SPECIAL ENVOY DANIELS: Hello. Welcome to the Department of State’s second webinar, co-hosted with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and focused on Holocaust education. My name is Cherrie Daniels and I’m the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues at the Department.
This office was established in 1999 with several goals. My office is focused on obtaining and working for a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors and their heirs and families, and that’s something we continue to work toward. My office is also focused on working toward and promoting Holocaust education remembrance and research. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re here today.
The U.S. has a longstanding commitment to promoting historically accurate Holocaust education. And our ability to do that at home took a big step forward last June in 2020, by the signing into law of the bipartisan Never Again Education Act. Allow me to share with you just one short excerpt, a very meaningful one, from that piece of legislation.
It said, “As intolerance, anti-Semitism, and bigotry are promoted by hate groups, Holocaust education provides a context in which to learn about the danger of what can happen when hate goes unchallenged and there is indifference in the face of oppression of others; learning how and why the Holocaust happened is an important component of the education of citizens of the United States,” close quote.
That is why in keeping with our goal of advancing Holocaust education, we are honored this morning to host four representatives of a 20-member workshop that convened at the Holocaust Memorial Museum virtually last week. The group had an opportunity, on March 11, to participate in a Museum-hosted workshop to compare experiences that they’re having in teaching the Holocaust and to share best practices for overcoming some of those challenges that they identified. They also brainstormed ways in which Holocaust education – Holocaust educators can better cooperate within and across national boundaries. I’m really looking forward to hearing the findings of their workshop.
The participants were composed of 20 women and men from across the United States and across Europe. And many of those countries are represented in the audience today.
They had vastly personal, varied personal backgrounds, including teachers but also community educators. Also participating were Holocaust museums and institutes in Houston and Omaha, as well as from the Arolsen Archives International Center on Nazi Persecution in Bad Arolsen, Germany.
What they all share is a commitment to educating upcoming generations about the history of the Holocaust. And their critically important work, which has always been difficult even under normal circumstances, has become even more challenging due to rising anti-Semitism worldwide, the efforts of malign actors to twist and distort the Holocaust history, and the additional hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly 400 people have registered for today’s program from 32 countries all over the world and from 26 states across the United States from coast to coast. To all of the participants, I offer my deepest gratitude for taking out of your busy schedules to participate in that exercise. And then for being willing today, to brief us on the key findings.
But first to start our program off today, we’re pleased to welcome a very special person, Dr. Yehuda Bauer, one of the world’s pre-eminent Holocaust historians. Dr. Bauer is Professor emeritus of Holocaust Studies at the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And he’s also the academic advisor to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Dr. Bauer is the honorary chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which the United States is a founding member. That organization was begun in 1998 and now is made up of 34 member countries, one liaison country, seven observer countries, and an incredible list of permanent international partners, all of whom are committed to promoting historically accurate Holocaust education remembrance and research as well as to the opening of archives.
I can’t think of anyone better suited to speak on the importance of Holocaust education than Professor Yehuda Bauer. Over to his video.
DR. YEHUDA BAUER: Why do we deal with the Holocaust? The reason is that this is the most extreme case of a general human illness, that of human groups, states, societies, ideologies, destroying it, annihilating others. Something that’s been done in human history for time immemorial.
But the Holocaust was the most extreme case, up to now at least. And what we are doing actually is to try – it’s the kind of vaccination, if you like, against the sickness, against the illness, against the danger to all of societies that this might spread, that this might return.
Because the Holocaust was not done by God or Satan, it was done by human beings for reasons that can be followed, explained, understood, one way or another. But it can return. Not in – never in the same way exactly, sure, in slightly different forms. And the Holocaust is a warning. A warning, as I said a kind of, if you like, a vaccination against the spread of this disease.
Now at the moment, at this time, with the spread of a pandemic all over the world, there’s an exacerbation of turning towards extremes in societies that isolate each other from each other. And the question of how they deal with the Holocaust with this warning, with a central warning, is something crucial. Now, there are two ways amongst others that the danger manifests itself: by denial and distortion.
They are not the same. Denial means that you say that the moon is made of white cheese and that Bill Clinton is an invention, never existed. It denies the existence of facts. This is becoming extremely difficult, of course, because there’s so much evidence, and so much memory, and so many documents, and so many videos, and so many films, and so on and so forth.
But it exists, denial exists. In the United States, there is something called the internetarchive.org. If you look at that, you’ll find huge numbers of websites that deny the Holocaust, that distort the Holocaust, that propagate through that, anti-Semitism. Because the Holocaust was caused by a number of motivations. But the central motivation was the hatred of Jews, anti-Semitism.
And this is repeated today in different forms and different ways and by different people in different countries. But it exists. And in the United States, it exists as well. But that is not the main danger. It is a danger, sure. It’s got to be fought. It can’t be allowed to spread.
But the major thing I think that one should warn against is not the denial, it’s the distortion. What does that mean? Distortion means to say we did not do it, whoever the “we” is – states, populations, governments, societies. “It’s the Germans who did it, only the Germans.” Now, of course it’s true. It came from Germany. Nazi Germany invented this, developed it, executed it, murdered, sure. But without the help of small or large numbers of people in different countries – both occupied by Germany and collaborating with Germany at the time – but also people outside. Without their help, they could not have done it, not alone. They had to have some – they had to have some help.
So today, when the nationalism develops, when authoritarian and dictatorial powers of states develop and become stronger and stronger – when that is the case, they have to develop something that will fortify their nationalism, their segregation from others. “We are better than anyone else.”
In order to do that, they have to look for a past that justifies the present, and that makes the present a way in which they can fortify violent nationalism often supported by extremist religious views. So they have to have a usable past. And when that usable past is not there, they have to invent it.
Now, distortion is not total denial, no. They never say that the Holocaust did not happen. “No, it did happen. But they did it, not we. We were fine. We tried to help those Jews, you know.”
What should educators do? There’s one thing educators must do, and that is to come as close to the truth as humanly possible. You can never encompass the whole truth. And as educators, you have to deal with a huge number of issues in your grades, in your classes, in your schools, with children of various ages. Now, of course, there’s only one major topic.
But when you deal with that, use videos, use testimonies. Thousands, tens of thousands of testimonies. And tell the truth as close as you can make it. And that is really the message for the day on which we commemorate the Holocaust.
SPECIAL ENVOY DANIELS: Thank you, Dr. Bauer for those insightful comments. I want to recognize the team that put these webinars together from the State Department and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum before I turn the program over to the moderator for today’s panel, the people that made the concept of a transatlantic conversation of Holocaust educators into a reality.
This included a team at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum – Jen Ciardelli, Ilana Weinberg, Katie Doyle, Amanda Bell, Kristin Walker, and Jill Henry, as well as our moderator, Dr. Friedberg. And at the State Department, Debi Guido and Miguel Diaz in the Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues. Thank you for working so tirelessly over the last months to make this program possible.
