Friday, October 19, 2012

Share your ideas with me!

I teach in a school with the IB diploma program.  When students take IB History they have to write what is called an Internal Assessment (IA).  The IA is basically a research paper based on an essential question.  Most teachers encourage students to research a question based in the 20th century, because a majority of the curriculum is focused on that time period.  What I find is that many students want to write about the Holocaust.  Because I work at the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, most of the History teachers send the students interested in studying the Holocaust to me for guidance.  I really enjoy working with these students, but find that most of the time they just want to describe life/death/medical experiments in the camps, which does not really address an essential question.  I’ve suggested topics like examining the different experiences of men and women in the camps.  I’ve also encouraged kids to think about the use of science in justifying policies, like German eugenics programs.   I wasn’t sure if anyone had any other great ideas I could suggest for students.  I want to make sure I don’t give students a topic they are not intellectually able to handle—in other words I sometimes fear they will come to an “inappropriate” conclusion because the complexity of the topic is too difficult for them to really understand.  Any thoughts or suggestions would be great!   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Caring about social justice issues as a lesson of the Holocaust

Did you know that October is Bullying Prevention Month? The fact that it has an official month might give you the impetus to address this important topic through critical thinking, discussion, reading, writing, speaking, and listening lessons in your classes. If you are not sure where to begin, allow me to point you toward a few resources that I have found helpful.

Last May, when my 8th graders were in danger of leaving the building before their bodies, I showed them the documentary film Bullied produced by Teaching Tolerance, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bullied is a compelling film that re-engaged my students’ minds with their bodies. The film tells the story of Jamie Nabozny who was mercilessly bullied throughout his middle and high school years. It features Jamie telling his own story, interviews with people who were involved in his case, and actors who dramatize scenes from Jamie’s youth. The film comes with a Teacher’s Guide that was helpful although a bit short on follow-up activities. In the limited amount of time we had left last May, I asked my students to create anti-bullying posters which are now displayed around our school. One activity included in the Teacher’s Guide that I particularly liked was a “Quick Quiz” that addressed facts and myths about bullying. An interesting issue addressed in the Teacher’s Guide is that kids who bully are negatively affected by their behavior – not just kids who are the victims of bullies. For example, 60% of bullies will go on to have at least one adult criminal conviction. Clearly, we need to intervene in bullying behavior for the sake of both the victims and the perpetrators. Bullied is availablefree (one per school) from Teaching Tolerance. 

I have not yet had the opportunity to implement this idea, but would like to give it a try. Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center has a variety of resources on its website including short videos for teens. I would like to show some of these videos in my Communications classes as models and then ask my students to create their own anti-bullying videos. You may view the videos at

I third excellent resource I have discovered is www.stopbullying.govAgain, there are a wide variety of resources on this website. However, I would specifically like to draw your attention to the October 5, 2012 Stop Bullying Blog post titled Giving Teachers Tools to Stop Bullying: Free Training Toolkit Now Available written by  Dr. Deborah Temkin of the U.S.Department of Education. 

Those of us who teach about the Holocaust seem to care about justice issues in general. We want our students to be fair-minded, understanding of other cultures and religions, willing to listen to other points-of-view, patient with people who have different abilities. Preventing our students from either becoming bullies or becoming the victims of bullies is an essential element of accomplishing our goal.

Why Anne Frank shouldn't be taught

At the last Midwest Center for Holocaust Education cadre meeting I attended, one of our members mentioned that she had heard a Holocaust scholar say The Diary of Anne Frank should not be taught anymore.  At first, I was as surprised as anyone might be.  But, as I was thinking about what I could write for this month, I was perusing Teaching Holocaust Literature, edited by Samuel Totten, and there was an entire chapter devoted to this same topic.  So, I felt compelled to re-read the chapter and weigh the reasons behind the rationale to stop teaching Anne Frank.

