‘The Keepers of This Story’: How the Holocaust Education Center Is Aiding Teachers
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Logan Greene, an educator in Hoover City Schools, assigned his students to read Four Perfect Pebbles, a memoir written by a survivor of the Holocaust. When he discovered that there was an opportunity for the author to speak to the students, he was hesitant due to the requirement of raising $1,000 within two weeks.
"I didn’t think it was possible," he admitted.
However, Greene’s students surprised him with their enthusiasm. Five of them took it upon themselves to fundraise outside of basketball games and managed to raise over $2,000.
This endeavor by his students made Greene realize the significance and impact of Holocaust education. It inspired him to seek ways to improve his own teaching practices.
"It showed me the power of Holocaust education in schools and motivated me to research how I could enhance my own teaching methods," he explained. "I discovered the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and started attending workshops and teacher cadres. From there, it all snowballed."
Although the teaching of the Holocaust is not mandatory in Alabama, nor in most states, there is substantial interest from schools in including it in their curriculum. The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, now located in Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El, provides guidance to teachers on effective and pedagogically sound methods of teaching the Holocaust. On May 22, Governor Kay Ivey attended the center’s dedication ceremony.
Zoe Weil, the director of educator engagement at the Holocaust Education Center, believes that students are eager to learn about difficult history topics because they are drawn to controversies and have a desire to create positive change in the world.
Dan Puckett, chair of the Alabama Holocaust Commission, considers Holocaust education essential for students as it provides a deeper understanding of humanity and human rights. By examining the actions of the German and Nazi governments, students learn the importance of civic engagement and the value of human rights in maintaining a civil society.
Ann Mollengarden, an applied researcher at the center, stated that while they do not impose a specific curriculum for teaching the Holocaust, they do offer pedagogical recommendations. Some teachers may have limited time to cover the subject, but it is crucial to explain the history, discuss motivations, and consider the perspectives of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders.
Mollengarden also emphasized that teachers should be prepared for the complexity of the subject, acknowledging that there may not always be clear-cut answers to students’ questions.
"The Holocaust is a topic that doesn’t always have a simple answer," she explained.
Gretchen Skidmore, director of education initiatives at the United States Holocaust Museum, highlighted the transformation of Holocaust education over time. Initially, it focused on conveying the facts of the Holocaust, but it has evolved to examine the underlying causes.
"We want people not only to know what happened but also how and why it happened. That is a significant change," Skidmore stated.
Educators can access resources, including conferences, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to enhance their teaching of the subject.
According to an individual interviewed, history is not simply a stagnant subject, but rather a constantly evolving field. The emphasis is always on improving teaching methods and enhancing the understanding of the Holocaust for both students and the general public.
When asked about lesson plans for students learning about the Holocaust, the individual recommended using an organization called Echoes and Reflections, where they are currently interning. They praised Echoes and Reflections for their comprehensive lesson plan, which includes connecting historical themes to the present day and exploring Jewish life before the war. The plan incorporates video testimonials from survivors and liberators, as well as a map illustrating the pre-deportation locations of Jewish communities.
The individual highlighted the importance of centering survivors in Holocaust education. They explained that in the past, comparisons were often drawn between the Holocaust and other historical events. However, they now recognize that direct comparisons can lead to trivializing other genocides and causing unnecessary pain. Instead, they focus on unique aspects of the Holocaust and explore similar themes throughout history without making direct comparisons.
A key aspect of Holocaust education is hearing survivors’ firsthand accounts. The interviewee stressed the significance of using video or audio testimonials, as they humanize the survivors and evoke emotions that textual sources may not fully capture. This approach allows students to view the Holocaust as a collection of individual stories within the larger historical context.
Simulations, where students are asked to reenact the experiences of Holocaust victims, are not considered effective teaching methods. The interviewee expressed concerns that these simulations fail to provide a comprehensive understanding of the historical context, the conditions in which people lived before their deportation, and the devastating impact on families. They argued that such complex aspects cannot be fully comprehended through simulations.
There have been attempts to introduce legislation in Alabama that would prohibit the teaching of "divisive concepts" in public schools. One provision of the bill aims to prevent teachers from discussing the inherent responsibility of one group for the suffering of another. While there is anxiety surrounding the concept of divisive teaching, the interviewee emphasizes that educating against hate and intolerance should not be considered divisive. They reference conversations with other educators and parents to address concerns and promote a balanced approach.
A member of the Holocaust Commission who supports the legislation clarifies that the Holocaust is not viewed as a divisive concept and does not believe the legislation would impact Holocaust education.
The interviewee concludes by emphasizing the importance of continuous learning and updating teaching methods. They highlight the use of tools like Google Maps to enhance student engagement, providing virtual tours to significant Holocaust-related locations such as the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
Mollengarden expressed that the primary objective of the Center is to provide assistance and resources to teachers. She emphasized their willingness to be a support system for educators and emphasized the importance of their role.
The Alabama Holocaust Education Center is equipped with a controlled environment archive room that is specifically designed to preserve various artifacts and relics associated with the Holocaust. During a recent visit, Rachel Jones Lopez, the archivist and librarian, showcased a pair of vintage scissors that were stored in one of the boxes.
One of the pairs of scissors was in good condition, and its donor revealed that it belonged to his grandmother who immigrated to the United States just before the Holocaust. The scissors held great significance as they were a crucial tool for his grandmother, who was a seamstress by profession.
The other pair of scissors had been severely burnt and had an additional metal piece, potentially an eyeglass frame, melted onto them. The donor came across these burnt scissors during his visit to Auschwitz in the 1970s or 80s. These scissors were found in a section known as "Canada," where all the belongings confiscated from Jewish people taken to Auschwitz were discarded. Interestingly, the donor was drawn to these burnt scissors because of their resemblance to his grandmother’s pair.
Jones Lopez firmly believes that the tactile experience provided by the Center allows people to form a deeper connection with the history of Alabama. She also showcased a collection of postcards gathered by a survivor during his childhood journey through Europe. Given the circumstances, he posed as a Catholic orphan under the protection of a French organization.
Most of these postcards had a specified place and date. Additionally, Jones Lopez shared a book where the survivor had collected autographs from people he encountered during his travels in Europe. She mentioned that these postcards and autographs offer the opportunity to trace the survivor’s journey and the people he encountered along the way.
Greene, an educator, expresses his gratitude towards the Center for sharing such powerful stories. He strongly believes that students are eager to engage with this historical material. According to him, when students are exposed to these challenging conversations, they ask thought-provoking questions and demonstrate a genuine interest in learning. Greene acknowledges the empathy and desire of students to make a positive impact on the world and stand against such atrocities.
Greene shared that one of the most impactful lessons he has learned from the Center is the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors. Alabama currently has 173 documented survivors who are still alive, and only a handful of them can share firsthand accounts of their experiences. This realization has fueled an urgent sense of responsibility in Greene’s work.
He emphasizes that teachers will play a significant role in preserving and passing on this story to future generations. Greene recognizes the importance of their role as the keepers of this history moving forward.
The Alabama Reflector operates as part of the States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors serving as a 501c(3) public charity. The Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence, and any inquiries can be directed to Editor Brian Lyman at email@example.com. Stay updated with the Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
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