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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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HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE

TEACHING

UNCATEGORIZED



The Kristallnacht Pogrom marked a devastating turning point during the Holocaust: a shift from antisemitic propaganda and policy to government-sanctioned violence against Jewish communities in Germany, annexed Austria, and in areas of Czechoslovakia that had been recently occupied by German troops. The anniversary of this event on November 9 and 10 presents an opportunity for educators to explore this history with students­—to teach about the dangers of antisemitism and the role and responsibility of an individual in interrupting the escalation of hate. Furthermore, the lessons of the Kristallnacht Pogrom, only further highlight the importance of our collective duty to uphold the pillars of democracy. At a time when our nation reckons with racial injustice and disparity and exercises our democratic freedom to vote, the lessons from the “Night of Broken Glass” can resonate deeply with students and compel them to examine how they can contribute to ensuring an open and free society for all.  Here are some strategies and resources to guide you in teaching this topic:

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Explore Personal Narratives

Those who experienced the horrors of the Kristallnacht Pogrom provide powerful insights into the impact of the choices and decisions made in the face of the growing hatred and violence that surrounded them. As a teenager, Holocaust survivor Kurt Messerschmidt witnessed mobs attacking Jews in the street, in their homes, and at their places of worship, while many of his German neighbors and friends stood idly by. His testimony offers an important and inspirational message for students:

“SOME OF THE PEOPLE DISAPPROVED, BUT THEIR DISAPPROVAL WAS ONLY SILENCE.”

Have students reflect on this powerful statement and learn more about Kurt Messerchmidt:

Additionally, the testimony of survivor Esther Clifford, also impacted by the devastation of the Kristallnacht Pogrom, can help students understand the human story behind this event and consider the consequences of not standing up to injustice.

Use Primary Sources

A key component of our Echoes & Reflections pedagogy is to enrich students’ understanding of the Holocaust by providing an abundance of print and digital resources from a variety of perspectives. An examination of historical documentation can aid students to further contextualize and gain a deeper understanding of the Kristallnacht Pogrom:

Teach with a Timeline:

Timelines can serve as a visual tool for studying periods of history and help students realize not only how events happened, but how to construct meaning and illuminate the human experience throughout a past era. This resource can also encourage students to see connections between events occurring in a single period and bring history to life by mapping dates onto a cohesive narrative. On our interactive Timeline of the Holocaust with accompanying activities, teachers can introduce the Kristallnacht Pogrom, as well as the dates prior to and immediately following this pivotal incident, which can allow students to grasp that the Holocaust was a progression of decisions, actions, and inactions, any of which might have happened differently if alternative choices were made.

Teaching about the Kristallnacht Pogrom is a crucial component of Holocaust education as it can reinforce students’ understanding of what ultimately led to the extermination of Europe’s six million Jews by the Nazis, underscoring the notion that the Holocaust was not inevitable.

 To learn more, we invite you and your students to sign up for our webinar on November 9th, Marking the Kristallnacht Pogrom through a Social Justice Lens, to support students in gaining awareness of the dangers of unchecked hate and ensuring that history does not repeat itself.



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HOLOCAUST EDUCATION

SURVIVORS

UNCATEGORIZED



“…If you ever survive this war tell everyone how we went.  Tell everyone how you said good-bye to me and remember one thing.  Wherever you may be always wear a nice clean shirt and be clean.  If someone throws a rock at you then throw them back bread.”

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These are the words that Holocaust survivor Maurice Markheim will never forget.  They comprise the indelible message that is etched into his memory as the last conversation he had with his mother.

When we viewed this piece, we were struck by these poignant and heartfelt words of love and kindness as well as the way in which Evan Hong, an eighth grader at Mariners Christian School in Costa Mesa, California, memorialized them by creating a wire silhouette as an art project her school submitted for Chapman University’s 21st Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest.