In the chapter by Elaine Culbertson, she explains that Anne Frank’s story is not the usual story of a victim of the Holocaust.  Most victims were not in hiding, nor were there rescuers helping them as there are in Anne Frank’s story.  In fact, less than one percent of non-Jewish Europeans rescued anyone during the Holocaust, and some of the people who did rescue did so for monetary gain rather than out of the goodness of his/her heart. 

While I definitely understand that it may be difficult to go through the process of finding a replacement and having it approved in the curriculum, there are many resources that could replace Anne Frank if a teacher was willing to use smaller pieces, which would perhaps be even better because smaller pieces fit the common core requirements.  A teacher could implement several excerpts from memoirs, poetry and other Holocaust literature, such as diaries, letters, and more.  A great resource for this would be the Echoes and Reflections curriculum that is packed with excerpts.  Another resource might be web sites such as or and the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education’s resource library.  Culbertson also has several recommendations in Teaching Holocaust Literature.  Whatever resource a teacher chooses, hopefully he/she will reconsider teaching The Diary of Anne Frank.

Totten, Samuel.  Teaching Holocaust Literature.  Boston:  Allyn and Bacon, 2001.  Print.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ronda's must reads!

This summer I was privileged to attend a summer institute for 24 teachers from all over the country, as well as Belgium, at the Holocaust Memorial Library in New York City.  When our time together was over we spent some time creating a list of books that all Holocaust teachers should read.  The list below is not complete, but these are the titles I added to my Shelfari list.  Since school has started, I have read two of the titles and I want to recommend both The Holocaust by Bullets by Father Patrick Desbois and Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin.  As a Holocaust educator, and a member of the cadre here in Kansas City for almost 10 years, I feel I have a pretty firm grasp on content or to put it differently – there’s not much more you can throw at me about this topic.  WRONG!  Father Desbois is now one of my heroes.  His courage and determination to count the bullets used by the Nazi Einzatzgruppen against the Jews in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe deserves a Nobel prize.  House to house, door to door, mass grave to mass grave, he traveled with his translator and film crew to hear and record the memories of mostly children that saw, heard, and smelled the executions.  He forced me to think about the other victims of the Holocaust, and I’m not talking about the Poles, Russian POWS, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, handicapped, and Roma-Sinti.  No, Desbois speaks to those who were forced to help and watch and in a sense become unwilling corroborators.  Most of these victims were children or young people who lived with their memories for 60 years before someone finally offered them the opportunity to talk openly about their guilt and shame.  They were allowed, unjudged, to tell what they remembered.  Desbois raises the question “Are there fates worse than death?”  For some of these victims you are left wondering how they have existed since their villages were turned into a hell on earth.  The other book I read, in my car, on my way to and from school every day was Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin.  Even though this is about American history, the similarities to “Bullets” was eerie.  Racial cleansing was commonplace in post-Civil War America, up until the Civil Rights movement.  Sadly, towns and counties, in the South, including Missouri, were cleansed of their Black populations a long time ago, but many of these locations remain pure white still today.  One noticeable difference from “Bullets” is in most cases the whites in the racially diverse towns only forcefully removed their black neighbors to other towns.  Whereas the Nazis removed the Jews permanently from the planet.  However, like the Nazis, the whites stole property and lynched and killed those who fought the cleansings.  As an historian and teacher, both of these books would make excellent reading to supplement your knowledge of the Holocaust and Reconstruction Era in America.  My only advice or suggestion is to not read them at the same time like I did. I was truly depressed for the two weeks it took me finish them.  I have In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson waiting for me at the public library right now and plan to start it immediately. 

  • The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews by Father Patrick Desbois
  • Auschwitz and After by Charlotte Delbo
  • Salvaged Pages; Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
  • Bloodlands; Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
  • Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival
  • Alicia, My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman
  • Bells in Winter by Czeslaw Milosz
  • Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Classroom Resources for Sale!

The MCHE Remembrance and Hope Chest book sale begins on Monday, October 15th!

