This blog is reposted from the USC Shoah Foundation’s Impact in Profile
Jason Hensely’s project to interview Kindertransport survivors who were taken in by Christadelphians during World War II began in 2015 with an Echoes and Reflections online professional development program.
In 2014, Hensley, a principal at Christadelphian Heritage School in Simi Valley, California who specializes in teaching about Christianity and the Holocaust, had attended the Belfer National Conference for Educators at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to learn more about teaching the Holocaust.
Following the conference, one of his instructors, Echoes and Reflections trainer and classroom teacher Jennifer Goss, invited him to participate in a new Echoes and Reflections online professional development course. The course would instruct educators on teaching the Holocaust, utilizing testimony in the classroom, and integrating other primary and secondary sources. At the end of the course, each participant was required to create an original lesson to utilize with students in their classrooms.
“It hit me that in teaching my Holocaust Studies course, we’ve been talking about Christadelpians and the ways in which Christadelphians helped Jewish children, and I thought ‘Ah, this is what we need to look at,’” Hensley said. “It really revolved around this idea of individual stories.”
Christadelphians are a small Christian sect. Hensley estimates that about 250 Jewish children were sheltered by Christadelphians in Britain during World War II.
Hensely searched in IWitness for any mentions of Christadelphians and was surprised to find one testimony, Suse Rosenstock.
“No one has any clue who Christadelphians are, they’re such a small little group. I was blown away to find one video,” Hensley said. “She talked about all her experiences in detail and that was hugely inspiring.”
With his students, Hensley set out to find out as much as he could about Christadelphians and the Kindertransport. They pored through old Christadelphian magazines looking for stories written about the Holocaust during the war and even watched testimony in the Visual History Archive (VHA) while on a field trip to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
“The kids started going through the different [museum] exhibits and I went to a computer and searched “Christadelphians,” and found seven videos,” Hensley said. “I started running through the museum telling them all. I think the kids thought I was a little crazy.”
In addition to providing background information about Jewish children’s experiences with Christadelphians, the testimonies in the Visual History Archive also led Hensley directly to survivors themselves and their families. He was able to get in touch with the families of two survivors he watched in the VHA.
So far, Hensely has filmed two interviews with survivors who recount their experiences living with Christadelphian families during the war. He has also written a book, Part of the Family: Christadelphians, the Kindertransport and Rescue from the Holocaust, based on his research.
The project would not have happened if it weren’t for Echoes and Reflections and the professional development course he was invited to participate in, Hensley said. Through Echoes and Reflections, Hensley realized the importance of discovering and sharing the stories of individuals in the Holocaust. And through testimony, Hensley was able to do his own original research and tell stories that in many cases have never been told before.
“I think if you allow it to, Echoes and Reflections will change your life,” Hensley said. “It will give you a whole different perspective on understanding the Holocaust. It will change the way you think about things and, in doing so, change the way you act. It really brings you face to face with survivors and you get to hear what they experienced and you get to be moved by it.”
Jason Hensley, M.A.Ed, is the principal of Christadelphian Heritage School, a small private school in California where he teaches religious studies and a senior-level course on Christianity and the Holocaust.
I felt such a sense of loss on Saturday when I heard the news of Elie Wiesel’s death. It felt so personal and profound. I never met Elie Wiesel, but I felt as if had lost someone I knew, someone I cared for, someone who, perhaps on some ridiculous level, I thought would always be here.
I have been so moved reading the tributes to him from those who knew him – as a friend, a teacher, or a speaker who forever changed their lives. I have enjoyed seeing friends and colleague post photos of their proud moments shaking his hand, looking at him so intently, listening for a word of wisdom or insight, which was no doubt plentiful.
For me, who has spent many years working in anti-bias education and now in Holocaust education, his presence was ubiquitous. I think how often he is quoted in my circle – about the dangers of indifference, the precious gift of a life saved, about being a witness. I recall first reading Night in college: actually not wanting to read it, but feeling a duty to not look away, not to ignore the world that was lost and the cruelty of humanity. Now, at Echoes and Reflections, we offer a program and resources to support teachers in their teaching of Night, and we hear continuously how profound this reading is for students and what it means to teachers to teach his memoir, which can be difficult to grasp. However, they feel a sense of duty to get it right – to do him justice, to use his voice to give voice for the millions who lost theirs.
In some ways, I suppose it is all of these moments that make this loss feel so personal. Elie Wiesel somehow managed to share the worst possible moments of his ruptured childhood with us. He brought us with him on this tortured path of trauma and loss, and the absolute worst of man’s inhumanity to man. Yet in his survival – in his dedication to being a witness to the history, to challenging our continued indifference to hatred, racism, bigotry, and his commitment to the world – to life – he carried with him, and perhaps for all of us, a suggestion of hope for a better future. Right now, the world feels more fractured than ever, but I say this without having lived through the Holocaust, so I know this is just one moment in time, my moment in time, to try to make a bit of difference. What will I do with it? What will we all do?
Lindsay Friedman is the Partnership Director for Echoes and Reflections. She resides in Chicago, IL.