Gov. Matt Blunt has filled five of the nine public slots on the newly created Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission.
The appointees are Guenter Goldsmith, a Holocaust survivor; Jean Cavender, director of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center; Lolle Boettcher, a member of the museum’s governing board; Richard Kalfus, a professor at Meramec Community College, and Dana Humphrey, an eighth-grade communication arts teacher in the Fort Zumwalt district. All five have ties to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum.
Guenter Goldsmith, 81, of Wildwood, was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1925. After his father was taken away to a concentration camp by German authorities in 1938, Goldsmith’s mother found her son safe passage to the United States through an uncle in St. Louis. Goldsmith immigrated to the United States by himself in 1941. Goldsmith lost all of his family in Germany during the Holocaust.
Goldsmith served in the Army, returning to fight in Germany in 1945, and after the war, he attended the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. After working as a pharmacist and pharmacy owner, Goldsmith started a medical equipment company with his son.
Goldsmith became involved with the St. Louis Holocaust Museum after one of his grandsons made a video interviewing him about his experience during the Holocaust. “It took a long time, but that’s what started me talking about the Holocaust,” he said.
Since then, Goldsmith has begun speaking about his experiences at the museum, and he said he hopes his spot on the commission will continue to spread awareness about the Holocaust.
“Being a Holocaust survivor, I think I add a little something to the commission. I hope we can get young people especially to remember what happened and hopefully prevent things like that from happening again,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said he has seen Holocaust awareness grow over the years, but he said it is important to continue that growth.
“The Holocaust could happen here. If you get some fanatic religious sect or something, they could start that right here in this country,” Goldsmith said. “That’s why it’s important that we have these commissions and teach the young about what can happen.”
Cavender, 52, of St. Louis, has directed the museum since December 2003, after working as the director of operations at the Contemporary Art Museum. She has previously worked with social justice and health-related fields, and she earned her B.A. in political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Cavender said she would like to see the commission focus on educating teachers and would draw on the resources of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum.
“We have an opportunity to really make a statewide impact,” she said. “If we can disseminate the wealth of resources we have at the museum, we will get a pretty long-term effect by helping educators develop a curriculum and help them teach the Holocaust.”
“So for every educator we give that information to, we get back tenfold in what we give because they are able to carry that information forth to their students,” Cavender said.
Cavender said teaching the Holocaust is also important as a foundation for studying the world today.
“One of the other challenges we face is how do we connect more contemporary genocides with what’s going on. Although nothing of the magnitude of the Holocaust has happened since, we can see in other genocides that the lessons of the Holocaust have obviously not yet been learned and so we have an opportunity to promote and talk about those issues with other people across the state,” Cavender said.
Kalfus, 63, of Kirkwood, is a professor of humanities, French and German, and he is department chair of humanities at the St. Louis Community College at Meramec, where he teaches the popular humanities course “Life And Death During the Nazi Era.”
He has also led a team of educators under a Missouri Humanities Council grant (with funding from the St. Louis Holocaust Museum) who held a series of workshops for teachers in rural Missouri about teaching the Holocaust. Kalfus has given numerous seminars on the topic and has been the recipient of the National Humanities Educator Award for community college professors.
Kalfus said one of the lessons he tries to teach through his courses and seminars is to keep students from being “bystanders.” “Certainly what I teach centers on the Holocaust, but it tries to teach students to recognize what’s going on in today’s genocidal atmosphere and to do something,” he said.
Kalfus said the lessons of the Holocaust still have not been learned. “I’m 63 and I have never lived in a world where I worry more for my children and grandchildren and myself,” he said.
He lauded the formation of the committee. “I really think the recognition of the governor’s office recognizes that Holocaust awareness goes far beyond the Holocaust. And that’s actually what my goal is: to get people to recognize that there are links to the past that we have to break.”
Kalfus hopes the commission will be able to implement measures to make Holocaust education mandatory.
“There are quite a number of states that have mandated that students can’t graduate from high school without having some education on the Holocaust. We would like to somehow see if we can’t convince the State Board of Education to do some kind of mandating of Holocaust awareness and maybe tie it in with reducing stereotypes,” Kalfus said.
Humphrey, 49, of Troy, said she gets a firsthand look at what students in her eighth-grade class at North Middle School in the Fort Zumwalt District know about the Holocaust.
“Some students have heard of it but they don’t know the whole story,” she said.
Humphrey said her experience teaching the Holocaust began with the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank.
“I started teaching the play, and I realized that students were only getting part of the story. So I read and studied on the Holocaust, so I could share more of the whole story,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey, who earned her B.A. at Mizzou, and her master’s degree in education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, received further education about the Holocaust through her Mandel Fellowship at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“I think it’s important that we don’t forget what happened and that is a possibility if students aren’t educated about the past,” she said.
Boettcher, 59, of University City, serves as an educator and board member for the St. Louis Holocaust Museum.
She received her B.A. from Central Missouri State University and her M.A. from UM-St. Louis, and she taught middle school English in the Francis Howell school district until she retired in 2002.
Boettcher received the Mandel fellowship from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 1996, a yearlong program with one full week of study at the museum in Washington, D.C. The fellowship required an outreach project, and Boettcher, a Presbyterian, chose to hold adult classes on the Holocaust at Christian churches.
In 2000, Boettcher also attended a Holocaust Educational tour, led by a Holocaust survivor, which took participants to Poland to visit concentration camp sites and to Israel, which included eight days of study at Yad Vashem.
Boettcher agreed with other appointees on the commission that she would like to see mandated Holocaust studies in Missouri, but she said it is even more important to provide standards on teaching the Holocaust.
“Other states have mandated Holocaust education, but very often there’s no teeth to the requirements. I’m much more concerned with establishing guidelines so teachers who want to teach the Holocaust will be able to do so in the most effective way, and with effective resources,” Boettcher said.
The Commission on Holocaust Education and Awareness became active on Aug. 28 of last year, two months after Gov. Blunt signed the bill in a ceremony in downtown St. Louis. The commission is made up of nine members chosen by the governor, along with the president of the University of Missouri System, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education and the commissioner of higher education. All of the appointees were scheduled for a confirmation hearing by the Senate this month.
Sen. Michael Gibbons, who sponsored the original legislation, stressed the importance of the commission. “This really is something that goes beyond Missouri,” he said. “I think it’s important that we continue to remember the Holocaust and be aware that genocide has happened and continues to happen around the world. And the best way to defeat it is to not be desensitized to it.”