And now let me introduce our moderator, Dr. Edna Friedberg from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She’s the senior program curator and the host of the popular Facebook Live series that the museum hosts. She’s a graduate of the University of Illinois and received her PhD from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Dr. Friedberg joined the museum in 1999 and has served as the historian for the museum’s highly acclaimed and highly visited Holocaust Encyclopedia and director of its Wexner Learning Center. Edna, thank you again for agreeing to serve as moderator and the floor is yours.
DR. EDNA FRIEDBERG: Thank you, Cherrie. And I know I speak for my colleagues at the museum when I say we are so grateful for the consistent and fruitful partnership that we have with your office. In normal times, we’re just down the street and we look forward to seeing you in person when we come out of this atypical period.
Today, we have the opportunity to speak with four educators who come from both sides of the Atlantic, to discuss challenges and some solutions when teaching about the Holocaust. But first, a few notes of housekeeping: please note that if you would like to read closed captions, subtitles for this program, you can just click on the icon at the bottom of your screen.
You can also see near it is another icon for Q&A, for question and answer. And we hope that you will submit in real time your questions for our panelists there. Also one more note, that this program is being recorded.
So we have a saying here in the United States that all politics is local. And I would like to adapt and extend it a little by saying that in some ways all history is local. It may not have happened here, but the way that you teach about, talk about the framework and worldview that a student brings to any given chapter of history, is shaped by their own experience and the local context in which they study it.
And we will be hearing from these four educators today about the shared experiences, the commonalities they experience when talking to each other and comparing notes. But also what is different and specific to their situation. And we hope that these insights will prove useful and applicable to those of you watching wherever you are.
As Special Envoy Daniels mentioned, these are four educators who participated in a trans-Atlantic workshop last week that the Holocaust Museum hosted. And I do want to note that in the interest of open expectations, these teachers are not meant to speak for their entire nation or field. They are individuals who are sharing their experiences and have done a lot of thinking and reflecting on these issues. So without further ado, allow me to introduce them. First, we have Peter Garry coming to us from Belgium. Hi, Peter.
MR. PETER GARRY: Hi. Hi, Edna.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Peter is the Director of the Ecole Europeenne III, one of the European secondary schools in Brussels, whose student and teacher populations are drawn from across Europe and speak a number of languages. Mr. Garry previously taught in the classroom, and is an associate of the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland where he is involved in bringing teachers on study visits to Poland and Israel.
Next, we are joined by Adam Musial. Adam is an independent educator. Hi, Adam. How are you? He’s an independent educator with 22 years of high school teaching experience. Adam has taught high school and university students and has also educated teachers, collaborating educationally with numerous Polish and Foreign institutions, including the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, The Jagiellonian University in Krakow, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, Yad Vashem, and the Shoah Foundation. And he has also translated a number of books on the Holocaust and Jewish history. So glad you’re here, Adam.
MR. ADAM MUSIAL: Thank you for having me.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Then here, in the United States, I’d like to welcome Joe Nappi. Hi there, Joe.
MR. JOE NAPPI: Good morning, Edna.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Joe is in his 16th year teaching history at Monmouth Regional High School in New Jersey. He is also a member of the New Jersey Council of Historical Educators “CHHANGE,” which is the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education, and also serves as Monmouth’s Regional – as Monmouth Regional’s district representative to the Kean University Diversity Council. Joe has been an Alfred Lerner Fellow, and was awarded the Dr. Frank Kaplowitz Outstanding Human Rights Educator of the Year Award from Kean University. He’s also a little closer to home for us. Been one of our museum teacher Fellows at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
MR. NAPPI: Thank you for having me, Edna.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Pleasure. And last but certainly not least, Wendy Warren. Hi, Wendy.
MS. WENDY WARREN: Good morning.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Wendy Warren is the Director of Education at the Holocaust Museum Houston. That’s in Texas for those of you outside of the United States. And she organizes education programs, conducts trainings for teachers and docents, writes curriculum, and also works directly with teens in the Engines of Change Student Ambassador program.
Prior to joining Holocaust Museum Houston, Wendy taught social studies and held leadership positions at the campus and school district level. She developed and implemented the first Holocaust and genocide studies course in her school district.
So we’re bringing a wealth and variety of educational experience, pardon me, educational experience here today. And we’re so glad to hear from you.
So we’re really going to frame this conversation around four challenges that came up during your workshop last week. As we mentioned, there were 20 of you who gathered from across the United States and Europe to discuss these challenges. And there are many other challenges that we cannot address today, things that face many teachers, such as having adequate training, enough time to prepare the content and teach. But for our short time today, we want to focus on these issues about teaching traumatic history, the issue that Yehuda Bauer raised and addressed of distortion or misinformation and anti-Semitism, how students may come to your classroom either resistant to learning about the Holocaust, and how the national context may inform that attitude, and what we do with diverse learners to make this history relevant, or as I said also, local.
So let’s begin by talking about the Holocaust and the fact that this is painful and complicated, and for some students frightening, to teach. You know, it brings to the surface some hard realities of human behavior.
Peter, I’m hoping we could start with you to talk about maybe an experience you’ve had with this and also whether the pandemic and remote learning has exacerbated this at all or made it more or less of a hurdle for students and teachers.
MR. GARRY: OK. Thank you, Edna. And the Holocaust is always going to be a traumatic event to teach. It was unprecedented and it was unique but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. It makes us reflect on behaviors or look at actions of people that we don’t feel comfortable doing. And throughout the teaching of the Holocaust, it is only right that the victims are to the forefront, that we give agency to the victims of the Holocaust.
However, unfortunately the victims are dead. They can’t speak. However, by looking at the actions of the perpetrators, the bystanders, the upstanders, we can learn about the facts that led to the Holocaust, the events that show the Holocaust was not inevitable. And as Raul Hilberg said, you know, the Holocaust was organized by men in backrooms with stubby pencils.
One didn’t have to be ideologically, 100% ideologically, inclined to be involved in the Holocaust. And we need as educators to accept that it is always going to be uncomfortable. It will always be traumatic teaching the Holocaust. But once we keep in mind the premise of bringing the students safely into the Holocaust and bringing them safely out, the challenges are not insurmountable.
The USHMM has a number of resources, which can help and guide teachers towards and teaching traumatic – the traumatic and history of the Holocaust. The question sheet they prepare for educators to have them focus before they even begin teaching the Holocaust, “Why the Jews?” allows a teacher, an educator to reflect him or herself. Because for the teaching of the Holocaust to be effective, the educator also has to be – become OK or relaxed with the fact that it is uncomfortable. Students will never feel comfortable. But they shouldn’t feel comfortable. You know, the Holocaust – Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust. However, as we see more and more, there’s very little factual understanding in the Holocaust.