Last year,  thousands of middle and high school students from across the United States and seven other countries, watched survivor video testimonies and responded to the contest prompt through prose, poetry, art, or film.  This year’s contest, now in its 22nd year, challenges students to reflect upon and interpret the theme, “Sharing Strength: Sustaining Humanity.”

To prepare students to participate in the contest, many teachers turn to Echoes & Reflections, a valued partner in the contest, for professional development and to help them provide historical context to the testimonies that students watch.  This year, Chapman University will team up with Echoes & Reflections to offer a contest-specific professional development program to highlight key resources that align with the contest, as well as effective strategies to further student engagement with the testimonies they view.

In our respective roles as the Associate Director and Education Consultant for the Rodgers Center at Chapman University, we have seen the contest grow tremendously over the years.  What we think continues to be particularly appealing and, perhaps why many teachers participate year after year, is the contest’s way of combining study of the Holocaust with the hands-on participation in the arts, offering students a platform and a voice to process and express their thoughts and reactions and to make their own, individual meaning.

In fact, this contest might offer even greater benefits to those participating.  Authors Brian Kisida and Daniel H. Bowen, write in their Brookings Institute blog, New Evidence of the Benefits of Arts Education, that participation in the arts challenge us with different points of view, compel students to empathize with “others,” and give us the opportunity to reflect on the human condition.1

For example, Noa Nerwich, a middle school student from King David Linksfield School in South Africa, drafted the following poem based on the testimony of Holocaust survivor Ruth Halbreich.  It examines how a simple, everyday object, a “Maroon Hankie,” became a meaningful, everlasting and valued connection to her father.

Cleanly pressed and folded it was placed into my hand

A last token of a soon to be memory

I received a maroon hankie

 

I didn’t know the value of objects, until had one

I didn’t know the value of people, until I had none.

But my one object carried all the worth in the world

A maroon hankie

 

I don’t know what happened to him

All I know is the walls were rising

And there were bombs, more people dying

And Warsaw was in flames: Red, licking flames

Like the colour of my maroon hankie

 

We watched the window, havoc unleashed on our home

Yet we were the opportune, we were on the right side of the window pane

The side where we still wore silky dresses made by the sisters.

The same silk of my maroon hankie.

 

I was lucky

Not because I was saved

But because I learned the true meaning of love

His love was sewn into my heart

The same way I held the hankie so tight at night

That its fibers have sewn into the fibers of my skin

 

Because of my father’s honour I survived

Because of his love for us he died

He sacrificed it all so we could breathe the air of freedom


To the man who gave to me

The thing that has carried all of my tears

A maroon hankie

His maroon hankie

This year as we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camps we were reminded that today’s students are the last generation to hear directly from the survivors.  As we look to the future, one of the lasting artifacts we have are the survivors’ precious video testimonies, a permanent record that captures their stories, warnings, and memories. The testimonies also stand as the fulfillment of a promise that the eyewitnesses made to each other during the Holocaust, in which they vowed if they survived to tell the story, to let the world know what happened and to do their utmost to assure that these events would never be forgotten.  Students who participate in the contest have now become their “messengers of memory,” the ones entrusted with perpetuating this vow for generations to come and, as a recent survey has shown, their exposure to Holocaust survivor testimony can support them in building a better future.

This year’s contest information is now available and educators are invited to participate.

For more information: Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest

Contact: Jessica MyLymuk at cioffi@chapman.edu, (714) 532-6003

Note:  Last year, Chapman University had to cancel its 21st Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest awards ceremony, which was scheduled on March 13, 2020, due to the Coronavirus.  A virtual program is posted on the contest website and can be watched here.

1https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/02/12/new-evidence-of-the-benefits-of-arts-education/

About the authors:

Jessica MyLymuk is the Associate Director at the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University and oversees the planning and implementation for the Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest.

Sherry Bard is an Education Consultant for the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and a Senior Training Specialist for the Echoes & Reflections program.



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