Holocaust Museum hosts workshop for educators

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

A workshop for area educators, including teachers in local Catholic schools was hosted by the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center on the theme “Jewish-Christian Relations in Light of the Holocaust.” The curriculum and materials developed for the workshop was authored by David C. Oughton, Ph.D., a longtime teacher of Holocaust Studies and other subjects at Christian Brothers College, and Rabbi Robert Sternberg, executive director of the Hatikvah Holocaust Education and Resource Center in Springfield, Mass., who served as director of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center from l977-1985.

“One of the most important things about the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center’s Education Outreach Program is the exponential impact it will have on students for years to come,” said Jean Cavender, director of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. “One educator reaches thousands of students during his or her teaching lifetime. This program provides a solid foundation of curricula for teachers. Using the Holocaust to initiate discussion and learning, educators can craft their classes to address issues related inclusiveness and diversity in our contemporary society.”

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Students and teachers from area colleges, along with teachers and administrators from local middle and elementary schools took part in the two-day workshop, which covered a wide range of subjects which are covered in detail in the l40-page workbook and resource guide, and its companion student activity book.

In welcoming the local Catholic educators to the first workshop, Oughton said the goals of the program included, “to understand the complexity of the history and the lessons of the Holocaust; to become familiar with a rationale for studying the Holocaust and to develop a perspective on how to respond to people who do not think it is important to learn about this subject.”

The educators were familiarized with basic working definitions for teaching the Holocaust, including the Hebrew word, Shoah, which literally means “the great destruction.” The Holocaust itself was defined as “the government sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between l933 and l945.”

In their book, Oughton and Sternberg stress the importance of understanding the Holocaust in relation to the entire question of Christian-Jewish relations. “Many scholars argue that Christian anti-Judaism served as a foundation or seedbed for Nazi ‘racial’ antisemitism.”

Oughton told the educators, “studying the Holocaust is important becaue it raises many important questions about human nature, politics, and ethical decisions as well as the history and future of Jewish-Christian relations.” Several times in his remarks and in the book, Oughton emphasizes that the historical background of events which led to the Holocaust must begin not with l933, the year that Adolf Hitler brought the Nazis to power in Germany, but 33 the year in which Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and his followers began to split off from Judaism into the new religion of Christianity.

Quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oughton said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Injustice to any people is a threat to justice to all people.”

The workshops covered a wide range of topics, including books and audio-visual materials; age-appropriateness for Holocaust narratives and images; “the bystander syndrome”; the Death March experience; propaganda and youth in the Third Reich; righteous among the nations and the Internet as a tool for teaching about the Holocaust.

Dana Humphrey, who teaches English fiction, non-fiction and poetry, led a workshop on “Holocaust Education in the Classroom: Teaching the Essentials.” Humphrey pointed out that she sends letters to parents of her students giving them a “heads up” that the topic is going to be taught in order to give concerned parents an opportunity to contact her in advance of the classes.

She pointed out that everyday situations in a middle or high school can be used as opportunities for teaching about the “Bystander” syndrome.

“If there is a fight in the hallway, what about the students who just stand off to the side and watch? They are like the bystanders who stood by while their neighbors were being rounded up during the Holocaust. What are the similarities and the differences?”

Humphrey also pointed out that in teaching about the “righteous Gentiles” who protected or saved Jews, it is important to “go beyond just Schindler’s List and the more familiar cases. It is important to teach about the victims, the perpetrators, the bystanders and the righteous Gentiles.”

She added that clarity of terms and their meaning is important. If the Nazis incorrectly called Jews a “race,” it should be pointed out that Jewishness is not a race and that there are Jews among all of the races of humankind.

Another session, taught by Dr. Richard Kalfus, discussed “The Death March Experience,” dealing with the Nazi-imposed death marches in l944-45, the final years of World War II as the Allies were closing in on concentration and death camps. Kalfus made the experience more vivid by examining the events through the eyes of Gerda Weissmann Klein in her short, emotionally charged video, One Survivor Remembers. Kalfus also used eyewitness written testimony and poems by survivors describing their experiences as teaching tools.

Kalfus described how Gerda Klein, a female inmate of Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by an American soldier named Klein, who asked her where “the other ladies” were. “Here was a Jewish G.I. with his nametag “Klein” asking an emaciated Jewish woman where the other “ladies” were after they had been treated worse than animals. She was so overcome, that she would marry the Jewish soldier.”

Teachers and students who took part in the workshops were enthusiastically positive in their responses. Barbara Collins, teacher at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic School, said she wanted to “thank all the many people who cooperated in order to present the excellent workshop. David Oughton delivered a powerful presentation augmented by his hierarchically approved text and teacher guides. Certainly, the supporting audio-visual material was impressive as well, and hearing the survivors’ quotes and interviews reinforced the factual reality of this ‘war within a war’ for me.”

Gail Hoffman, who teaches 9-l2th grades at the Trinity Catholic High School, said, “I really enjoyed this workshop. I learned a lot and have much to ponder.”

Marily Jelowitz, who also teaches 9-l2th grades at Trinity Catholic High School, appreciated “the incredible amount of material presented in an orderly manner. I learned a lot.”

Amy Jones, who teaches 9th and l0th grade English at Incarnate Word High School, said, “I will definitely work to arrange field trips for my students to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum to connect the curriculum to a personal experience. This program is so comprehensive, well-organized and enlightening. I am so glad to have attended today.”

Cavender, Dan Reich, curator and education director at the HMLC and Myrna Meyer, also expressed appreciation to Oughton, the resource faculty and the participants.

“We are fortunate to have such brilliant educators who are willing to give their time to the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center,” Meyer said. “Several of our teachers have studied at the United States Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem. Their commitment to conducting workshops, either at the Holocaust Museum or throughout the region, is so impressive.”

Reich said, “Conducting workshops and educating the public, especially educators and students, about the Holocaust and its lessons is central to the mission of our Museum.”

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