It’s often reduced down to good and evil and bad and good. However, by using resources, as I said, that the USHMM has put at our disposal, such as the worksheet they provided on assessing and defining responsibility in relation to the film Schindler’s List, can help us to not just improve the students’ and increase the students’ knowledge and fill their heads with facts on the Holocaust, but move this from, which is the true challenge of education, from memory and understanding towards responsibility for the future. And that is our ultimate goal when we are teaching and dealing with the Holocaust.
And to go back to the first part of your question, yes, teaching in a pandemic and teaching online, as is the case for most people, exacerbates those challenges. But again, they are not – honestly they are not impossible to overcome. We as educators have seen that we need to build in more time for reflection, to take even greater care in the images we show to students, because there is a tendency to use shocking images, but when we teach the Holocaust, the challenge is to engage the students emotionally, but then to move them from this emotional engagement to what Dr. Young, Michael Young, in UCL refers to powerful knowledge, using this knowledge to reflect on an understanding of our responsibility towards the future.
And resources in the Imperial War Museum in London, in Yad Vashem, case studies that they provide allow us to look at these uncomfortable behaviors that exist in the Holocaust, that shows it wasn’t inevitable and there were no pragmatic reasons for the Holocaust. We can learn from it and move forward. Thank you.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Curious if that resonates with any of the other three of you. If there have been experiences that you’d like to share and ways you’ve navigated it.
MR. NAPPI: I think I respond a lot to what Peter is saying here. I’d like to piggyback a little bit off of what he was talking about with some of the image choices and the things that we choose to show to students. I think a very valuable resource here is the Holocaust Museum’s guidelines for teaching the Holocaust. And I’m focusing specifically on making responsible methodological choices when we’re teaching this history. And I think part of that discussion is not just in the resources that we choose to use and the images we choose to show those students, which I think we definitely have to be very cognizant of, but also the situation that our students may find themselves in. I think this is something that we’re, as educators, probably hyper aware of now that we’ve seen the loss that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our students.
But this is something that is often present in your classroom with students who’ve gone through traumatic experiences prior to this. And I think it’s important to have that dialogue with your students to offer trigger warnings to them before – I mean, if you decide that it is necessary to use an image, or a lot of times, even a narrative account that might be disturbing to them, given the situation they find themselves in, that you offer students an opt out to perhaps that activity, an alternative to that activity that might be more comfortable for them in that particular situation. I think we all teach this history because we want to do good. And we want to see a positive outcome for our students. We certainly don’t want to harm them in any way through presenting this very important history.
DR. FRIEDBERG: I think you raise an important duality that’s there, Joe. Also it’s not just that this history itself can be traumatic or difficult to look at. It should be difficult to look at but that it also may relate to other emotional issues or scars that the student brings to the classroom. And that as educators we have to be cognizant of both of those tracks. Wendy, you look like you want to say something.
MS. WARREN: Yeah. I was just going to add that I agree with what Joe and Peter were talking about in terms of student trauma and the role of the educator. And so we have to be aware of what the students are bringing. I’ve had students who were themselves refugees or came from environments – came from Syria or Myanmar and had experienced a lot of trauma in their life. And you have to be sensitive to that in the classroom.
And so as an educator there are so many tools at our disposal in terms of teaching the Holocaust. You don’t have to use graphic imagery. You can use poetry. You can use primary sources that are not as shocking or traumatic to students. So going back to Peter’s initial statement, “safely in and safely out,” is never traumatizing your students because they will not learn. All they will remember is feeling very traumatized.
Most educators know the most important thing is setting up a very safe learning environment for all learning, and that certainly includes traumatic history like the Holocaust.
DR. FRIEDBERG: And I know that none of us thinks that means sanitizing or minimizing the horrors of the Holocaust. But there can be a kind of on-ramp to it, that you don’t have to begin by shocking or terrifying someone, and that some of the most disturbing examples, in fact, may not be graphically violent at all.
I’d like to turn away from some of the kind of more emotional, psychological though, and talk about also about the local context and national narratives. This is particularly true in Europe because these are the lands where the Holocaust happened. And Adam, I’d like to start with you to hear as an educator working in Poland, of course, a site of brutal occupation from Germany and a site of many atrocities carried out there. Could you talk about some of the tensions, but perhaps also some of the advantages that exist in your work teaching about it where it is indeed local history?
MR. MUSIAL: Yes. Thank you. Well, there are quite a few difficulties and obstacles that I could mention concerning Holocaust education in Poland, and generally, in Eastern Europe. I know our time is limited so let me just stick to one or two perhaps. So I want to refer to the difficulty mentioned by Professor Yehuda Bauer, because Holocaust distortion is also happening in Poland.
I know the dominant narrative at the moment is spread mostly by the political elite – but also the historians who support them – is that ethnic Poles were only heroes or victims during World War II. And they all helped, allegedly, their Jewish fellow citizens. And the proponents of this narrative keep distorting the truth by speaking predominantly about the righteous among the nations.
And this is in opposition to the findings of Polish and foreign Holocaust scholars have revealed in many publications actually that some Poles were also complicit in the Holocaust. So this official narrative speaks only of the innocence of ethnic Poles, which is even declared publicly and by law in Poland. And the righteous among the nations are only used as a fig leaf in this kind of psychological maneuver.
And this is happening because the proponents of this ethno-nationalist narrative so popular in Eastern Europe are not so much concerned in the case of Poland with the three million of Jewish Polish victims, but with their own self-image, that is the self-image of the proponent with the image of ethnic Poles, with how Poland, ethnic Poland, comes across in the eyes of Polish society and the world.
And this in turn is linked to the definition of how Polish identity is defined, how Polish national identity is defined, which is still to a large extent, defined along ethnic lines, which means logically and consequently that Jewish Poles are not Polish, or not Polish enough. So the Holocaust consequently is not the Polish story, it’s not our story. And this, needless to say, this narrative and this definition of Polishness greatly influences the school narrative.
So these I found the most difficult obstacles. But speaking of – I know as for the context speaking of the – I should also mention some positive aspects. For example, living and working in Krakow or generally in Central or Eastern Europe, I can use the physical space of my city. And this can help me demystify the abstract character of that sort of, big history of the Holocaust. I can show that big history through its local dimension. And thus I can make it more tangible by teaching how the Holocaust developed in my city. So I can make use of the physical space of the former Jewish Quarter, of the area there used to be the ghetto in Krakow, the space of the Płaszów concentration camp, which is in the outskirts of Krakow.
