously, watched hours of videos (on VHS, nonetheless!) and attended every training I could find. Then I became a Museum Teacher Fellow with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and soon after discovered Echoes & Reflections, when it emerged in 2005.  One of the components about the Holocaust that has always intrigued me is that new information is still coming out, 86 years after it began.  New research, new perspectives, new voices and narratives arrive almost daily; thus, I can never teach the subject the exact same way.  And this is one of the components I love about Echoes & Reflections; they are constantly updating, changing, and even adding new programs (like the Connecting the Past with Today:  Jewish Refugees and the Holocaust, or their session on Contemporary Antisemitism), making the lessons relevant to current topics and scholarship.

Most of my trainings for Echoes & Reflections take place in the Southwest region, and I travel to Texas often; in fact, I have joked that I probably need to get a driver’s license there!  I have had the pleasure of presenting at the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s three-day conference several summers, and after the second conference, I realized that many teachers return year after year (a testament to the quality of the program). Thus, I needed to create new agendas each year, focusing on different units in Echoes & Reflections.  Last year, for example, I chose a unit that I use in my own classroom but one that I had never utilized fully in a training: Perpetrators, Bystanders, and Collaborators.  It is a strong unit, and complex.  It is difficult and potentially imprudent to discuss perpetrators. Echoes & Reflections pedagogy is geared to focus on the stories of victims and rescuers because we want their stories to be heard; to honor their memories.  It can be challenging to balance addressing perpetrators and collaborators, while still maintaining integrity and respect for the victims.

The Echoes & Reflections unit on the subject introduces the topic in a sensitive manner and supports educators in responsibly introducing this complex topic. One perpetrator mentioned in the unit is Salitter, a German official who was in charge of a train which held Jews being deported to a camp.  His report allows students and teachers alike to grapple with tough questions.  Did he have to do this job, or did he choose to?  Why is his tone so clinical?  Does he ever feel emotional about the situation?  Does he even see the victims as people, as individuals who had full lives before this terrible event?  We then read a complementary piece, a victim’s account of the same experience, and discuss how it differs from the report and adds a more human element.  This opens another discussion about choices that people made to collaborate or perpetrate, or not.  We grapple with the complexities of these documents and the feelings they arouse, and they force us to consider our own choices we make, lending to a great discussion—not on what we might have done in Salitter’s case, for that is an exercise in futility–but thinking about choices we make in our daily lives.  How do we make those decisions?  Do we even consider how others might be affected?  Do we think of consequences only after a crime or bad deed has been committed?

This is not an easy topic to teach, nor should it be.  However, my experience with Echoes & Reflections, as a facilitator and classroom teacher, has made it easier for me to get the information and learn ways to use it in the classroom, utilizing lessons that engage students in our ever-changing world.

About the author: Kim Klett has taught English at Dobson High School since 1991. In addition to being a trainer for Echoes & Reflections, she is a Museum Teacher Fellow of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Deputy Executive Director of Educators’ Institute for Human Rights, a Carl Wilkens Fellow, and secretary on the board of the Phoenix Holocaust Association.

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