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HOLOCAUST EDUCATION

LITERATURE



As this school year comes to a close—another surrounded by the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased violence and hate against the AAPI community, rising antisemitism, and other acts of racial injustice—members of our community share recommended books about the Holocaust, featuring stories of rescue, resistance, hope, and humanity in the face of tragedy, that may be a source of inspirational reading material over the summer months.

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The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews

By Peter Duffy

Reviewed by Lynne R. Ravas

The Echoes & Reflections resource Students’ Toughest Questions helps educators prepare informed and thoughtful responses to challenging topics addressed in the classroom. The question, “Why didn’t the Jews fight back?” is one I heard repeatedly from my students, their parents and guardians, colleagues, and other interested people. Understanding life in a shtetl in Eastern Europe in the 1930s can be difficult for adults and students who have little exposure to lifestyles and religious traditions. Television, movies, and books about the Holocaust and Jewish life do not always address in depth the religious and moral beliefs of the victims. The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews by Peter Duffy presents the decisions and reasonings when a group of Jewish people did choose to fight back. Furthermore, their main priority was keeping all the Jews who sought safety with them alive. The philosophy, as expressed by Tuvia Bielski, was: “Don’t rush to fight and die. So few of us are left, we need to save lives. It is more important to save Jews than to kill Germans”. Duffy helps the reader understand these choiceless choices the Jewish people faced as well as the decisions they ultimately made. The reader is exposed to the harsh realities of how to fight back and save fellow Jews while weighing the religious beliefs as well as the moral beliefs of individuals and groups. As an educator, understanding what decisions were made under those particular circumstances will help students better comprehend the realities of fighting back and the power of spiritual resistance.

For more information on the Bielski Brothers, educators can also view this article from Yad Vashem.

About the reviewer: Lynne Rosenbaum Ravas retired from teaching and began presenting with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh's Generations Program. In addition to serving as a facilitator for Echoes & Reflections, she volunteers with the Federal Executive Board's Hate Crimes Working Group, FBI's Citizens' Academy, and other organizations in the Pittsburgh area.

 

Stories about Dita Kraus, the “Librarian of Auschwitz”

Reviewed by Kim Klett

I must confess; I typically avoid any recent book that has the name “Auschwitz” in it.  Look at what American publishers did to Primo Levi’s incredible If This is a Man, changing the title to Survival in Auschwitz, as if readers wouldn’t understand the original title.  Lately, I have seen too many poorly written, poorly researched novels on Auschwitz, and my guess is that publishers believe the name Auschwitz will sell copies, since there is an interest in Holocaust and WWII-related books. Recently, though, I had several readers tell me how much they liked Antonio Iturbe’s The Librarian of Auschwitz.  I was surprised to find it in the young adult section at my favorite local bookstore, but immediately liked the fact that it names the librarian of the title, Dita Kraus, on the front cover.  A few pages in, I was hooked.  Iturbe did his research, telling a much broader version of what I had heard about Birkenau’s “family camp,” which consisted mostly of Czechoslovakian Jews, among them Dita Kraus, a 14-year-old girl there with her parents.  The “library” consisted of eight books, all taken from suitcases on the ramp, and each lovingly taken care of and hidden away, except when it was safe to share them. Readers witness the selections that take place in this special camp, the interactions with the notorious Mengele, and daily life for some of the children there.  The narration is beautiful, reminding me a little bit of The Book Thief; it definitely keeps the pages turning.  Iturbe also includes a postscript, explaining how he got the information and what happened to the people whose lives unfold in the book.  This is where I started searching for more books on the topic, and also highly recommend Dita Kraus’ beautiful memoir, A Delayed Life: The True Story of the Librarian of Auschwitz.  While the memoir does not say a lot about her time in the “family camp”, it is rich with details of her life in Prague before the war, as well as her post-war life.  I appreciate this because so many Holocaust memoirs focus mainly on the time in the camps, and while that is important, it is also crucial to see survivors’ full lives.  Another book I checked out is one written by Dita’s husband, Ota Kraus, a novel called The Children’s Block.  It is an interesting complement to the novel and to Dita’s memoir, but not one I would use in my classroom.  I will be using both The Librarian of Auschwitz and excerpts from Dita Kraus’s memoir next year and I cannot wait to share them with my students.

