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Preserving the Memory – Teaching the History – JFR 2018 European Study Program

The JFR’s European Study Program to Germany and the Netherlands was exceptional. The design and flow of the study program provided each of us the opportunity to explore and understand different aspects of the Holocaust in greater depth.

We met at the Frankfurt airport and traveled to Bad Camberg where we met Ann Mollengarden (Lerner Fellow 2003), from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center in Birmingham, AL. Ann’s father’s family was from Bad Camberg. We met with Dr. Peter Schmidt, a local historian, who guided our group through the small town and provided history of what happened to both Ann’s family and the Jews of Bad Camberg during the Holocaust. We ended our first day at the Fritz Bauer Institute where we met with Professor Dr. Sybille Steinbacher, the Director of the Institute, and several members of her staff. We discussed Holocaust education in Germany at both the high school and university levels and we learned about the work of the Fritz Bauer Institute.

The next day we explored the Holocaust memorial to the Jews of Frankfurt. Professor Hayes gave a lecture on the horror of the round-up and deportation of Frankfurt’s Jews. We then traveled to Speyer and Worms, two of the three towns where Jews initially settled upon their arrival in Germany. During our visit with Dr. Susanne Urban, Managing Director of the ShUM Cities of the Rhine, which includes Speyer, Worms, and Mainz, she provided a grounding in the beginnings of the Jewish community in Germany. Dr. Urban gave background on the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery as she walked our group through Worms. Our visit to Speyer and Worms provided a firm base for an understanding of the development of Jewish life in Germany.

We traveled to Weimar, Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Westerbork, and Amsterdam. Each of these sites added different layers to our knowledge of camps – concentration, slave labor, and transit. Each site was distinct and different. Perhaps Dora-Mittelbau was the site that impacted the group the most. While one can describe going into the tunnels, words do not do justice to one’s feelings and personal experience. Dr. Stefan Hördler, Director of the Dora-Mittelbau site, spent the day with us and provided detailed background on the slave labor facility and the other sub-camps in the area. The mortality rate at Dora-Mittelbau was higher than at most other concentration camps; the average life expectancy of a new inmate was six to eight weeks.

Part of our Study Program followed Anne Frank’s journey during the Holocaust. She was born in Frankfurt in June 1929. We saw the small steel blocks for Anne, Margot, and their mother at the Holocaust Memorial Wall in Frankfurt near the Judengasse Museum. The Frank family fled Germany in 1933 for Amsterdam. We went to the Frank home in Amsterdam and to the Secret Annex attached to her father’s factory in Amsterdam. We went to Westerbork, to the site of the punishment block the Frank family was placed in upon their arrival in Westerbork, and we were in Bergen-Belsen where Anne and Margot died of typhus before the British liberated the camp on April 15, 1945. This study program did not visit Auschwitz where Anne and the others in hiding were deported to from Westerbork. However, this part of the Study Program afforded participants a deeper understanding of how life was for Jews trying to survive during the Third Reich.

We look forward to hearing from our Study Program participants over this coming school year to see how they have incorporated their time in Germany and the Netherlands into their Holocaust unit of study.

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Exploring our Exhibit

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The JFR’s traveling exhibit, Whoever Saves a Single Life…Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust has been making its way throughout the country! The JFR has fabricated two editions of this exhibit, to ensure that it reaches as many audiences as possible. One edition is now on its way back from the East Valley JCC in Chandler, Arizona after a 6 week stay. It will then travel to Congregation Beth-Tefillah in Atlanta, Georgia to be a part of Yom Hashoah commemorations. The other edition is currently on display at the JCC MetroWest inWest Orange,NJ, after a long tenure at Kean University in Union Township, New Jersey. We are absolutely thrilled at the exposure of this important exhibit to a variety of audiences.

Whoever Saves a Single Life…Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust showcases some of those rare – but exceedingly important – instances where people fought to safeguard their Jewish fellow citizens during the Holocaust.  In a time of overwhelming death and destruction, rescuers did not stand by silently.  They chose another way, and their bravery offers us a glimmer of hope.  This is an easy-to-install exhibit of freestanding structures.  It is non-linear, arranged thematically rather than chronologically, and is accessible to a variety of individuals, from middle school students to adults.  It is ideal for small venues. Pease contact the JFR office at 212-727-9955 for more information on how you can bring this exhibit to your community.

