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CLASSROOM LESSONS

TEACHING



As teachers, we craft our lessons to highlight fundamental facts in a way that will emotionally resonate with our students long after they have left our class. There is something gratifying about watching students realize you have threaded this needle intentionally, emphasizing a theme like resistance during the Holocaust, for example.

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What do we hope students learn from a study of the Holocaust? Why should we teach this important human event? How we answer these questions guide our curriculum development, craft our lessons, and are fundamental to the impact of Holocaust education.

The Holocaust is not a metaphor to be used to make connections but a historical fact that must be understood in its own unique circumstances and context as a truly unprecedented event.

Studying the Holocaust is not just about the facts and figures, however, but also about the lessons, ethics, and values that are obtained from its exploration. A recent survey from Echoes & Reflections found that college students who had Holocaust education in high school were more likely to be empathetic, more open-minded, and scored higher in critical thinking, civic efficacy, and social responsibility—if they watched survivor testimony as part of their experience. This shouldn’t, and didn’t, come as a surprise to those who dedicate their lives to effective Holocaust education.

We often perceive historical learning as defined by either students’ ability to remember facts, dates, and figures, or their transformation into responsible citizenry. We often view these two rationales as competing factions, but they are most effective when taught concurrently. By focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL), students grow in their emotional maturity and intellectual capacity. Conceptually, we know students learn better when they are confident, are in a supportive learning environment, and are encouraged to interact with their peers. By focusing on these vital aspects of learning, Holocaust education can be at its best by emphasizing our shared humanity, learning the facts, and activating the lessons of the past.

In the classroom, we should refocus our approach to Holocaust education to one that centers on SEL, and we can do this by teaching the human story to highlight the individual narratives of those who experienced this dark period in history.

We believe there is great value in including SEL as part of Holocaust education, and it is now a central component of our updated teaching Units. Below are some ways teachers can incorporate SEL into their Holocaust instruction with resources from these Units:

1. By studying the lives of Jewish teenagers before the war, students can better understand the diversity of Jewish life, connect in a more personal way to a real person, and better understand the magnitude of the Holocaust, not just in terms of numbers but in the actual human impact of this catastrophic event. Anni Hazkelson loved to read and had dreams of being a journalist; Hannah Senesh enjoyed piano lessons; Victor “Young” Perez became a famous boxer. In their diaries, students encounter multidimensional people, just like themselves, rather than solely a victim.

2. When viewing testimony, challenge students to read the emotions of the speaker, from body language to voice intonations. Utilize some of our new tools, like this Testimony Reflections handout, to help students recognize and understand the emotions felt by the speaker and in themselves. This clip from Margaret Lambert becomes even more powerful when analyzing the pain in her voice and in her body language as she describes being shunned by her friends and kicked out of her sports club. In breaking down the emotional cues of the speaker, students gain historical knowledge as they grow in empathy, understanding, and compassion.

3. Lastly, do not ignore the social component of learning and the value of student-led discussions and shared work created among peers. Try this Learn and Confirm chart to create a shared product that will help develop the necessary tools of learning new knowledge using supportive evidence and spark the intellectual curiosity of your students to discover the answers to what they don’t know yet.

Studying the Holocaust should create more questions than answers, a recognition of the value of human life, and a drive to impact the world in a positive way. By leaning into SEL, we can cover the material giving our students a clear base of knowledge about the Holocaust while developing the human qualities of empathy, open-mindedness, and action that we hope to instill in them.

To learn more about how to incorporate SEL into your Holocaust instruction please register for these upcoming webinars:

About the author: Jesse Tannetta is a former high school teacher who is now the Operations and Outreach Manager for Echoes & Reflections. He holds a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and is a current Ph.D. student beginning his dissertation on female concentration camp guard Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan.



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HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE

SURVIVORS



After surviving the Holocaust, then living an extraordinary life, my grandfather, Herschel (Hersi) Zelovic, lost his life to Covid-19 on November 11th at the age of 93. On this day, my grandfather was one of the 1,431 Covid-related deaths in the United States. As I am writing this blog—not even three months after his death—there have been more than 400,000 reported deaths nation-wide due to this terrifying disease.

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Both of my maternal grandparents survived the Holocaust, and it is their history and experiences during this tragedy, retold to me over time, which influenced and inspired me to pursue a career in Holocaust education. And, just as Echoes & Reflections pedagogy emphasizes the importance of translating numbers from the Holocaust into personal stories to promote empathy and understanding, I am committed to keeping my grandfather’s story alive, and ensuring that his death is not just an awful statistic from the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, my pursuit to tell his story began long before his unfortunate passing.