Explore Yad Vashem’s online exhibition, The Auschwitz Album, the only surviving visual evidence of the process leading to the mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau, to learn more about the Jewish experience in these camps.

About the reviewer: Kim Klett has taught English at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona, since 1991, and developed a year-long Holocaust Literature course there.  She is a senior trainer for Echoes & Reflections, the deputy executive director for the Educators' Institute for Human Rights (EIHR), and a Museum Teacher Fellow with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

 

The Girl in the Green Sweater

By Krystyna Chiger & Daniel Paisner

Reviewed by Scott Hirschfeld

While searching for resources to support a lesson on extraordinary actions taken by ordinary – even flawed – people during the Holocaust, I stumbled across Leopold Socha, the Polish sewer worker and unlikely savior of a group of ten Jewish people. Socha’s story is part of a broader tale of survival recounted by Krystyna Chiger (later known as Kristin Keren) in her gripping memoir, The Girl in the Green Sweater.

Krystyna Chiger was born in 1935 in Lwów, Poland. At age 8, she had already lived two lives. The first half resembled, in her words, a "character from a storybook fable.” The daughter and granddaughter of successful textile merchants, Krystyna enjoyed a life of privilege in the midst of a bustling metropolis with a large Jewish population. This all changed when Krystyna was four years old and the Soviets occupied eastern Poland, followed by the Nazis two years later. By 1943, the Chiger family had lost their livelihood, their home, and their independence, and were forced into the ghetto in the north of Lwów.

As the Nazis prepared to invade the ghetto for a final “action” in May 1943, Krystyna's father, Ignacy, led the family to a secret hiding place he had prepared with an alliance of other men in the sewers beneath their ghetto dwelling. A group of 70 desperate escapees quickly dwindled to 20 and then 10 despairing souls, enduring against all odds in a rat-infested, fetid cavern for fourteen months. The Jews survived with the devoted assistance of three Polish sewer workers. The leader of the group, Leopold Socha, was a reformed criminal who sought redemption for past transgressions through kindness to others.

The Girl in the Green Sweater is noteworthy not just for its astonishing story of escape and survival, but for the humanity and moral complexity that Chiger brings to the unlikely assemblage of people. All of their stories are told with compassion and layered with the impossible ethical dilemmas forced upon a beleaguered people. Chiger’s most empathetic reflections are dedicated to her beloved Socha, who she says, “saw us as human beings instead of as a group of desperate Jews willing to give him some money for protection.”

Most of the ten Jewish escapees rescued by Socha survived the war and went on to rebuild their lives. As of this writing, Krystyna Chiger is the last surviving member of that group. The Girl in the Green Sweater may not be appropriate in its entirety for all student audiences due to the disturbing details of survival, but it is well worth sharing select passages that convey the humanity, hope, and courage of the Jewish survivors and their rescuers. And students can view the book’s namesake – the green sweater knit by Krystyna’s beloved grandmother and which kept her warm through the years of her ordeal – at the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where it was part of a hidden children’s exhibition.

To learn more about Krystyna Chiger view her IWitness testimony, found in Echoes & Reflections teaching unit: Rescuers and Non-Jewish Resistance.

 About the reviewer: Scott Hirschfeld has worked as an elementary and middle school teacher in the New York City schools and has led social justice education programs for several leading non-profit organizations, including ADL. Scott is currently a freelance diversity and anti-bias educator based in New Jersey and is part of the team working to update the Echoes & Reflections lesson plans and teaching units.

 



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CLASSROOM LESSONS

TEACHING



Recent innovations in Holocaust education empower teachers to create memorable—even life-changing—pedagogies that were not conceivable a decade ago. Cutting-edge technologies offer powerful pathways to achieve key learning aims and outcomes, while grabbing the attention of students who crave new experiences in their learning. However, like all Holocaust education resources, these technologies require a conscientious touch and careful framing to maximize their learning potential and ensure students are prepared.

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USC Shoah Foundation and Echoes & Reflections believe that pedagogical goals must come first—and that advances in technology should only be applied in service of considered educational outcomes. In genocide education—especially when working with personal stories entrusted to us by survivors—it is paramount that technology and innovation are only wielded to amplify a survivor’s message, and that they never distort or decontextualize the storytelling.

