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HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE

TEACHING



Idaho social studies educator Ben Harris suggests, “The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial doesn't seem to be a place of commemoration or sadness – what one might experience in a battlefield or concentration camp. Instead, it invites students to consider a variety of perspectives about human rights and ask questions.”

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A study by the Pew Research Center released in January 2020 found that visiting a Holocaust museum or memorial is strongly linked with Holocaust knowledge. A visit to a museum or memorial takes Holocaust education out of the classroom, while encouraging learning approaches and outcomes that are central to Echoes & Reflections pedagogy: inquiry-based learning and critical thinking, fostering empathy, and making the history relevant for students. These visits help students develop a personal connection to the Holocaust.

“Dear Kitty … No one is spared. The sick, the elderly, children, babies and pregnant women – all are marched to their death.  I get frightened myself when I think of close friends who are now at the mercy of the cruelest monsters ever to stalk the earth.  And all because they’re Jews.” - Anne M. Frank, November 19, 1942

Etched in the stone of the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise, Anne’s diary entry illustrates how a group of people who are marginalized or demeaned based on religion, race, ability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity become viewed by a majority as “the other” and therefore less than or inferior. It’s a stark reminder of what can happen when we fail to interrupt the Spiral of Injustice, a model we created for discussing the Holocaust, the attack or harassment of an Idaho student when he or she is viewed as “the other,” or the marginalization of any group within the fabric of our community.

The Wassmuth Center was founded in 1996 for the purpose of constructing a memorial to human rights.  That vision became a reality when the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial opened to the public in 2002.  Inspired by Anne Frank and funded through the generosity of individual and corporate donors, the Memorial is not simply a static space to reflect on her short life or even on the horrors of the Holocaust.  Instead, it was designed to actively engage visitors to think, to talk with one another, and to respond to the human rights issues we face in our community, our country and our world.

Both the triumphs and tragedies of the human story are on display but, in every quote and every idea, visitors see the profound power of a single voice or bold action to overcome great odds and alter the course of history.

The educational park includes: a life-sized bronze statue of Anne Frank as she peers out an open window into an adjoining amphitheater, 80 quotes etched into the stone throughout the Memorial, the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on permanent display, the Rose Beal Legacy Garden honoring a local Holocaust survivor, a sapling from the Anne Frank Chestnut Tree in Amsterdam, the Marilyn Shuler Classroom for Human Rights, recognizing a founder of the Memorial and the state’s first director of the Human Rights Commission,  and state-of-the-art electronic technology showcasing the “History of Human Rights in Idaho.”

Ryan Coonerty, in the National Geographic publication Etched in Stone: Enduring Words from our Nation’s Monuments, commented, “Anne Frank could scarcely have conceived of Boise, Idaho.  Therefore, it seems improbable that the author of a diary that has become among the world’s most widely read books has become a symbolic fixture of this community almost 60 years after her death.”

The Memorial receives an average of 120,000 visitors annually, with over 10,000 K-12 and university undergraduate students participating in free docent-led tours.

How does a visit to the Memorial inspire and impact teaching and learning about the Holocaust?

A visit to the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial is far more than a fieldtrip and can provide a strong foundation for when educators return to the classroom and continue to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides.  It is the recognition, as stated by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”

Consider and ask.  When visiting a memorial or museum, the site can introduce a different perspective and an opportunity to ask probing questions.

We see that happen on tours when either a classroom educator or Memorial docent asks each participant to select his/her favorite quote in the Memorial.  The process of selection includes both introspection and reflection; do I see myself in the quote and what does it mean to me?  As students begin to share their selections, the conversation becomes a moment of personal journeys.

High school English teacher Sharon Hansen adds, “While the quotes are available in a booklet or in a digital version, we choose to visit the site, where we feel the presence of Anne Frank looking out over us as we write-- she forever frozen in her hiding place, while those of us who are alive and free have an opportunity to write about injustice in order to move toward justice.”

Power of place. At the entrance to the Memorial, visitors read a welcome written by one the Memorial’s three founding mothers Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor.  “May the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial stand as a tribute to Anne Frank’s memory, as a warning to any who would dare trespass upon the freedoms of others, and as an inspiration to all whose lives are devoted to love, respect, understanding, peace, and good will among the totality and diversity of the human family.  May this memorial inspire each of us to contemplate the moral implications of our civic responsibilities.”

Visitors experience the place – it is a physical, emotional, and some might add, a spiritual experience that evokes connections.

Hansen shares, “For my Creative Writing students, a visit to the Memorial is a call to action.  Their writing takes on new purpose, one determined by the place, and one I cannot duplicate in the classroom.  The Anne Frank Memorial is a place of inspiration, calling forth the words of my students to amplify the Memorial’s message.”