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Working with NYC Teachers

On January 17, the JFR held a seminar for NYC teachers at the Museum of Tolerance-New York. The theme of this year’s seminar was “Holocaust Diaries” and featured scholars Robert Jan van Pelt and Alexandra Zapruder. Our NYC seminars offer an opportunity for educators from New York and New Jersey to be exposed to outstanding scholarship. Professor van Pelt discussed At the Edge of the Abyss: A Concentration Camp Diary, 1943-1944, which he edited and introduced. During the seminar, he placed the writing of the diarist, David Koker, within the context of Holocaust history and historiography. Alexandra Zapruder discussed excerpts from her book, Salvaged Pages, which focuses on children’s diaries during the Holocaust. Alex offered a number of methods with which to use diaries to connect personal stories to larger historical elements. Each of our scholars emphasized the benefits of using individual histories as a way for students to draw connections and correlations to historical events as a whole. Our attending teachers were thrilled with the pedagogical recommendations and strategies for utilizing diaries in social studies, history, and English classes. Our teachers noted that they are greatly looking forward to the next seminar, and we couldn’t agree more!

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Studying with Lerner Fellows

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The JFR has had a busy and exciting January- beginning with our annual Advanced Seminar from January 14-16 at the Hilton Newark Airport. We welcomed 27 Lerner Fellows, and scholars Deborah Dwork, Christopher Browning, Samuel Kassow, and Robert Jan van Pelt as our speakers. We were also thrilled to welcome Hannah and Roman Kent for part of the weekend. The theme of this year’s seminar was “The Best of the Best,” and each scholar lectured on a topic of their choice, encompassing their most recent work of scholarship. One of our proudest accomplishments as an organization has been our ability to develop close and meaningful relationships with leading scholars in the field. Such relationships have allowed us to offer our educators the very best training in teaching methodology and pedagogy concerning the Holocaust. This year’s Advanced Seminar exemplified these relationships. Our goal has always been to design and offer quality teacher education programs, and based on the feedback from our Lerner Fellows, we are succeeding!

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Concluding the Program: The Final Day

Every year we conclude our program with an entire morning with Professor Robert Jan van Pelt.  Professor van Pelt engaged the teachers in an intense discussion about the study of the Holocaust, covering a range of topics from the inner-workings of Death Camps to a discussion on when the Holocaust began. 

After this intense morning, we had a working lunch to wrap up the discussion.  Participants were then given “open mic” time, where each one spoke about their experience participating in the Summer Institute, and what they will bring to their classrooms from the week.  Each one of our European teachers invited American guests to visit them in their home countries, and plans were made for a reunion. 

We concluded the program after lunch.  It was an exceptional Summer Institute, and I am already looking forward to SIT 2012!

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Learning about Resistance and Rescue: Day 4

Today was another jam-packed day of incredible speakers.  Professor Sam Kassow gave an eye-opening lecture on Jewish life in ghettos.  He talked about the Judentrat, the Jewish governments of the ghettos, and the challenges they faced.  Professor Kassow also talked about Jewish resistance movements – there were many forms of resistance and Jews were forced to make “choiceless choices” to try to survive.

In the afternoon, scholar and survivor Dr. Nechama Tec spoke about her story of survival,  and her books on rescue.  Professor Tec talked about how she was able to survive by being hidden by Christians who were paid, and also by pretending to be a Christian.  Many of our teachers have already ordered a few of Professor Tec’s well-known books!

To close the day, I spoke on Rescue and teaching Rescue in context.  It is critical to teach about these Christian and Muslim heroes, who so courageously risked their lives to save Jews.  Keeping rescue in context is critical in order to understand the gravity of their actions. 

Tonight we ended with our closing dinner at Bello Restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and warm conversation.  Some wonderful friendships have been made, and I am so glad that participants want to stay in touch with each other not only as colleagues but also as friends.