Keeping the above context in mind, below are several innovative resources available to Echoes & Reflections educators:

1. Dimensions in Testimony

Newly available in IWitness, Dimensions in Testimony allows students and educators to ask questions that prompt real-time responses from a pre-recorded video of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter—engaging in a virtual conversation from their own computers, and redefining what inquiry-based education can be. Through Dimensions in Testimony, it is possible to speak with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides from anywhere—and that possibility will remain in perpetuity.

Each student’s responses will be wholly unique because each student chooses and asks their own questions. As such, Dimensions in Testimony offers students an unprecedented degree of control over their learning—resulting in deep, empathetic engagement with subject matter.

2.  Willesden READS

The Willesden READS Program engages students through the story of Lisa Jura, who was rescued from the Holocaust in Vienna by the Kindertransport. This program has a rich history of in-person engagements: author, performer and virtuoso concert pianist Mona Golabek has shared her mother’s story on stage for over one million students around the world. But facing the COVID-19 pandemic, Mona partnered with Echoes & Reflections, USC Shoah Foundation and Discovery Education to transform the program into a livestreamed, remote event, thereby bringing Willesden READS to students and teachers in select cities across the United States in spite of the global health crisis.

Even before this new adaptation, the Willesden READS Program had always been a creative force on the cutting edge of Holocaust education. Fusing multiple media—the book, The Children of Willesden Lane, alongside the live performance and a series of learning engagements beyond.

3. Timeline of the Holocaust

The Echoes & Reflections interactive timeline—designed foremost for student use—chronicles key dates in the history of the Holocaust, spanning from 1933-1945. With the Timeline of the Holocaust, students explore history through the collective expertise and primary source archives of ADL, USC Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem, who have constructed an approachable, tactile learning tool that centers on primary sources and individual experiences to ensure that the human impact of the Holocaust is never forgotten.

The Timeline of the Holocaust is designed to be flexible and meet the needs of educators across their curriculum. It can be a resource for students and educators to consult, or it can be the foundation of a multi-day research project.

4. We Share the Same Sky Podcast

Produced by USC Shoah Foundation and listed as one of HuffPost’s best podcasts of 2019, We Share The Same Sky brings the past into the present through a granddaughter’s decade-long journey to retrace her grandmother’s story of survival. We Share The Same Sky tells the two stories of these women—the grandmother, Hana, a refugee who remained one step ahead of the Nazis at every turn, and the granddaughter, host Rachael Cerrotti, on a search to retrace her grandmother’s story.

Experienced Holocaust educators at Echoes & Reflections and USC Shoah Foundation have built a series of bold educational resources to support this pioneering podcast which intimately confronts the Holocaust’s intergenerational impacts and explains what its legacy can tell us about our world today.

To learn more about how We Share The Same Sky and other podcasts can support Holocaust education, join our webinar on 5/3 at 4 PM ET.

5. IWalk

USC Shoah Foundation’s first mobile application, IWalk (available in the App Store and Google Play), offers visitors and students curated tours that connect specific locations of memory with testimonies from survivors and witnesses of genocide, violence and mass atrocity. IWalks are carefully curated by USC Shoah Foundation’s team of educators and scholars who help contextualize and humanize the history at sites of memory through testimony, photographs, and maps.

Educators in the United States currently have access to a series of IWalks in Philadelphia, which create potent multimedia learning experiences for students, educators and community members who visit the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza.

So much more is on the horizon at Echoes & Reflections and USC Shoah Foundation, and we cannot wait to share. We have already arrived at the future of Holocaust education, and it’s ready for use in your classroom—today.

 

About the author: Greg Irwin is Head of Content Management on the Education team at USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education. He is the Institute’s partner lead for Echoes & Reflections, and manages both the Echoes & Reflections and IWitness websites, as well as the IWalk mobile application.



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CURRENT EVENTS

TEACHING



When it comes to the Holocaust, is it appropriate to make comparisons to current events? While not a new phenomenon, many individuals invoke imagery and language traditionally associated with the Holocaust to describe or address contemporary events and personalities and educators often wrestle with the question of how comparisons can or should be made in the context of their teaching.

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We had the honor of discussing this very issue with Professor Yehuda Bauer, world-renowned historian and Holocaust scholar, and Academic Advisor to Yad Vashem. What follows is an abridged version of our conversation:

Q: Teachers today often have difficulty knowing whether they can make comparisons between the Holocaust and current events. What advice can you give them?

