Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A helpful resource

When searching for Holocaust resources to use in classroom setting, the number of memoirs can be overwhelming. If you then looking just for segments of a memoir to use in class, this task can be even more daunting.

A few years back I had the pleasure of hearing Sir Martin Gilbert speak. He signed my copy of Kristallnacht – Prelude to Destruction and while I was talking to him I told him I was a high school teacher. He gave me a copy of a book by his wife Holocaust Memoir Digest: Volume 2.
The Holocaust Memoir Digest has proven to be a very valuable resource. It takes a memoir, for example All But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein, and makes it very user friendly for teachers. It breaks down the memoir and literally tells you, by page number, what topics are covered. Klein’s book, for example, includes topics like:
  • Pre-war Jewish and community life
  • Pre-war antisemitism
  • The coming of the war
  • Daily life in the ghetto
  • Deportation
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • Personal reflection
Also included are timelines linked to the memoir and maps to makes the geography understandable.
Volume 2, the volume I have, covers the following memoirs:
  • Gerda Weissmann Klein (All But My Life)
  • Saul Friedlander (When Memory Comes)
  • Art Spiegelman (Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Part I and II)
  • Fanya Gottesfeld Heller (Strange ad Unexpected Love, a Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs)
  • Erika Kounio Amariglio (From Thessaloniki to Auschwitz ad Back, Memoires of Survivor from Thessaloniki)
  • Solomon Gisser (The Cantor’s Voice)
  • Samuel Bak (Painted in Words – A Memoir)
The Memoir Digest also includes a very helpful section called Using the Digest. It takes various questions about the Holocaust and tells you which memoirs could be used to help answer these questions. For example a question like: In the pre-war years, how was Jewish religious life observed? The Digest tells you which of these memoirs to examine to help answer this question. There are over 10 pages of these kinds of questions.

There are three volumes in this Digest Series by Ester Goldberg. All three volumes are available in the MCHE Resource Center

For more information visit: http://www.holocaustmemoirdigest.org/.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Relating the Holocaust to Other Genocides: A Seminar Series for Educators


Conference Room C
Jewish Community Campus
5801 W. 115th Street
Overland Park, Kansas

These sessions examine Holocaust history as it relates to other modern genocides. Participants will explore the history of the Holocaust and its connections to genocides in Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. Analysis of primary source documents, discussions of the stages of genocide and hands on practice with these resources will equip teachers with tools to engage their students in discussions of the relevance of Holocaust history as well as discussions of genocide prevention and awareness. Sessions will feature hands-on work with lesson plans appropriate for 7-12 th grade classrooms with an emphasis on cross-curricular approaches. All sessions will be led by members of the Isak Federman Holocaust Teaching Cadre with oversight by MCHE's Jessica Rockhold.

Schedule of Sessions:
All sessions meet from 4:30-7:30. Educators may sign up for individual sessions or the entire series.

January 12, 2011 - Defining Genocide / Case Study: The Armenian Genocide

These lessons will analyze the definition of genocide and the eight stages of genocide as well as explore resources for teaching the Armenian genocide and its relationship to the Holocaust

 February 9, 2011– Genocide and the Power of the Written Word: Diaries, Memoirs and Propaganda
These lessons will feature resources and methods that draw connections among genocide experiences, using primary sources including diaries and survivor memoirs and a detailed unit exploring propaganda in the Holocaust and Rwanda.

 March 2, 2011—Choosing to Act: Resisters, Bystanders, Perpetrators
These lessons will explore the responses of various groups to the Holocaust and other genocides, specifically decisions made by bystanders as well as a document-based question on resistance.

 April 13, 2011—Memory and Memorialization: Visual Representations of Genocide Experiences
These lessons will explore art from the Holocaust and other genocides as well as memorialization of these events.
A registration fee of $15 per session covers a light meal and materials. Registration must be received at least 1 week prior to the session for individual sessions or by January 1, 2011 for the entire series. Optional graduate credit (1 hour) through Baker University will be available for an additional $50 fee (payable to Baker).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


One of the struggles I face centers around how to best incorporate the Holocaust into the units I teach. My focus is not to provide an overview but to highlight certain aspects. The dilemma is should I clump these aspects together in a Holocaust mini-unit within the larger unit framework or spread them out across the unit. Clumping a few aspects while studying the rise and rule of Hitler has not been an issue. But recently students have commented that taking up to 8 days to cover the remaining aspects during the World II unit has made the teaching of the war disjointed. Generally I have taught the causes of the war, the war itself, then the Holocaust, and finally finish by teaching the effects of the war.

This year my plan is to spread the Holocaust across the World War II unit. The other benefit to not clumping might be that the Holocaust will be put into context better. I’m still working out the specifics of where to teach the different aspects because I don’t spend a lot of time teaching the war itself. Some aspects I cover, such as the Einsatzgruppen, naturally fit while teaching Operation Barbarossa and the aftermath fits with teaching the effects of the war. But others such as bystanders, resistance, and Auschwitz (done through a mapping activity and a discussion of memoirs students read) don’t seem to have as natural a fit.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Teaching antisemitism

The topic of antisemitism is always a tricky one in the classroom. When approaching the topic, I always wrestle with what is the best way to approach this subject matter and how much emphasis to put on the topic. We teach to different demographics which might need different approaches. My students are suburban and there are very few Jewish students in our high school. Because of this, I struggle with the fact that I might be introducing prejudices and stereotypes to them in which they weren’t previously exposed. At the same time, intolerance seems to breed in areas that lack diversity. But after teaching Holocaust history to my students for fifteen years, it is apparent that they need the historical context. Many students come to my class thinking that Hitler introduced antisemitism to Germany. In studying the history, they quickly realize that antisemitism existed WELL before his time and was only manipulated for the Nazi agenda.

My Holocaust unit (2 weeks total for a World History class) always starts off with the topic of antisemitism. The goal or objective is that using the information and resources provided, students analyze the progression of antisemitism and how it was manipulated for Nazi policy. I lecture over European antisemitism, covering the three stages- religious, secular, and racial. This allows students to see that there is a long legacy of antisemitism in Europe.

After the background knowledge is established, I show a video clip from the movie “Europa, Europa” which illustrates the racial antisemitism that had developed by the Nazi era and was seen as “scientific”. (Chapter 13 - time code 1 hour, 5 minutes, 48 seconds) This scene takes place in a Hitler Youth boarding school class and the teacher is “educating” the students about how to spot a Jew. The main character is a Jewish teen hiding out in this Hitler Youth boarding school. This is a powerful clip and takes no more than five minutes and proves the bogus nature of the Nazi pseudoscience.

Once the history of antisemitism is learned, it is important for student so see how the Nazis took these ideals and developed an increasingly persecutory society while implementing their policies. Students first read through a packet of events, with a small group. Without the dates provided, they try to determine the progression of events using their critical thinking skills- how one event might lead to the next. After they have this complete, we go through the correct timeline and discuss as a class the correct timeline and how one event led to the next.

Addressing this complex history allows me to address one of the important USHMM guidelines for teaching Holocaust history- “Avoid simple answers to complex questions”. If given more time to teach this extensive history, I would provide more examples but with a tight schedule these activities and topics engage the students and provide a context for the events of the Holocaust.