Behind the statue of Anne Frank, the actual size of the family rooms in the secret annex is cut into the concrete; one point of access into the rooms is up a nine-step staircase tucked behind a marble bookcase, and the surrounding walls mirror the Amsterdam skyline.

Memorial visitors are able to step into her diary.  And we point to a quote by the American journalist Judith Miller that sits adjacent to the Memorial’s entrance.  “We must remind ourselves that the Holocaust was not six million.  It was one, plus one, plus one …”  Anne Frank was one, her sister Margot was one, their mother Edith was one …

Never Again, Never Forget. We recite it, we mean it – but genocide continues to happen.  Notably, George Santayana’s words are also inscribed in the Memorial.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In addition to the Holocaust, we talk about the Armenian, Cambodian, Ukrainian, Rwandan and Bosnian Genocides.  Students are apt to point out that “never again” rings hollow.  Another quote, placed on a rock by the family of a Holocaust survivor, insists, “Never again is now.”

Recognized as a member in the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the Memorial joins a network of historic sites, museums and memory initiatives that connects past struggles to today’s movements for human rights.  The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial commits to turning memory into action.

Hansen notes, “The Boise River flows along the Memorial, perhaps echoing the words of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’  By being present at the Memorial, students are surrounded by the words of Haim Ginott, Sojourner Truth, and Nelson Mandela, and the language becomes a springboard for students’ own yearning toward a free and just future.”

And “in spite of everything” Anne still believed that “people are truly good at heart.”

About the author: Dan Prinzing, Executive Director of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights in Boise, Idaho, has a BA in History Secondary Education, an MA in Curriculum and Instruction, an MA in History and Government, and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration.  Prior to the current position, he was the Idaho State Department of Education’s coordinator of civic and international education, the former SDE coordinator of social studies and curricular materials, and a language arts and history teacher in the Boise School District.

 To learn more about the Anne Frank please explore our additional resources on her life and legacy:



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HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE

TEACHING



On January 27th, the anniversary of the allied liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in honor of the victims of Nazi persecution. This annual observance provides an opportunity for teachers to focus on the pivotal role of liberators in defeating the Nazis at the culmination of World War II, and as some of the first to bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. Here are some strategies and resources to guide you in teaching about this topic:

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Teach the Human Story: Survivor and Liberator Testimony

Eyewitness testimony highlights the human story behind the Holocaust and can help students further understand the importance of preserving one’s humanity during this dark period in history. Hearing from survivors on the paradoxical joy of liberation and darkness of facing a return to life without family, as well as from American soldiers who saw firsthand the horror of Nazi atrocities, offers an excellent entry point to the study of the Holocaust. Explore below:

Survivors

  • Dennis Urstein: Born on February 24, 1924, in Vienna, Austria, he was incarcerated in the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Ohrdruf, Auschwitz I, Mechelen, and Dachau concentration camps, and in Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
  • Henry Mikols: Born on August 27, 1925, in Poznan, Poland. As a political prisoner, Henry was incarcerated in the Ellrich and Buchenwald concentration camps. From Buchenwald, Henry was sent on a death train to Bremen and then on to Bergen-Belsen, where he was eventually liberated.
  • Ester Fiszgop: Born on January 14, 1929, in Brzesc nad Bugiem, Poland. She was forced to live in the Drohiczyn ghetto and later went into hiding in various places, including barns, forests, and attics.

 Liberators

  • Howard Cwick: Born on August 25,1923, in New York, NY. As a member of the United States Armed Forces, he, along with his fellow soldiers, liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp.
  • Anton Mason: Born on April 19, 1927, in Sighet, Romania. He was forced to live in the Sighet ghetto and was later imprisoned in the Buchenwald, Gleiwitz, Auschwitz, Auschwitz I, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz concentration camps, as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  • Paul Parks: Born on May 7,1923, in Indianapolis, IN. As a member of the United States Armed Forces, he, along with his fellow soldiers, liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

In addition to oral testimony, written testimony is also a useful way to engage students in the human story of the Holocaust:

Our blog by Sheryl Ochayon, Echoes & Reflections Project Director at Yad Vashem, offers reflections on her interview with WWII liberator Alan Moskin and the importance of Holocaust remembrance.

You can also share written testimony from liberator Harry J. Herder, Jr., who was nineteen at the time he and other US soldiers liberated Buchenwald, in April 1945.

