Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Holocaust fatigue in students

As a High School teacher, I often hear “Why do we have to learn about the Holocaust? We already know everything!” or “I’m so tired of learning about the Holocaust. It is so depressing.” Although this attitude can be frustrating, I take solace in the fact that their middle school and freshman teachers are doing their job.

Because these students come to me with pretty good background knowledge of the Holocaust, I’m able to expose them to so much of the history which they know little or nothing about. I see it as a challenge to make sure they leave my class saying, “I didn’t know about __________” or “I learned so much more in your class.”

So much of their prior knowledge revolves around the camps, hiding, and the ghettos. In my two week unit we also cover: the history of antisemitism, Jewish life before the Holocaust, other victims, the progression of events (Nuremberg Laws, the T4 euthanasia program, and the Wannsee Conference), Einsatzgruppen, and rescue and resistance.

Students also read All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein, whose writing takes a different approach than most of the memoirs/diaries they’ve previously read. If there is time, I always like to conclude the unit with a lesson over contemporary genocides so they can see exactly WHY we’re spending so much time on this historical event- because it can happen again and unfortunately it has happened repeatedly since 1945.

When my students state they already know everything about the Holocaust, I reply “I’ve been studying this history for fifteen years and I’m continually learning more. It is my goal to take you above and beyond what you’ve already learned.” After the unit, they still say it is depressing but I’ve never had a student say they already knew the material. Enrichment is the cure for Holocaust fatigue.

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