A:  One has to remember that all historical comparisons have to be based on two things: 1) the parallels between two events, and 2) the differences. When you do not mention the differences between two events then the fact that there are some similarities is meaningless. Comparison is the toolkit of every historian and we do it all the time. However, we must make it very clear that we not only compare the parallels but also the differences. Teachers must explain the comparisons and the historical context very carefully.

You have similar comparisons all the time: everything bad is compared to the Holocaust or to the Nazis. That in itself is not such a bad thing. It is a good thing to realize that Nazism is bad. However, teachers have to clearly explain to their students that comparisons have to be very carefully examined with knowledge and with understanding. Do not deny the fact that historical comparisons are important and possible, but they have to be weighed very carefully to make students aware that they must look at events and comparisons in a historically balanced way.

The fact that the Holocaust is such a central issue in so many places is because it is still the unprecedented genocide. It can happen again – not in exactly the same way because nothing is repeated in exactly the same way but, after the Holocaust, there were genocides where the perpetrators consciously learned from the Nazis, like in Rwanda.

When you study the Holocaust, you can take certain dilemmas from it and transpose them very, very carefully and show parallels.

Q: Recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a video after the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol where he made comparisons to his experiences growing up in Austria and the build-up to Kristallnacht[1] with what happened on January 6, 2021.  What are your thoughts on this analogy?

A: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s statement was, without doubt, made with the best of intentions. However, comparing the events at the Capitol building to Kristallnacht is absolutely false.

Certain parallels can be made with the past and, with careful consideration, the lesson to be learned in this case is the defense of democratic values, which was missing in Germany. Abandonment of democratic values should be prevented in democratic countries like the United States. We have to fight for these democratic values. The parallel in this situation - the dangerous parallel – is the global rise of nationalism, segregation, and dictatorships and the anti-liberal, authoritarian regimes that are taking over in more and more places in different ways.

When comparing the past to the present, be very careful.

Q: The connections being made by teachers are not necessarily always related to other genocides but sometimes relate to modern-day political events. For example, some people compared the treatment and incarceration of asylum seekers and refugees at the southern US border last year to concentration camps in Germany in the 1930s. Is this a valid comparison?

A:  Again, a comparison like this must be made very carefully. In other words, there are certain elements that are parallel, sure, but also significant differences. When the Trump administration not only prevented, or tried to prevent, the immigration of Latin Americans into the United States and separated children from their parents, there is no exact comparison between that and what happened in Germany in the 1930s because the Germans never faced any question of immigration into Germany. The question was whether they would allow any emigration from Germany - not only for Jews but also for all opponents of the Nazi regime.

In addition, the comparison of US policy at the border to “concentration camps”, which caused a big furor, was made without considering what the purpose of the German concentration camps was, historically. [Ed.: These camps exploited prisoners through harsh forced labor, and two of the concentration camps also functioned as death camps at which Jews were murdered].

Q: Let’s address the issue of relevance. Many students have no personal connection to the Holocaust, either because they are not Jewish or, geographically speaking, because the Holocaust happened in Europe, which seems far away. We know that the Holocaust was a watershed event in human history, not just Jewish history. How do we bring more meaning and relevance to our lessons? Is it helpful to use contemporary issues to teach the Holocaust?

A: The answer is yes, very clearly. What educators need to do is to emphasize that the whole world was involved in World War II, which was a war against the Nazi regime, whose ideological centerpiece was the persecution of the Jews. The Nazis said it themselves. In Hitler’s view, World War II was a war against the Jews and documents exist to prove this.  However, Nazism endangered the whole world amongst other things in its hatred of Jews. Therefore, the Holocaust is relevant to everyone and we have to teach it.

[1] Kristallnacht, or the November pogrom, was a violent, State-sponsored attack against the Jews of the Third Reich (Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland) beginning on the night of November 9, 1938. More than 1,400 synagogues were torched; approximately 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, and at least 91 Jews were murdered. https://timelineoftheholocaust.org/?evtyear=1938&evtmonth=11&evtday=9

 

About the authors: Sheryl Ochayon is the Director of Echoes & Reflections for Yad Vashem and Sarah Levy is the Program Coordinator for Echoes & Reflections at Yad Vashem.



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