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.
This article originally appeared in Education Week
The Holocaust is ancient history for many students
On May 2, Holocaust Remembrance Day (or Yom HaShoah), we remember the millions of Jewish and other victims killed during the murderous Nazi reign in Germany. Sadly, we only need to consider the shooting at a synagogue this past Saturday in Poway, Calif., to understand the importance of using classroom time to educate and reflect on this horrific period in history.
Not even two months ago, a photo showing students making a Nazi salute over a swastika made of Solo cups at a weekend party garnered extensive news coverage. This image came on the heels of another viral photo of a group of laughing young men who appeared to make the Nazi salute prior to a school dance. Swirling around these events have been Jewish cemetery desecrations, hate-filled graffiti, and even swastikas drawn in blood. Amid it all, we still grieve for the Jewish congregants shot dead at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall—and now Poway.
I am sure many have felt as I do: What is happening? What can I do about it? On an intellectual level, I know this is not new—hatred, violence, and targeting of the "other" have always been with us. The acts of violence may ebb, but these feelings are always there.
On a professional level, having spent the better part of 25 years working in anti-bias and Holocaust education, I feel some sense of personal failure. I know these incidents of antisemitism and other forms of hatred do not reflect the values and beliefs of the majority of people, but I can't help but question if the work I have done has mattered.
I recall my former colleague who would say that the work to counter hatred, antisemitism, and racism could sometimes feel like having a tiny pink Baskin-Robbins sample spoon, trying to chip away at a mountain of mistrust, fear, anger, ignorance, resentment, and downright apathy. She didn't use this analogy to discourage, but to inspire: If we all worked together, even with the smallest of tools, we could get there.
I've always framed my work, as many educators do, in three phases of impact: What do we need to know about an issue or topic, why should we care, and how can we act to make a positive difference? Or, in more poetic words, how do we inform the head, move the heart, and motivate the hands?
For those teaching the Holocaust, these three concepts could not be more vital and interdependent. What do we want students to know about this history? If you want to understand the why and how this genocide could have happened, you need a foundation of the what. The Echoes & Reflections Partners toiled for a year to distill the core historical content that now forms our 10 classroom units. Our goal was—and is—to guide teachers to build this essential knowledge with their students and to ask those critical questions of why and how at every step.
But knowing isn't enough; students have to care. The Holocaust is practically ancient history for many young people, and, for the majority of people in the United States, it is not their history. It's remote, it happened somewhere else, and it's over. This is where we must teach about the Holocaust as a human story. We should bring this knowledge to life through the integration of visual history testimonies and primary sources. We want young people to see, listen, and come to know that these were real people who had desires, dreams, hopes, and lives that were just waiting to be lived.
I could never guarantee that students who watched a testimony of a survivor describing his arrival at Auschwitz or read a poem by a girl left alone in the Lodz ghetto would reject the Solo Cup swastika game. But maybe, just maybe, they would make a different decision in that moment.
Which brings us to action. How do we create and inspire a sense of personal agency so that in the face of hatred or antisemitism—or when anyone is excluded or "othered"—we don't just walk away or swipe the screen?
When I began my work in this field, this step used to be primarily about an in-person response: Will you speak up if someone is being taunted? Will you call out an antisemitic comment or joke?
Today, for most adolescents, these moral choice moments are experienced online and at lightning speed. Does this make it easier or harder to speak (or type) out? Does it fuel a level of insensitivity to these issues that carries over to real-life choices and decisions? Does an intervention online have more or less power to impact the person who is being offensive?
These are the questions I have been wrestling with these past few months. On Yom HaShoah, this sacred day of remembrance for all those who perished during the Holocaust, I hope to start to find some answers. I will work to learn more about the experiences and perspectives of the adolescents in our country and what is driving some of them to engage in or ignore hurtful behavior—and how can we inspire more to stand up.
And I encourage everyone, not just educators, to do the same. At a time when it feels so hard to have these tough conversations, isn't it that much more important that we try? If we want our children to care, we must first care enough to listen to them.
About the author: Lindsay J. Friedman is the Managing Director of Echoes & Reflections. Previously, she served as the national director of the ADL's A World of Difference Institute.