Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Keeping the Stories Alive: Studying the Holocaust

There are 350,000 survivors of the Holocaust alive today...
There are 350,000 experts who just want to be useful with the remainder of their lives. Please listen to the words and the echoes and the ghosts. And please teach this in your schools.
--Steven Spielberg (Academy Award acceptance speech)

I was very lucky to be able to visit the United States Holocaust Museum during a trip I took to Washington D.C. during high school. The visit made a huge impact on me, since it put real faces and voices with the events I had read about in books like The Diary of Anne Frank. These weren’t long-dead historical figures, and some of them are still alive today to tell their story. History standards often emphasize the importance of allowing students to draw learning from primary sources, which are readily available for the subject of the Holocaust. You might not be able to take your students to Washington D.C. and you might not be able to bring a Holocaust survivor into your school for a presentation, but there are plenty of recordings, pictures, interviews, and other interactive resources you can use in your class to create a virtual field trip or presentation. According to the Florida Center for Instructional Technology’s Holocaust teacher’s guide, “Personal accounts by survivors of the Holocaust are powerful. They connect us, person to person, with an era in history that is difficult, yet necessary, to comprehend. Survivor testimony translates the countless unimaginable victims into a single person's feelings and thoughts.”

Why should you include the study of the horrible events of the Holocaust in your classroom? Besides the fact that it is an important chapter of history, the study of these events will teach your students real-life lessons about humanity. It will also contribute to one of the main goals of education, which is to create responsible citizens. These are real events that happened to real people, some of who are alive today. Students may be able to relate to these people and their stories and empathize with their situation. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, studying the Holocaust piques student interest because it raises questions of the issues that adolescents are facing every day in their lives. These issues include “fairness, justice, individual identity, peer pressure, conformity, indifference, and obedience.”

To learn more about how to best tackle the subject of the Holocaust, please visit the education section of the museum’s site. They have guidelines for teaching, important subjects to cover, and a comprehensive online museum about the Holocaust. The site also has resources and lesson plans. Their Holocaust Encyclopedia includes first-hand information about many of the victims.

The Florida Center for Instructional Technology has also put together an excellent collection of resources for teaching about the Holocaust in different grade levels. These resources have been catalogued on the Gateway so you can easily find them. The following link will take you to their main page: As you browse through the site you will find many sections of teaching material. There are sections dedicated to the people involved in the Holocaust, the arts during the time, and a collection of web-based resources for teachers.

If you search for Holocaust on The Gateway, you will find plenty more resources to complement the collections of tools, primary sources, and other resources I highlighted above. Also, be sure to look at the resources Joann featured in her column. There were some wonderful ideas that you can use. I do suggest reading the guidelines for teaching on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum first. It won’t take a lot of time, and it will help you understand how to best reach your students when tackling this difficult subject. The survivors of the Holocaust are aging. Each generation of students studying the subject has fewer resources than the last, so it is up to educators to keep the stories and lessons learned alive.

~Peggy's Corner - 4/15/2011~

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