1. You were recognized by the NYS Board of Regents for your teaching on the Holocaust. What piqued your interest in this topic?
My interest was sparked as a young child ... with both of my late grandfathers being World War II veterans, as well as having ancestors from Prussia and Germany. When I saw “Literature of the Holocaust” as an undergrad English elective at SUNY Brockport, I just had to take it. During that course, I met six Holocaust survivors and essentially made the vow to continue to learn as much about this topic as I can.
2. How were you able to translate your interests into popular courses at your school?
When I started teaching at Alexander, I created an elective based on the course I took at Brockport. I now teach two high school English electives that center on the Holocaust and other human rights violations: “WWII/Holocaust Literature” and “Post WWII Literature” (which starts at the Nuremberg Trials and continues to current events). We cover the history to ensure that students have a solid foundation, with readings and examination of artifacts. Students dive deeper into topics of interest with project-based learning. The most popular activities tend to be student presentations, activities generated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and survivor testimonies.
3. What kind of activities do you do beyond the classroom?
In addition to field trips to the USHMM and historic sites in Europe, we have hosted several events featuring Holocaust survivors. The attendance has been incredible. The experience of listening to a survivor can be life-changing.
4. For some, teaching the truth about history has become controversial. Why is it important to teach about the Holocaust — and how do you tie in current events?
If we learn the truth of what happened before, during and after the Holocaust, we, as a society, can recognize the good and the bad among us today — and avoid mistakes from the past to ensure the best for future generations. As incidents arise while the course is being taught, we discuss the situation and how it connects to what we have learned. At the same time, we avoid comparisons to the Holocaust or other genocides, as that can erode the significance of these horrific events. My goal is for students to walk away with a solid understanding of history and the tools to know the truth when it’s most needed.
5. Any advice for teachers who want to launch or expand Holocaust education?
I’ve been teaching about the Holocaust for 14 years, and I am still learning, still making mistakes. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others. Start with the USHMM. Also, look into local resources. I have several Jewish community centers and Holocaust resource centers in my backyard. For those who don’t, there are many enrichment opportunities available online. Show your passion for the topic. The students will build empathy and concern for others by following your lead.