So I can virtually show that, you know, history happened a block away, just two streets away, just around the corner. And additionally, I can do this through individual stories, through the stories of individual Jewish Krakovians, preferably Jewish teenagers, when teaching to high school students, who had similar dreams, similar plans for life and the future, and it was all taken away from them. So I can in a way, re-humanize the victims of a genocide that was supposed to dehumanize its victims. I can bring back the faces, individual faces, to the abstract and insurmountable number of six million – or three million in the case of Jewish Polish citizens – and give them individual faces. Thank you.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Really powerful ways to make it visceral, to make it relatable, to make it real. While you were talking just from a personal level, it struck me that I know for a lot of American Jews, Poland to them is just a graveyard. And I grew up with a father, a survivor father, who grew up not far away from Krakow, in Galicia. And I grew up hearing him whistle the Polish national anthem. It was much more complicated than that, and it was also our homeland, as well as a place of trauma and loss. So –
MR. MUSIAL: If I could just add one more thing, if it’s OK. I think ideally, you should start when – especially when teaching in Europe or in Eastern Europe, should study Holocaust education by teaching about Jewish life before, about all its diversity and richness, so that you don’t reduce the Jewish victims of the Holocaust to their victim-hood. So that you show them through the richness and diversity of the life as they were, as civilians, through the culture, and how it figured in the mainstream culture. This is really important. You don’t want to speak about how people died only or were murdered. You also want to show how they lived and that a certain life was lost. So speaking of emotions, you can’t really avoid negative emotions, but you should focus on empathy, on regret, what has been lost to my city, to my country. Thank you.
DR. FRIEDBERG: That’s such an important memorial function and also helps people to understand why Jews behaved how they did in certain situations. You know, what would lead someone to resist or not. That they were not a uniform body. So I really appreciate you saying that.
Peter, you look like you have some thoughts, and I also know you have an international student body at your school, even though it is based in Brussels.
MR. GARRY: Yes. Definitely, Edna, I would agree wholeheartedly with everything Adam has said. And – but to go back to your question, we cannot as educators understand the role of the local and the local narrative, you know. And students come to our classrooms, they don’t come as blank slates. They come with knowledge that they’ve amassed from a variety of places.
And also within a multicultural classroom like in Brussels where we have students from all over Europe and further, you can also within a classroom, have competing national narratives, which can be a very challenging and daunting prospect for an educator. But again, it is a challenge but it also presents a number of opportunities. I think the first thing it’s important not to stigmatize a student because of his national identity or his background.
And a survivor that we have worked with in the past often says to students, “They’re not responsible for what happened in their country in the past; they are responsible for what may happen in the future.” So once we remove the stigmatization according to the nationality, and then using these competing national narratives that we often get in our classrooms, it allows us to pursue with students the complexity of the Holocaust, how the Holocaust was so complex and often differed from country to country, from city to city. A small country like Belgium where Jews in the French part were treated differently to Jews in the Dutch speaking part. And it allows us to shoulder the nuances and the complexity of the Holocaust as a whole. I would 100% entirely agree with what Adam said. As educators, it’s our role – for all of us, it’s impossible to understand six million, you know.
Six – with six million, it’s our role as educators to show the students that behind each one of these people, it’s six million multiplied by one. It’s six million individuals who had hopes and dreams. And by focusing on the individual, putting the individual into the story as Adam has said, in your local context as well, you know, can show students not only the complexities of the Holocaust, but also it reduces issues that arise around anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion.
But all of that is based on us teaching the before, the during, and the after. And in work we have done in Holocaust education across Ireland, we have seen there’s sometimes an overemphasis on the mechanics of death and how people died. But, you know, to dovetail on what Adam said, and I quote, Abba Kovner, who was in the Vilna ghetto, who said, you know, how do you know what we’ve lost if you don’t know what we’ve had?
So it’s very important to start with the before the Holocaust, the before, the during, and the after. Because for most Europeans now, they don’t understand what it means to be Jewish. Three percent of the – at – sorry, the Jewish population of Europe now is 0.02%. It’s what it was a thousand years ago. So they don’t understand this. And this has to be taught. And one of the ways is to focus on the individual and look at the before through personal stories, testimonies, by using the areas as Adam – as the ghetto, the Jewish areas and certain cities before the Holocaust.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Wendy, I’m curious to hear from you. We’re hearing, you know, a European perspective, diversity within that European perspective. As an American educator teaching here in the U.S., what resonates and what’s been your experience in terms of resistance to this topic, to learning about it?
MS. WARREN: Yeah, it’s – just as Peter was speaking about nuance, I was thinking about how difficult it is to teach with nuance when you’re very limited, as a classroom teacher typically in Texas would be. The standards here in our state historically have not really included very much about the Holocaust. And so teachers really don’t have a lot of incentive to spend time on a subject that they’re not going to be tested on or that they are not expected to teach in a very crowded curriculum environment.
And so it’s really our job as a museum and museum education, to help teachers find ways to prepare students, to help them understand the nuance when they have a short amount of time. Now, we have made some progress here last year. The State of Texas enacted a Holocaust remembrance week, asking all educators to teach about the Holocaust during the week of January 27, around international Holocaust remembrance.
But just establishing one week is not really enough to do this subject proper explanation and nuance. So one thing that we’ve done here in our museum, is to create micro-lessons to help teachers and students at least spend some time examining issues and using primary sources. So the key for us is training educators and helping them spend the time that is needed and showing them how this approach and interdisciplinary approach can help students in all areas, not just in learning Holocaust history.
DR. FRIEDBERG: You’ve mentioned the time constraint, which is always very hard for teachers. And we can talk here all day about the million and one things people should include. But then there’s the reality. Another reality is competing sources of information. And social media, obviously, has a tremendous, tremendous impact on young people’s brains at all times, and especially during this year when they’re so isolated at home.
And young people are exposed to a lot, maybe even Holocaust denial or distortion. Joe, I’m curious if we could start with you. Have you had any experiences with this, and what surfaced for you in last week’s workshop?
MR. NAPPI: So listening to the workshop participants from both sides of the Atlantic, it’s sadly not surprising that I’ve heard from almost everyone that they’re dealing with these same issues in their classrooms of distortion, of misinformation. And I think we’re all extremely concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism that we’re seeing in our communities and abroad.
I think these are separate issues, as Professor Bauer did an excellent job of breaking down some of the differences between these. But I think they’re also interconnected issues for educators, in that we can do a lot to combat these, and that they’re based on ignorance. Clear distinctions but they’re all together.
In the way that I see this playing out in my classroom, it’s often, you know, I don’t think I’m breaking any news to everyone that even more so since the pandemic has begun, our students are immersed in their screens. They’re just bombarded with information, whether that’s social media post, YouTube, memes, I mean it’s coming at them from all sorts of directions.
And when I started teaching, I think my focus was generally on, you know, what are the gaps in my students’ information, what don’t they know coming in. And increasingly, I’m finding myself dealing more and more with what students think they know and where they’re getting this information from, and spending a lot of time dealing with this.
Telling the difference between some of the information they see out there that’s innocuous and some of it that I think we have to be very real and understanding, that there’s some malicious intent out there in terms of distortion and in terms of trying to convince kids about alternative versions of history that are out there. Well, most of my students, I don’t find even at senior year are equipped with the skills necessary to tell the difference between those two, between the innocuous and the malicious that are out there on the internet.
