Local teachers attend conference at U.S. Holocaust Museum

by | Sep 11, 2015 | Other News

There is a face behind every tragedy. A real family living in a neighborhood. A real person possessing a name. A real child clutching a toy. Teaching about the Holocaust is teaching about people. It is not just about dates and places and religions. It’s about people. Real people.

This was the underlying principle of the 2015 Arthur and Rochelle Belfer National Conference for Educators at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) held in July and attended by English teachers Lynn Woods of St. Gregory the Great Catholic School and Ellen Sullivan of Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School. Woods and Sullivan received the 2015 Excellence in Holocaust Education Awards sponsored by the UJFT Holocaust Commission.

The three-day conference focused on challenges and strategies in teaching the Holocaust to middle and high school students. Attended by more than 150 teachers from across the U.S. and Canada, the conference was guided by knowledgeable and USHMM-trained high school teachers with practical experience, who taught about specific aspects of the Holocaust and offered ideas on teaching a range of books and videos to explore in the classroom. Lesson plans centered on the imperative of connecting students to historical events by focusing on individuals and their experiences before, during and after the Holocaust. They also expanded beyond the Holocaust and included discussions on the genocides in Sudan and Cambodia.

One of the challenges in teaching the Holocaust to middle and high school students is getting them past the idea that it is a series of historical events from which they can remain aloof. The possibilities for this are endless, and creative, hands-on lesson ideas were offered. Like the museum itself—which the teachers had full access to at any time—the focus is on real people within the series of historical events.

Lessons can focus on well-known individuals such as Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel, or lesser knowns such as Nessie Godin, a survivor whose Identification Card is among the museum visitor selection options, and who spoke to the educators with candor and humor. What were their circumstances? How did they respond? What were their experiences and how did they feel about them?

Exploring the events though the eyes, ears and hearts of individuals is the most effective way to teach the Holocaust, and gives future generations the best chance of following through with “never again.”

By Lynn Woods and Ellen Sullivan