As a young adult, my mother asked my grandfather to write down his memories of his hometown, his childhood, and his experiences during the Holocaust so that she could one day share them with her own children. In response to his daughter’s wish, on September 20, 1982, my grandfather began writing what became 153 pages of testimony. On April 27, 2005, my three sisters and I presented my grandfather with a typed up, bound version of his memoir, with the dedication, “On the 60th anniversary of your liberation day… you have lived a life of strength and perseverance, filled with undying love for your family. You are a model to all of us.”

As we approach International Holocaust Remembrance Day—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I recall that for my grandfather, the pivotal event of liberation was the turning point that opened up the possibility of a fulfilling life. It is the part of his story I remember most vividly. It stands out most to me because of the clarity, emotion, and passion with which he himself tells about the experience. It also highlights for me that his ability to pass down his story firsthand provides me with the privilege – and the responsibility - to tell his story and share my memories in his absence.

In an effort to remind myself of all the details of my grandfather’s experiences during the Holocaust, I turn to his autobiography again. I also look at old photos and at recent photos, I watch old film and new video, I laugh and cry with family, I watch video testimony and reread his written testimony – all to build a complete story that I can share with my children, as well as with friends, colleagues, and with the wider community of Echoes & Reflections educators.

My Grandfather’s Story

Herschel (Hersi) Zelovic was born in 1927 in Munkacs, Czechoslovakia, to a large family of eight children. In 1938, the Hungarians occupied Munkacs and that is when restrictions against Jewish-owned businesses began and displays of antisemitism grew.

In March 1944, the Nazis occupied Munkacs. Two weeks later, boys and men over ten years old were forced to build the ghetto in town. Then after a few weeks, my grandfather was sent on a train to Auschwitz with his family.

After 11 days in Auschwitz, my grandfather was sent to Warsaw to clean up the damage after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He was then sent to Dachau to build a railroad and an underground factory and rebuild bombed railroads in Munich. While he was separated from his parents at their arrival in Auschwitz, my grandfather and his brother, my great-uncle Willy, surprisingly were never separated, which gave them both hope and the will to survive.

In April 1945, rumors went around that the American army was getting closer and so camp guards rounded the prisoners up and loaded them onto a train. A German military train pulled up next to the train full of prisoners in the hopes that the incoming air raid would not attack with a civilian train nearby.

However, airplanes appeared and shooting began. The prisoners were ordered off the train and with all the commotion, my grandfather, his brother, and twelve other prisoners escaped into the forest together. After walking into the evening, the group fell asleep and were awoken by an SS officer who ordered them to walk to the nearby village.

The SS officer left the group with the mayor and then went to round up more runaway prisoners. In fear of spreading Typhoid fever to the town, the mayor advised my grandfather’s group to run toward the American army who would help them.

On their way, they found a deserted looking farm and spent a few nights in the hayloft. They shared the boiled potatoes with the pigs until they were discovered by a kind woman who began bringing them hot soup, milk, cheese, and bread. Once the German army pulled out of the area, my grandfather and his friends were able to walk around freely. American soldiers then entered the town and the group was taken to a hospital to recuperate and recover.

In my mind, what happened next is the most beautiful part of the story… the journey through liberation.

Hersi and Willy discovered that seven out of eight siblings had miraculously survived! After the war, one went to Brazil, several to Palestine, and three to England. My grandfather went to England and lived in a home for orphaned boys. There, he met and fell in love with my grandmother Renate, who had come to England from Germany on the Kindertransport when she was six years old.

They married and moved to New York City, surrounded by family and friends from Europe. They built a happy life together; my mother was born, then there were grandkids, and two great-grandchildren – a life and legacy made possible after liberation.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Although I am deeply saddened by my grandfather’s passing, this loss only further motivates me to keep his story alive through my work in Holocaust education. With the dwindling population of Holocaust survivors still with us, it is the responsibility of the second generation, third generation, and educators to share personal stories from the Holocaust.

It is my wish that you will pass on my grandfather’s story and those of other survivors to bring lessons of hope and resilience to future generations, as well as to provide a cautionary tale for allowing antisemitism and hate to flourish in society.

To support your teaching about liberation and the experiences of survivors, access Echoes & Reflections lesson plans on these topics here.

About the author: Ariel Behrman is ADL’s Director of Echoes & Reflections. Ariel received her undergraduate degree in Religion Studies at Lehigh University with a focus on Holocaust history and education and sat on the committee to choose the first Holocaust education chair at the university. Ariel lives in New Jersey with her husband Adam, her two daughters Sadie and Olivia, and two puppies Moana and Zeus.



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CLASSROOM LESSONS

CURRENT EVENTS



As a black female Holocaust educator, I have heard my fair share of the following:

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“But you’re black, why do you care?”

“But you’re not Jewish”

“What is YOUR connection to the Holocaust?”