And it’s really a challenge to both meet the needs of my students and delivering a high quality Holocaust education and also teaching them those skills that they need in order to deal with this. Because I think any study of the Holocaust is going to lead you to recognize that the intentional spread of misinformation, anti-Semitism, distortion, I mean, these can have horrific consequences within a society. And I think it’s important for me to both, you know, wake my students up to the danger that that poses and try to equip them with the skills to identify and, ideally, respond to this when they see it online. I mean there’s a big question for them about: Do you hit send? Do you continue to pass this information on within your social network when you see it, or do you choose to call that out when you see it?
And that’s a small action. But that agency is very important, and I think it plays into a lot of issues that we see within any study of the Holocaust about are you choosing to act when you see things that you know are not correct within society. So it’s definitely a challenge because I think as we brought – you brought up before, Edna, you know, there’s only – it’s a zero sum game in terms of time. And trying to find the time to fit this all in is increasingly a challenge, yet definitely something that’s urgently needed for our kids.
DR. FRIEDBERG: I think it’s really powerful what you just described. You know, we talk about a video or a story or a meme going viral. Obviously, that has different resonance for us this year. But it’s true that your students can play a role in stopping spread, that they can think twice before liking or sharing or forwarding something along.
Adam, what are your thoughts on this.
MR. MUSIAL: If I were to comment on distortion and the misinformation, I would add things that do not stem so much from the social media but of a more, I would say, archaic nature. There are certain misconceptions and stereotypes that have been carried on through centuries and still are quite rampant in certain sections of various societies, definitely also in Polish society, concerning the – certain stereotypical images of what Jews supposedly are.
And I think the way to combat this, to challenge this, is through – I won’t be revolutionary and what I’m going to say – is in just calmly clarifying, explaining, providing dry facts. You can use a lot of archival documents and photographs and explaining without the temptation of intimidating your students, in a respectful manner where you, as peacefully as possible, explain to your student and try to bring them over to where the fact and the truth really is. Thank you.
DR. FRIEDBERG: That sounds kind of reminiscent of what Peter was saying also about not shaming the student for coming in with that attitude, you know. If you’re not a place where they can ask any question or challenge or see, hmm, this doesn’t align with what the person next to me has heard at their dinner table, where else are they going to get that kind of information, right?
MR. MUSIAL: Yes.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Wendy, I’m curious. I know that you teach in a city that has an incredibly diverse population. And so you face the challenge not only of distance in time and place from this history, that it seems like ancient history, something that happened on a different planet even, you know, where there was only black and white photography, but that you’re setting – your educational setting also includes young people who come from so many different cultures, orientations.
Could you discuss a little bit what this reality looks like and how you help to make the history of the Holocaust relevant, why it matters to them.
MS. WARREN: Yeah. As you said, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, which might surprise a lot of people. But with that, I have had the privilege to work with students of all cultures, backgrounds, and experiences in the classroom and as a museum educator. And the challenge as we move further and further in time from this history, is, you know, young people students are going to feel like, “Oh that’s just ancient history and doesn’t really apply to me.” So how do we connect them? And really what I’ve learned with all young people, you can engage them by helping them see themselves in the story, in the history. And how do you do that? Well, we do that by connecting it to the world we live in today, by looking at human rights and human rights issues and conflicts that are occurring now.
So as an example, we talk about the lessons of the Holocaust. Well, one of those lessons is that the Holocaust was not inevitable, that it happened because people, individuals, communities, governments, allowed it to happen. And so, with that, you can have students examine the role of the individual. And what you want them to learn is that there is power in the individual.
So in looking at that, I’ll give you an example of a time where I first began teaching about the Holocaust at my school. And I brought a small group of these students to the citywide Yom HaShoah ceremony. And at that ceremony and commemoration, they met several Holocaust survivors and got to speak one on one with them. And through that communication, they learned about their experiences of, one, being helped by others, of being refugees and what that meant to them. And I saw in my students, oh my goodness they have this connection, and they saw their own story or their family’s story in it. And they came back from that experience and they came to me and said, we want to start a club, we want to start in upstanders club at our school, so that we can work in a positive way to impact our school and our community. And it was all their doing, and it was because they saw themselves in the history. They got to meet people who experienced it. And, of course, now that’s a challenge as well, as there are fewer survivors who can tell their story. But here at our museum, we work with second gen and third generation family members who go out and speak to students and the community about their family’s history. And I think that’s an important thing.
We want students to be able to think critically. And when you can take these lessons that we’ve learned about the Holocaust and have them think critically about it, about their role and the power of the individual to make change in the world, and then apply it to what is happening around them. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of genocide and human conflict that we have to share with students and learn about. It gives them the feeling that they can make a difference and that they’re not powerless. So I think that is the way to tap into young people and their energy and their desire to really examine issues. And not just keep learning those surface statistics and facts all the time.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Yeah and I’m hearing a couple of consistent themes coming through from all of you during this. One is about the importance of personal agency, that it’s empowering for adolescents to hear about that. But also that they can see that there were many cases in this historical time period where we can show that discretion or choices had life and death consequences for real people. That’s one.
And the second, a number of you have mentioned using primary sources. But also, you know, treating our students with respect, letting them examine the evidence themselves. They don’t need to be spoon fed. They are sophisticated thinkers. They are skeptics by nature. And that when we bring them up close and personal, they are capable of quite a lot of profound analysis.
Peter, you’re making a thoughtful face, so I’d like to hear what’s behind it.
MR. GARRY: No, I agree with you. And I’m thinking as well, the Imperial War Museum had resources – in London, had resources using artifacts. And it’s letting the primary sources and artifacts speak for themselves, and I’m thinking of one where they had pictures of artifacts from children who traveled to England as part of the Kindertransport. And examples of dolls, of sweaters mothers knitted for their children before they left.
And these objects, again, personalize the story. It brought it to a level – this is a picture of an artifact from the late ‘30s. So it was something students could identify with. They often had – it goes back to what Wendy said. That they had these things in their own lives if they traveled – their mother knits a jumper for them. So it allows them not to fully identify with the child, but to see – the child in question, but to see themselves in the story as well and realize it’s not “the other.” It could easily have been me, as well. And it’s reminded me of this image of, you know, we talk about anti-Semitism and it’s a canary in the coal mine. It’s a warning bell that something isn’t right in our society, as we saw in World War II.
And so in short, I think it’s very important to let the artifacts speak for themselves and to use primary sources and to keep coming back to putting that one person in the story. I often think of Daniel Mendelsohn’s book, A Search for Six of Six Million. If you can think of six among six million, then already you’ve brought your students somewhere and you’ve advanced their knowledge. And going back to what I said earlier, it’s powerful knowledge Michael Young at UCL talks about.
DR. FRIEDBERG: We have a lot of questions coming in live from the audience, which is great and I want to leave time for them. So let me just ask one more question about how to share resources. Because in some ways, as much as the history itself is overwhelming in scale and scope and, you know, the number of places. It’s not just numbers but that there are so many contexts where the Holocaust was perpetrated.