Teach through the Medium of Film

Explore our Video Toolbox, Liberators and Survivors: First Moments, on the liberation of concentration camps by the US Army at the end of WWII. This short film interweaves liberators’ and Jewish survivors’ testimonies and other primary sources, helping you present their personal stories to your students. Watch here

Engage Students with Multimedia Activities

Through our Partner USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness, we bring the human stories of the Holocaust to secondary school teachers and their students via engaging multimedia-learning activities on the topic of liberation:

Suggested Questions to Engage Students

1. How do you think survivors felt after learning they were liberated? What do you imagine some of their fears were?

2. What obstacles did survivors have to overcome following liberation?

3. What do you imagine were some of the thoughts and feelings liberators had after their experiences liberating the camps?

4. What is the effect of hearing both survivors and liberators talk about liberation? What kind of information do you learn from each?

5. What kind of information does the survivor provide that would be impossible to learn any other way?

Looking for more?

Our Unit on Survivors and Liberators contains all the resources mentioned in this piece as well as additional learning tools for exploration.

Deepen students' learning of liberation by viewing significant dates in history on our interactive Timeline of the Holocaust resource:



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CLASSROOM LESSONS

HOLOCAUST EDUCATION



In a climate of increased antisemitism and other hate-related incidents, working to encourage empathy and empathic leadership certainly seems to me to be profoundly important in today’s world.

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When I was five years old, my mother presented me with a pair of ice skates that she had worn as a child. She could hardly get the words out to tell me about this special gift and I can still envision her tearful face that day long ago.  These were not ordinary ice skates. They were brown and old and didn’t look at all like the pretty white ice skates that my friend’s parents had bought them at the local store. This was no typical presentation of a childhood artifact to an offspring. These skates had been worn by my mother when she was growing up as a happy Jewish child in Vienna, Austria, before the Nazis took over in March of 1938.  These skates were a physical testament to her life before her parents (my grandparents) were murdered in The Holocaust. My mother had taken these skates with her when at the tender age of thirteen, she was forced to leave her parents a few days after Kristallnacht.  These skates had then been hidden under the ground for the three horrific war years that my mother had spent in hiding without her family and as a teenager in Holland. These skates were the embodiment of her survival and of her profound losses: of her childhood, home, country, family, and even her sense of self.

I knew that I didn’t have relatives, and that something horrible had happened to my mother. But this actual physical manifestation of her trauma shown to me when I was young left a profound impact on my life.  It shaped who I am and started my own journey toward developing empathy toward others’ suffering. More importantly, directly hearing and seeing the terrible impact of trauma created a desire in me to want to work to develop empathy in others and try to create a better world. Throughout this work, I consciously utilized what I understood about my personal connections to my family’s Holocaust stories, to reach students and help them to care about others.

Research shows that when students learn to become more empathic, they improve their communication skills, lessen the likelihood of anti-social behavior, demonstrate higher academic achievement, and develop more positive relationships.  Research also shows that these skills can assist students to achieve more success in an increasingly complex world.

How Holocaust Education Can Support Educators

Testimony from Holocaust survivors and witnesses as well as artifacts, like my mother’s ice skates, are useful tools for developing empathy among students. The Echoes & Reflections Holocaust education program offers us reflective ways to develop these important skills, specifically through their collection of  visual history testimony  provided by USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness  and the featuring of artifacts and primary sources in their lesson plans. Hearing from Holocaust survivors and witnesses is one of the strongest predictors of citizenship values, as reported by the Journal of Moral Education. When a student watches and hears visual history testimony, they become connected to that person in a way that wouldn’t be possible through another medium. With support from Echoes & Reflections resources, educators can work with students to help them do a deep dive into analyzing testimony and be better able to tap into their imaginations and develop their ability to understand another person’s experiences. Visual history testimony can be used to teach listening skills, how to read body language, and how to have an increased understanding of personal emotions.

To facilitate this process, educators can ask their students to focus on particular aspects of a person’s testimony and ask students to answer pointed questions such as:

  • “How does this testimony make me feel?”
  • “What specifically do I notice about the person’s tone of voice and body language throughout the testimony?”
  • “Does the person’s body language change when they are speaking about different incidents and if so, what does this change tell us about the person’s experiences?”
  • “What does this remind me of in my own life?”
  • “What might I do differently in my own life after seeing this testimony?”

Employing these questions, educators can facilitate classroom discussion, encourage journaling, and foster ongoing reflection projects. Educators can also use these ideas in exploring many other Echoes & Reflections resources such as photographs, literature, poetry, artwork, and other primary sources to better foster empathy.

For me, the ice skates that my mother gave me that day long ago became the embodiment of the reason for the need for empathy. Holocaust education can cultivate that skill in our students so that future generations will foster empathic leaders and improve the world.

About the author: Evelyn Loeb LCSW-R is a retired school social worker and clinician. In addition to serving as a facilitator for Echoes & Reflections, she facilitates programs for the  "A World of Difference Institute" and "Words to Action"( Confronting Antisemitism) for ADL. 



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