In response to feedback from teachers, MCHE is deconstructing and updating our Remembrance and Hope Resource Chests. During this process, we are making the contents of five chests available for sale at reduced prices. Visit our office to add to your Holocaust library.

October 15-December 14, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fall 2012 School Programs announced

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education is pleased to announce its eighteenth annual White Rose Student Essay Contest, open to 8th through 12th grade students in the 18 county Greater Kansas City area. This year's contest commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Nazi rise to power and is designed to address the new Common Core education standards.

Click here for complete theme, research sources, teaching tools, criteria and entry forms.


October 15, 2012
4:30-7:30 p.m.

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

Join Scott Miller, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, as he discusses Jewish emigration from the Reich and the search for safe havens in the 1930s. Co-author of Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust, Mr. Miller spent a decade tracing the fates of the 937 passengers aboard the St. Louis and exploring how their lives were impacted by immigration and refugee policies.

This training is offered in conjunction with the White Rose Student Essay Contest and directly addresses the 2012-2013 theme. Educators interested in sponsoring student essays are encouraged to attend, but all 7th-12th grade educators are welcome.

A registration fee of $20 includes light supper. Registration is available by clicking here.


December 11, 2012

MAC Room
Jewish Community Campus   5801 West 115th Street   Overland Park, Kansas

This training prepares 7th-12th grade teachers to implement the Echoes and Reflections curriculum. A $25.00 course fee includes a complimentary copy of the curriculum ($100 retail value), light supper, and valuable handouts and resource materials. Educators who register by November 21, 2012 will receive a coupon good for 10% off on-site resource purchases the day of the course. CLICK HERE to register for the December 11th training.

Monday, August 20, 2012

JFR European Study Trip

Every summer I look to participate in some enrichment activity/course related to what I teach. This past July I had the opportunity to be part of a group of educators traveling to Germany and Poland for two weeks thanks to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR). Our arrival in Munich launched us into an almost non-stop tour of the Holocaust that took us to Nuremberg, Weimar, Berlin, Warsaw, Tykocin, Krakow, and Oswiecim. Along the way some of the stops we made included Dachau, Buchenwald, Grunewald Station (Berlin), the House of the Wannsee Conference, Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz, and Birkenau. In addition we had the opportunity to meet some of the Righteous Gentiles living in Warsaw at a luncheon sponsored by the JFR.

There were several aspects of this trip, in no particular order, that make it one the best enrichment opportunities I have participated in. First, Robert Jan Van Pelt traveled with us. Having an expert, not just a tour guide (no offense to tour guides of the world), meant we got a more thorough and thought-provoking insight into the history of the various places we visited. Second, meeting the Righteous Gentiles at the luncheon was a humbling and inspiring experience. These are people who risked everything, including their lives, to help Jews under the most difficult of circumstances. It made me wonder about how I would have reacted and what can/should I do today for those facing persecution throughout the world.

The first two aspects alone make this trip incredible but there are two others that contributed most to making this trip extraordinary. While I have taught the Holocaust in some form for 18 years there is always more I want to know. This trip afforded me the opportunity to expand on what I know. Most importantly I got to see some of the places themselves. Visiting the various camps and other locations helped provide an understanding that cannot be found in a book. For example, spending 8-9 hours walking the grounds at Birkenau enabled me to better comprehend the layout of the camp. Now when I teach about Birkenau I can provide a better sense of the space it occupies within the camp itself and externally within the surrounding area.

Finally, traveling with other dedicated Holocaust educators proved invaluable in many ways. Practically speaking we had two weeks to share ideas on lessons we teach as well as to offer recommendations on books and other resources. I came back with extensive lists of recommended resources that will keep me busy learning about the Holocaust for quite sometime. I also found it useful while visiting the various locations to have a group of people with whom I could discuss what we just saw. While other people may not understand why I spend so much time and effort on studying the Holocaust it was nice to be part of a group that understood.