The resources are so many. And it may be an embarrassment of riches makes it hard to start. Joe, I’d like to start with you. Could you talk about some of the best ways that you have found either to share resources, to discern which ones are most useful, to learn from people who’ve tried them out and to form networks with some of your colleagues, both locally and internationally.
MR. NAPPI: Sure. I’ve been extremely lucky in being surrounded by so many amazing organizations in New Jersey, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide – the Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education at Brookdale, and Kean University’s Holocaust Resource Center, which both have networks within themselves of educators.
I think one of the best ways we’ve found is through a shared Google drive, where we can kind of put resources back and forth based on our discussions, share this under individual topics.
And I’ve been unbelievably blessed to be part of the Museum Teacher Fellowship at the Holocaust Museum, which really has established a model where we’re being trained to use their resources. We’re being mentored by teachers who have been through the program before. And we operate within cohorts of people within our area, where we can share resources within the group and then take those back to our individual district. I found that to be an extremely effective program in terms of both allowing me to assess the education that I need, the resources that I’m using with my students. And then sharing those within my own school district and, you know, amongst our network from Pittsburgh to Buffalo that we have here of educators who are in there. I think those are some real models that could be followed in other places to kind of get teachers together talking and then give them a single outlet to share those resources back and forth.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Others, Adam, Wendy? What’s been useful to you?
MS. WARREN: OK. I’ll jump in and –
DR. FRIEDBERG: It’s so hard because we can’t read body language and no one wants to interrupt, so.
MS. WARREN: Yeah. So of course, we – as part of our mission in educating people, we really spend a lot of time educating teachers on how they can teach the Holocaust in their classroom. And we did so much of that in person prior to the pandemic. But, of course, during this time period we realized how valuable online resources are. And so we, as a museum, have created lots and lots of resources for educators that they can just tap online and use in their classroom, whether remotely or in person. But we also have colleagues all across the country and internationally, other organizations that we work closely with, that help us to find new resources and develop new curriculum.
I think that you’re right, there is almost an embarrassment of riches. And for a teacher it can be hard to figure out what to do first. So that we try and provide that with our online resources. But we work closely, and always recommend, the U.S. Holocaust Museum. We work with the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. They provide a lot of educational programs. Centropa, an organization that hasn’t been mentioned that really is based in Europe and explores Jewish history, not just the Holocaust, but the full scope, which fits nicely, of course, with the idea of not just treating the Jewish population as victims but seeing them as full people. And so we try to give the educators that we work with this experience of working with these organizations through us. And I think that helps kind of narrow down how to filter what resources you would need in your classroom.
DR. FRIEDBERG: I’d like to ask Cherrie Daniels to rejoin us as we open it up for Q&A from the audience, because we may have questions on a variety of topics, both policy level and education. So welcome back, Cherrie.
Related to what you were just saying Wendy, about Centropa and other organizations, we have a question coming live in from a teacher in Canada saying, “I’m from Canada and I like your idea about teaching about the richness of Jewish life prior to the Holocaust. Do you have any resources?” Adam, you had first brought this up, so I’m curious what you would recommend to this teacher. I’m not sure if it’s a he or a she.
MR. MUSIAL: There’s a number of resources that can be used. So my advice to all educators would be simply to delve into the treasure boxes of the main education institutions like U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for example, or Yad Vashem in Israel, or in Poland that would be the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, or the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum. There are many smaller museums in every Polish city. There are big institutions and in virtually every country – in Belgium Peter will surely confirm. And these are available online. And they are both – depending on the institution, but sometimes they are more about the Holocaust, sometimes about Jewish history in general, of life before. And there’s plenty of materials to use.
There’s the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow. Centropa has been mentioned. Shoah Foundation with eyewitness lessons to use virtually, ready-made to be used from now on. So there’s quite a lot to make use of. Thank you.
MR. NAPPI: Can I piggyback on that a little bit here?
DR. FRIEDBERG: Please, yes.
MR. NAPPI: I’m 100% – I was like jumping out of my seat wanting to just say how awesome that was that you brought that up in our conversation here. But I think specifically, if I could point to a couple of resources, there is – and it may be out of print, but it’s still available online, which is a pre-war Jewish life lesson. It was a model lesson from the Holocaust Museum, which had students use the Holocaust Museum’s archive to pull up primary source photographs of Jewish life prior to the rise of the Nazis, and then compare it to images within their own life and use that to generate questions that they could then use the Holocaust Memorial Encyclopedia to research, to find out information about what life was like in individual shtetls and areas like that.
I’ve also found it very useful to use local resources in your community. There may be a Jewish Heritage Museum that’s near you or even a local rabbi who might be willing to field questions that maybe you as an educator are not comfortable answering that your students may have. Because I think it’s very important for us to sort of address these misconceptions head on if we’re ever going to make progress in moving beyond this.
MR. MUSIAL: I would simply add, if I may, just another piece of advice to teachers. Simply go for it and study on your own yourself. In Poland, there’s a lot of available – there’s a lot of archival photographs available online through the National Photo Archive that you can make use of. If you add to your knowledge of the richness of Jewish culture in Poland and other countries for that matter that you have to of course support with your own learning, which I strongly recommend you do, then you can create your own materials. And that’s really not that difficult to do. Thank you.
DR. FRIEDBERG: And I will mention that will we’ll be sending a follow up email to everyone who’s registered here with a list of resources, different links, things you can see online. If I may take my prerogative as moderator to add one technique that I’ve liked using, is we’ve spoken often about the power of testimony and hearing from a survivor in a recording. If you go to their testimony, don’t just zoom in to the most horrible part of it. Start at the beginning. Maybe show a 90 second clip where they talk about what they liked to do as a kid before, what their parents were like. It totally changes the way you hear what happened to them later, when you hear from their normal, relatable life before.
A Holocaust studies teacher from Massachusetts is asking, “What role do you believe that fictional representations of the Holocaust should play in education?” And I assume he or she means not just novels, but also movies. Movies are very, very powerful. What have been some of your experiences for good or bad?
MR. GARRY: Can I briefly say and the well – when I was teaching it was second level, but obviously it’s better to use testimonies, as you’ve said, and eyewitness accounts from people who were there firsthand. However, maybe it’s nuanced slightly for younger students, fictional, you know – can fiction – works of fiction can provide us a safe way in and a safe way out of the Holocaust, you know, by focusing on maybe with younger students’ stories of escape and survival, can allow you to teach the Holocaust in an age-appropriate way. One obviously has to be very careful with certain pieces of fiction, such as The Boy in Striped Pajamas, which are not representative, obviously, of the Holocaust. But I think there is – you know, and opinions usually differ, but I think there is a place, particularly with younger students, as it allows a managed entry and a managed exit into the Holocaust of certain pieces of fiction.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Others.