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Covering New Ground and Probing Further: Day 3 of the Summer Institute

This morning we began with a tour-de-force from Professor Jeffrey Burds, who lectured about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.  Professor Burds focused on the major differences in how Jews were persecuted in Eastern and Western Europe, explaining his thesis on why the Holocaust was carried out so brutally and openly in the East. 

After discussing the lecture in break-out groups, participants were able to absorb what was learned and once again present ideas to each other on how to incorporate the subject matter into a lesson.

We then heard from Sheila Hanson, a former teacher who now works at the USC Shoah Foundation.  Sheila walked our teachers through the Shoah Foundation’s testimony library, and showed teachers how the Shoah Testimonies can be used in the classroom. 

Finally, we got to hear from our beloved Board President Roman Kent, a survivor, who told his incredible story.  Roman is a paragon of goodness, and we were all incredibly moved by his story.  We also had the pleasure of seeing his wife, Hannah, who is also a survivor.  Roman closed by reminding us that love has no limit, and there is no place in our life for prejudice. 

After his lecture, each teacher got a copy of Roman’s book, Lala, which was gifted by Roman himself.  Everyone lined up to thank Roman and get their copies signed.

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Meeting teachers in Illinois

Tomorrow I leave for Skokie, IL where I am presenting at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center’s Summer Institute on the Holocaust, their annual teacher education program.  In addition to meeting new teachers, and hopefully seeing some of our Alfred Lerner Fellows, I will be speaking on the rescue of Jews by non-Jews during the Holocaust with an emphasis on rescue in Poland.  I look forward to an interesting and energizing two days of taking part in the education program of one of our Centers of Excellence.

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Learning in Omaha, teaching in Florida

This past week I attended the Association of Holocaust Organization’s (AHO) annual meeting in Omaha, NE.  In addition to meeting colleagues and exchanging ideas, a highlight of the seminar was Doris Bergen’s lecture on “Holocaust Survivors and Holocaust Scholars: A Changing and Challenging Relationship”. 

Leaving the meeting a day early, on Tuesday, I flew to Tampa, FL with my final destination being the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.  Tuesday evening three Alfred Lerner Fellows, Larry Grimes, Kinnan Johnston, and Jenieff Watson, made outstanding presentations to the teachers participating in the Florida Holocaust Museum’s teacher’s institute.  On Wednesday morning I met with the teachers and we spent a full morning learning about the rescue of Jews by non-Jews during the Holocaust.  I discussed why the teachers should include a lesson on rescue in their unit of study and how to teach the subject of rescue to their students.  The presentation was followed by excellent questions and great participation. 

At the Florida Holocaust Museum, where I presented on teaching rescue in the classroom.

 

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Gearing up for the Summer Institute

Our annual Summer Institute for Teachers at Columbia University is just a few weeks away, and we are busy preparing for it at the JFR office!  This year we will be welcoming 35 new Lerner Fellows from our Centers of Excellence, The Intergovernmental Task Force, The State Department, the Auschwitz Memorial Museum and the United Nations Outreach Programme.  We will have a new scholar in attendance, Alexandra Zapruder, author of Salvaged Pages, and Sheila Hanson from the Shoah Foundation will be speaking about her work.  We will also have our roster of top-notch scholars that have lectured in years past.  We look forward with great anticipation to our five days of learning and discussion at Columbia University.

Lerner Fellows from SIT 2010

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Observing Holocaust Remembrance Day

On Sunday May 1, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I was the keynote speaker at the State of New Jersey Annual Yom Hashoah Observance Ceremony, which was sponsored in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.  The theme of the ceremony, titled “Commemoration of Holocaust & Heroism”, was rescue during the Holocaust.  I spoke about the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust by non-Jews with a focus on rescue in Poland.

It is imperative that each year, when we remember those who perished during the Holocaust, we also remember those few who risked their lives to save others.  Part of never forgetting the Holocaust is keeping alive the legacy of these individuals whose inner compasses led them to selflessly save another human being.

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