Kennesaw workshop emphasizes tough questions, survivors’ voices

By Anna Streetman

A workshop at Kennesaw State University helped educators of all levels learn about teaching the Holocaust.

More than 30 teachers from across the country attended the workshop Thursday and Friday, Jan. 29 and 30, at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education. The free workshop was made possible through Kennesaw State’s partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.

Thursday began with a film called “No Place on Earth,” a docudrama based on the true story of Chris Nicola, a New York police officer and caving enthusiast who visited Ukraine to explore the Vertebra and Priest’s Grotto caves. He discovered that Jews hid in the caves during the Holocaust, and he set out on a decade-long quest to find the survivors.

The film features interviews with the survivors and their descendants and includes a section in which Nicola brings them back to the caves. The film, released in 2012, has a 79 percent approval rating from movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Catherine Lewis, the assistant vice president for museums, archives and rare books at Kennesaw State, leads a breakout session on university-level Holocaust studies Jan. 30. Courtesy of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education

Friday was split into three parts and began with a thought-provoking question about the roles people played during the Holocaust. Laura Boughton, a teacher with over 20 years’ experience, asked the tough questions: “We all say we would be one of the rescuers; we would help the Jews. But would we? It’s amazing how quickly our roles can change. We use Hitler’s rise to power as a simple answer for why it happened, when in reality it was a number of people that contributed to the Holocaust.”

 

The presentation began with a group picture of friends before World War II. Two of them were Jewish, and a third turned out to be a concentration camp officer.

At another point during the Friday workshop, Georgia Commission on the Holocaust Executive Director Sally Levine spoke about the importance of Holocaust literature. She defined Holocaust literature as more than just books, also including pictures, letters, diagrams and more.

“I think the most important thing to remember about Holocaust literature is dignity,” she said. “It’s important before you show any Holocaust literature that you ask yourself, ‘Would the person be OK with being portrayed in this way?’ They deserve to be presented in a dignified fashion.”

Levine also spoke about how teaching Holocaust literature is crucial to provide survivors a voice after they are gone. She reminisced about an experience with Nesse Godin, a Lithuanian Holocaust survivor who has devoted her life to educating people about the Holocaust. During a seminar of Godin’s, Godin gave Levine a hug and told her, “You will be my voice when I am no longer here.”

Holocaust survivor Hershel Greenblat, who spent the first years of his life hiding from the Nazis in the caves of Ukraine, shares his story with workshop attendees Jan. 30. Courtesy of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education

 

Levine then became more determined to teach Holocaust literature and make sure that survivors’ stories are never forgotten.

Literature was passed out throughout the workshop, including a handout from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with guidelines for teaching the Holocaust. The handout emphasizes defining the Holocaust and its historical context of the Holocaust, maintaining objectivity, not romanticizing the Holocaust, and not teaching that the Holocaust was inevitable.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum offers further information about teaching the Holocaust at www.ushmm.org.

Workshop attendee Matt Taylor is a fifth-grade teacher who has taught the Holocaust twice in the past. When teaching the Holocaust, he stresses empathy above anything else. “It’s important to make the Holocaust matter to non-Jewish people,” he said. “Many kids at that age think, ‘So what? It’s not happening to me.’ Empathy is important not just for learning about the Holocaust, but in life.”