MR. MUSIAL: If I may jump in briefly. There’s quite – actually, quite a lot of material that you could use. My preferable choice would be poetry. But I’ve used also films and I’ve used prose. And you can find poetry by survivors or by – even by people who were murdered in the Holocaust. And this wonderful publisher – well, wonderful perhaps is not the best word to choose. But powerful poetry from the Warsaw ghetto for example, or from other survivors. And quite often you have amateur poetry, written by people who were not professional writers, who did the best to express and to render what they were going through in an amateur, unprofessional way. And this is also powerful. When you juxtapose it with, say, a normal account with a testimony, that makes a really powerful use, when you use it to – use both sources. Yeah, I think it could be a powerful – very effective educational method. Thank you.
MR. NAPPI: And I tend to lean more towards using as many primary source accounts as I can. I think, Adam, what you’re suggesting is very good in that it’s rooted in actual survivor experience, right? I think it’s important when you’re looking at what fictional accounts you might consider using in your classroom to consider how rooted in reality is this. I think when we have to deal with the realities of distortion in an active community out there that tries to use any misconception that might be out there to try to prove some ridiculous conception, we have to be very careful about the resources we use.
I’m a big – I use “defiance” in my class, right, which is rooted in the story of the Bielski partisans. That was suggested to me by a local survivor who had experience. So it was really interesting for my kids to watch that movie and then hear Helen’s experiences. And she did a little history versus Hollywood with my kids to talk about what the reality was.
Now, unfortunately, I mean, this kind of speaks to the time. Helen’s no longer really speaking publicly like that anymore. But I mean, those sort of things, I would just suggest that if you are going to use fiction, make sure it’s rooted in the history and make sure that you’re willing to take the time to really discuss, you know, what is inaccurate in this, based on historical events presentation.
MR. MUSIAL: Definitely, Joe. I mean I would use poetry as a kind of follow up as – to build up on the other, more historical primary sources and to show a kind of literary representation of the historical sources that we’ve discussed before. And definitely, when choosing your – whether it’s films or fiction, you have to be really careful.
Peter’s mentioned The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Not the best choice. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, not the best choice. Inglourious Basterds, much as you might like it, not the best choice for educational purposes, because it doesn’t really show the historical truth. So your – of course, your priority is historical precision and exactness, not fictional be it for its own sake.
MR. GARRY: And just a final word, Edna, on that, Adam mentioned poetry and in particular poetry from the Warsaw Ghetto. A very accessible Polish poet translated into English, is Władysław Szlengel –
MR. MUSIAL: Perfect. Exactly.
MR. GARRY: – when I read “The Dead,” for which you will find translations in English and are quite short but extremely thought provoking and allow a very interesting perspective for students on life in the Warsaw Ghetto and also before the establishment of the Ghetto in Warsaw.
DR. FRIEDBERG: And you brought a very important distinction also, Peter, the difference between using artistic representations of the Holocaust that are created now, versus ones that are actually primary source material from the time of. And materials, for example, from the Oneg Shabbat, the secret archive of the Warsaw ghetto, that is a veritable treasure trove that gives you a glimpse into that universe in the voice of the people who lived it. So, it’s so important.
OK. We have so many questions and not a ton of time. There are a couple that I think are large enough categories. I’d like to pose one. I’m going to paraphrase. But it’s a question about the category of bystander and what you think about it and how you talk about it in Polish and other contexts comparatively, because of course, the punishments or consequences for assisting Jews were radically different if you were in Poland versus in Hungary, versus in France, versus in the Netherlands.
The person is asking “Don’t you think that the category of the bystander is a little bit unfair when you look at it in terms of context?” Do you use that term in your classroom, and if so how do you complicate it appropriately? And I know you don’t want to interrupt each other but one of you just has to start talking.
MS. WARREN: OK I’ll give this one a try because language has become a very important issue. As we try to move away from terms that the Nazis used and their euphemisms to more direct, concrete language, we need to think about the same thing in terms of the roles people had. It wasn’t so clear cut. And I know that there’s been a movement of not just using the word bystander but onlooker. Again, because how much agency did that person have in making a change?
So again, it goes back to the idea of teaching nuance and being able to understand the situation and whether the person really had a choice in taking action or not. And these are difficult, critical questions that young people can certainly explore and think about. I think this is the kind of opportunity we want to give our students is to have them think about the roles people had and how it wasn’t just you are either this or that, but that there are gray areas.
And so bystander is one of those terms that can, you know, can seem a little too harsh for what the situation might have incurred.
MR. MUSIAL: Yes. Within the term of bystander there’s quite a range of possibilities. Does it mean a passive bystander or an active bystander, a bystander who was terrified by what was going on, a bystander who was happy with what was going on, which was not uncommon in Poland. Plus the division made by Hilburg, this triple division into perpetrators, bystanders, and victims, and it was done away with a long, long time ago.
And you could be a bystander and a perpetrator at the same time, someone who was complicit in it, or a bystander and a victim. So there’s lots of possibilities. And again, you can show the gray zones of the – sort of the blurry zones through testimonies again. It comes out in Jewish testimonies and non-Jewish testimonies. It’s doable. I mean, in the sense of – you can carry it out and show it in your classroom to your students.
MR. NAPPI: And I would carry of this – so I mean obviously, it’s a very complicated issue too. And obviously, I would say just coming out there philosophically like I would hope that at least most of my students, if not all my students, leave my class with some understanding that they do have agency in situations to make decisions.
Now, that range of choices that’s available to you is really interesting to look at. I think Facing History and Ourselves does some really interesting, complicated deep dives into the range of choices that were available to people in these areas. But I think it’s very important to kind of not let this discussion off the hook by – because a lot of kids are very sort of confident walking into the class with the idea of like, “Oh, well, there was nothing you could do.” They sort of have a view of action of like a Rambo movie, like I had to grab a gun and take the Nazis on one-on-one, which certainly an act of resistance some people did choose to do. But obviously, this is a much more complicated story than one that you would portray that.
But I think there’s really some – a lot of benefit in looking at individuals and the choices that they chose to make and not make, especially in sort of preparing students for certainly not the exact same situation but situations they have to deal with in their own life, when they have to make a decision about whether or not they’re going to say something or do something, even if that was uncomfortable or potentially dangerous to them in that.
These are difficult questions, but they’re questions that I think students gain a lot from wrestling with in there. I would also caution you not to get into “what if” scenarios and like role play these things, because I think it’s impossible to sit in the comfort of your virtual home and try to play out what I would have done in these situations. But I think it’s very valuable to read, you know, first person accounts and primary source materials of people’s decisions. And their reckoning with the decisions that they made afterwards, I think, are very interesting, the way that some people are haunted by the things that they chose to and not to do in those situations. Milton Mayer has a really interesting book on this afterwards where he interviews people from German society about their role, their complicity and what they did or didn’t do as the Nazis came to power. I used an excerpt from that with my students from a college professor who reflects back on these sort of small steps and the things he could have done and chose not to do, for various reasons. I definitely would urge you to spend some time on this in your class. I think it’s very valuable for students.
