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The Journal Gazette

  •  Mott

Saturday, March 23, 2019 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

Not focusing on death helps keep memory of Holocaust alive

To attend

The 2019 Holocaust Education Teachers Workshop will be May 12 at Purdue Fort Wayne. The event is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League; Echoes and Reflections is a program of the league, the USC Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem.

To register, visit www.pfw.edu/ihgs.

For questions, contact Benjamin Kearl at PFW's Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, kearlb@pfw.edu.

When a mass murder appears to have a religious, ethnic or political component, memories of the Holocaust may flicker across the public consciousness as well. This can happen whether the victims are Muslim, as they were in the recent massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, or Jewish, as they were in the shootings at a temple in Pittsburgh last October.

More than seven decades after World War II, though, the events that cost the lives of more than 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany-dominated Europe are for some a hazy concept at best. Surveys reveal that many Americans, especially the young, lack basic knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust.

A conference planned at Purdue Fort Wayne this spring is one of many steps being taken around the country to change that.

Area teachers will spend a day exploring ways to effectively tell the story of the Holocaust and place it in the context of the incidents of large-scale, hate-based killing that occur in today's world. PFW's Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and School of Education will present the workshop, which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.

“I think Holocaust education is getting a lot of attention right now because of the rise in anti-Semitic incidents happening in the U.S.,” said Melissa Mott, deputy project director of the league's Echoes and Reflections program. More states are requiring  the subject be included in history classes, and more teachers are seeking help from the league, she said. “They're looking for information and curricula to help students build empathy and understanding, both to prevent incidents from happening and sometimes to educate in the wake of those incidents.”

Steven Carr, director of the Purdue institute, said Indiana law requires schools to teach about the Holocaust. “But in some ways it is worse than no mandate at all. It doesn't specify how to teach” or “how much to teach.”

The seminar is an attempt to offer teachers guidance in teaching the subject, and to hear their ideas on how to expand effective Holocaust education throughout the state.

“We're at a critical juncture” for keeping understanding of those events alive, Carr said. “The survivors and witnesses will no longer be with us during our lifetime.”

Part of making Holocaust study relevant is noting “similar patterns that emerge when any government decides to persecute its citizens,” Carr said, citing violence in several African nations, as well as Myanmar and Syria.

Understanding the Nazis' campaign against the Jews also illuminates the rising dangers of identity-based extremist movements, including white nationalism, he added.

Mott, who will speak at the May session, said effectively teaching young people about the Holocaust means humanizing the hisstory, telling the stories of individuals instead of stressing the horrific carnage and the staggering numbers. “Those aspects have power, but only if we can instill empathy, first and foremost, through the human story.”

Echoes and Reflections, for instance, offers teachers the account of Dawid Sierakowiak, a Polish youth who kept a diary from the time his city of Lodz was taken over by the Germans in 1939 until his death in the Lodz ghetto four years later. Students reading his insightful but increasingly desperate entries are brought face to face with how a promising young life was wasted.

“We want students to understand the power of one person,” Mott said. “We can concentrate on their lives and not on the deaths.”