While my blackness within Holocaust Education has often been questioned, it has become clear that this type of thinking goes both ways. Many educators have often found themselves struggling to create connections in the classroom with students of color. When teaching about oppressive histories such as the Holocaust to students who have their own oppressive history, many students of color may be left wondering, “what does this have to do with me?” In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the end of May and the social movement that has followed, this undoubtedly may be a reality for many educators.

My Journey

Around age ten, I watched Schindler’s List. I was intrigued and equally perplexed by the magnitude and scale of what I was witnessing in many of the scenes. My curiosity grew and I began watching documentaries and catching every movie that dealt with this horror called the Holocaust.

Many years later as an adult, I moved to Washington DC and made frequent trips to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). My fascination deepened and I was transported to a different space emotionally, as I had the opportunity to speak to survivors and hear their personal stories.

My trips were so frequent, that on the day that a white supremacist/antisemite walked into the USHMM with a rifle and opened fire, many reached out to make sure I was okay. Thankfully I was not there that day, but sadly an on-duty security guard named Stephen Tyrone Johns was killed on June 10th, 2009.

What started as a casual interest began to shift into something more significant, as this incident was my first exposure to Holocaust denial and virulent hate against Jews.

Fast forward to 2013, and upon the death of Trayvon Martin and the inception of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it became evident that on the subjects of injustice, prejudice and racism there was a dialogue and sense of understanding and empathy in this country for many groups that was severely lacking. And now in 2020, as our nation continues to reckon with the harsh realities of systemic racism and racial injustice, to speak out and bear witness is a burning necessity. As an educator, my hope is that teaching about the Holocaust can help bridge the gaps between past and present, and create connectivity for the volatile times we are in.

Along my journey of becoming an educator, I had the privilege of attending a teacher’s workshop with Echoes & Reflections in 2019, which further helped to ground my teaching philosophy. Echoes & Reflections personalized approach focuses on individual survivors’ stories, which I have been able to implement in my work as a docent at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Destined Project” is born

About five years ago, I came across a book called Destined to Witness, which is the autobiography of Hans J. Massaquoi, an Afro-German who lived and survived in Nazi Germany. This blew me away as I didn’t even know there was a black experience within the context of Nazi Germany.

Hans’ story is devastating in many ways, but nowhere near as horrifying as the plight faced by many Jews during the Holocaust. With that being understood, reading his autobiography felt personal to me as a black woman. I understood the Holocaust on a whole new level because I could now see my blackness within the context of the Jewish Holocaust.

A few colleagues of mine also read the book and have been inspired to begin a project called “Destined Project”. Our objective is to create a class curriculum for high school students that centers primarily on the life of Hans Massaquoi, and the racial abuse he faced in Nazi Germany. He essentially went from one form of oppression to another after he immigrated to a segregated America just before the Civil Rights Movement. This would all be taught after students learn about the Holocaust.

What will make our work different will be a sharp focus on Hans’s identity and psychological journey. The goal is to foster connection and empathy, by encouraging students to think critically about Hans’ phases of life and how they relate to their own identity and life journeys. Using Hans’ unique point of view as an Afro-German, will create new spheres of kinship to the subject manner for all students, especially those of color.

“Part of the reason students of color might reject learning about oppressive histories unrelated to themselves is because they think that it is, in fact, unrelated when it's not. We are often taught history outside of the psychology of human beings. We learn what happened, why it happened, but often we don't always connect those elements to patterns of human behavior.”

- Shiree Nicholas Christopher, Co-Producer/writer, Destined Project

In doing our research we’ve found in many spaces, speaking about the black experience during the Holocaust has been written off as insignificant due to low numbers and limited testimonies. But, students of color need to know that they are being seen, and if their history is treated as an afterthought, can they be expected to empathize with the history of another? Furthermore, I do not claim that all students of color reject learning about the Holocaust; many who have learned the history can connect to it just fine. Our aim is to bridge the gap for students who feel this history has nothing to do with them.

“We often say that we teach students about the Holocaust so that it never ​happens again, and quite rightly so. But what will ‘next time’ look like? ​ Teaching students to recognize and challenge antisemitism remains of the ​utmost importance, yet through engaging our students with​ diverse  stories, we are preparing them to recognize and challenge all forms of    prejudice ​and discrimination, however and wherever it is found.”

- Sarah Flowerdew, History Teacher, Destined Project

Who tells your story?

I am not the child or grandchild of a survivor, but I am passing the torch by bearing witness to the power of the human spirit. I hope that “Destined Project” and my continued dedication to Holocaust education can serve as a medium to expand our understanding of the Holocaust so that we all “Never Forget.”

About the author: Courtney Ferguson is an actress as well as a voice, speech, and dialect coach based in Atlanta and New York City. She is currently a docent at The William Bremen Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.



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