DR. FRIEDBERG: And as a final question – and I will tell you, we have many, many more than we could get to in the time allotted. I’m actually going a little over. But a teacher from Germany writes, he says “I’m an educator from Germany and I have a question. Do any of you have experience with explicit resistance against your teachings, for example, by politically right wing or Muslim students? And if so, what is your suggestion to deal with it?”
I don’t know which of you has had this. So I don’t know who to pose it to. Peter you’re nodding.
MR. GARRY: Yeah, I can start. I’m trying to think as you’re asking me. It is always difficult, and it goes back to what we said earlier about competing narratives and students not being back, not coming to our classrooms with a blank slate. It – I found challenging someone directly on their views doesn’t work. It will only make them entrench their views. And it’s – the only thing you can hope is that your teaching is incremental and the teaching the before, the during, and after gradually – and by placing the individual in the story gradually, might push the person to reflect a little more. But it’s not something that can be done overnight. It takes time. But I think what is important is to put the individual, as we said, in the story and to start with the before. Let the artifacts speak for themselves as well.
And Holocaust distortion plays a part as well, you know. I think I mentioned earlier that only 3% of Europeans say they’re comfortable or have any knowledge of Jewish culture or Jewish history. So again, it’s all the more important to start at the beginning and to teach the before and to put the individual into the story and – rather than challenging the person saying they’re wrong because you won’t make progress in that respect.
MR. MUSIAL: If I may jump in, I’ve never had this kind of experience, but I think – I would think that you should start – ideally I would – I believe that Holocaust education should be built on – be an extension of anti-discrimination education where you – when you, over a certain period of time, over years, build up the empathy in your students towards any kind of otherness, any kind of discrimination and exclusion.
And then you begin your Holocaust education through showing how certain mechanisms work that are applicable to any form of exclusion discrimination. You should be – of course, avoid jumping to conclusions and making analogies too quickly because the circumstances of different situations are completely different. But you should choose a mechanism, perhaps with this empathy learning, how to distinguish learning, showing the mechanisms, over time, your student who are initially opposed to, will come to understand that this is a situation or this was a situation that could happen to any form of identity, whether you are Jewish, Muslim, LGBT, whatever, Christian, Jewish. It doesn’t really matter. And this would be my advice. But again, as Peter said, this can’t be done overnight. And I don’t think you should push your narrative forcefully. And that’s what I have to say. Thank you.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Thank you, very useful. Yeah, Joe, and then we’ll wrap up.
MR. NAPPI: So I’ve never luckily confronted this directly in terms of like direct Holocaust denial in my classroom. But I would – I have dealt with students who are really locked into certain conspiracy theories and locked into certain political viewpoints. And I’ve dealt with students who have denied the Armenian Genocide.
And really, I think number one you have to be prepared for this conversation to have it. But I think it is a conversation that needs to be had. And in some cases, I know some teachers would veer away from having this publicly, but I had some experience with a student who was denying the Armenian Genocide where I essentially challenged him to provide evidence to support the things that he was saying. And I would provide evidence and we could kind of throw this out on the table and take a look at it and see it together.
I mean, to me these are all essentially conspiracy theories. So I think that anti-Semitism is perhaps the oldest conspiracy theory of all. And many of these have very similar elements in terms of denying reason and denying evidence. And I think it’s really important for us to model for our students, you know, what reason and what evidence-based inquiry looks like and laying these things out.
I mean, like I said, I would not confront them in terms of this is my word and this is your word, like getting into that butting of heads. I would ask questions and I would throw out, you know, evidence out there. And let’s look at what’s on that side, because I think we all know that there is not evidence to support the conclusions that these people are making with this.
Now, whether you feel comfortable having that conversation or not I think is a more personal question. I personally do, but I could obviously see how a teacher would not feel comfortable with that. I just wonder sometimes if you completely just shut them down and don’t give them any opportunity to have a say in this – which I think is most of our instinct. I mean, I immediately respond with anger when I hear something like that. And I think that for us is really challenging to deal with. But this, in some ways, perpetuates this conspiratorial thinking that they have hidden knowledge that we’re not allowing them to have these discussions. And I think that – it’s – I mean that’s another full day discussion, I think, in and of itself, just in dealing with that issue.
DR. FRIEDBERG: Oh, I think that’s the perfect point on which to close. And actually I’m reminded of something that you said, Joe, during one of our preparatory rehearsals for this. You were talking about media literacy with students and that they should look at something and see whether it was there to engage them or enrage them. I’m absolutely going to be quoting that. And I think it’s true also when you have a student who is being directly challenging or confrontational or belligerent. What is the underlying motivation there? Do they actually want the answer or are they trying to cause some kind of scene or challenge of authority, or is there a political motivation, anti-Semitic? So I think getting to whether it’s for engagement or enragement is very, very helpful. And that may happen better, as everyone said, over time through a series of conversations and maybe not in front of the whole classroom.
So anyway, I come away from this conversation feeling like we are very lucky to have all of you working in this field and that I would love to be a student in any one of your classrooms or whether it’s indoors or online or on the street. So thank you so much. When this pandemic is all over, we hope to meet you in person and that you will come visit us here in Washington.
Now, to close the program I’d like to turn it over to my colleague, Jennifer Ciardelli. Jen is joining us from Washington DC. And at the Holocaust Museum, she directs our initiative on the Holocaust and professional leadership. She is also a member of the United States delegation to IHRA. Take it away, Jen.
MS. CIARDELLI: Thanks Edna. I would just love to say a great thanks to Wendy, to Joe, to Peter, to Adam for being here today, speaking frankly about your experiences in the classroom, in your various educational settings. I think you were really touching on so many of the challenges that I think all of us as educators have confronted or addressed in some ways or another.
You referenced a number of resources today. Our workshop panelists mentioned resources last week. You can see on the slide some of the organizations and institutions that were referenced. And as Edna said we’re going to send out to all registrants a list more specific than the slide that includes some links so that you can dive in and really explore some of these materials at your own leisure.
I’d also like to call special attention to one resource from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which is recommendations for teaching and learning about the Holocaust. There’s the section that talks about how to teach, and I feel like so many of the issues that were raised today in terms of thinking about local histories, thinking about how to distinguish social media messages, thinking about distortion and how to engage those when student learners bring that forward, the “How” section of this resource really gives a lot of guidance for how to unpack that.
You can find it on the IHRA website, and I don’t know if everyone will read it cover to cover, but you can certainly dip in and dip out as you have questions that emerge. I’d like to give great expression of gratitude to Special Envoy Daniels’ commitment to using all tools, whether through diplomacy or education, to help us strengthen this field.
I encourage all of our listeners, our attendees, to visit the Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum websites, in order to learn more. And in closing, I just want to thank everybody, our panelists, Edna, who so graciously led us through the conversation, and all of you who have been in the audience as participants and registrants engaging in this program today. So thank you and I wish everybody well. Bye-bye.