Answering a Global Call for Holocaust Education
In a hyper-connected world where we are inundated with information, how do you ensure Holocaust history is taught and people understand its relevance today? How do you create a bulwark of truth against assaults on Holocaust memory? Solving these questions is one of the driving forces behind the Museum’s global outreach and investment in partnerships with leaders and institutions that can create sustainable impact.
One example that is generating important outcomes is the International Conference on Education and the Holocaust (ICEH), a gathering for educational leaders the Museum developed in partnership with UNESCO. Convened in 2015 and 2017, it was an opportunity for 60 attendees from 17 countries to share the challenges and cultural roadblocks they face in teaching and learning about the Holocaust. Some obstacles are institutional, such as the prevalence of state-supported antisemitic propaganda. Others are more personal, such as working in isolation or, in some cases, coming to terms with mass atrocity in their own country’s recent history.
In turn, Museum educators share successful curricula and specialized resources to help participants develop country-specific educational programs. “The participants know the challenges and opportunities in their own local contexts, so we give them the space to create their action plans based on what they know will resonate,” said Jennifer Ciardelli, director of the Initiative on the Holocaust and Professional Leadership at the William Levine Family Institute for Holocaust Education.
With the goal to create sustainable impact, the Museum pioneered a team-based approach to ensure each participant had a support system when they returned home and would implement projects with long-term sustainability, said Andrea Bertrand, project coordinator of the Initiative on Holocaust Denial and Antisemitism in the Levine Institute.
Touring Exhibitions in Namibia
This past spring and summer, students across Namibia were exposed to Holocaust history as the Museum’s exhibition, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, was shown in two locations. Young people had the opportunity to study the Nazi myth of “racial purity,” and soon they will be learning — many for the first time — about their country’s own genocidal past through a new exhibition that will be traveling to the nation’s 14 regions.
The tour was developed by successive teams from Namibia at ICEH, which, along with Mexico, was the only country to be represented at both the 2015 and the 2017 conferences. Ndapewoshali Ashipala, who works for the Museums Association of Namibia, attended the conference in 2017 with Dr. Memory Biwa, who lectures at the University of Namibia.
For Ashipala, the experience expanded her expertise on Holocaust history and made her “even more adamant to fight against prejudice so it is not allowed to fester, grow, and escalate.”
Ashipala and her partner built on the planning done by the 2015 Namibia team and were paired with a team from South Africa. The result was a first tour of Deadly Medicine throughout South Africa and two regions of Namibia, which was completed earlier this year. The next step is to continue the tour alongside a new exhibition called The Ovaherero and Nama Genocide: Learning from the Past.
This exhibition is the first of its kind to teach about what is considered the first genocide of the 20th century. The event happened between 1904 and 1907, when German colonial military forces killed indigenous people in present-day Namibia.
The exhibition about the atrocities will include educational guides for teachers, which have been developed with the support of Namibia’s Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation. “Because my academic background is not that of an educator, I was exposed to a completely new environment and way of thinking [at the ICEH conference],” explained
Ashipala. “I was able to incorporate these new and different teaching methods into my work back home, especially when doing the design for the exhibition and the teacher’s handbook.”
The conference was motivated by the vision “that teaching and learning about the Holocaust can help countries deal with their own violent past, prevent genocide, and understand the dynamics of mass atrocity crimes,” said Ciardelli. The Namibian participants’ follow-through will help realize this vision — and feed into models of success for the conference’s next iteration.
Expanding Relationships in Latin America
In Mexico City, professor Yael Siman is committed to teaching Holocaust history — no matter the roadblocks.
“There is some prejudice about the Holocaust, even to this day, that it’s a Jewish event,” explained Siman, who is a professor at Anáhuac University in Mexico City. “Other people think they know already everything about the Holocaust because they’ve been impacted by popular culture, or students
prefer to learn about contemporary issues.”
Despite these challenges, she has partnered with the Museum to build an international network committed to teaching Holocaust history across Latin America. In 2017, Siman represented Mexico at ICEH. During the following two years, her country team developed Spanish-language educational
materials about the Holocaust and organized a series of conferences in Mexico City at public and private universities that attracted more than 270 attendees. The events included lectures by Holocaust scholars Peter Hayes
and Christopher Browning.
Siman said she will never forget one of the lectures at a public university, which gave her encouragement about the future of the field in Mexico. “I thought the Holocaust would not be of much interest to the students, but [the lecture] was in a big hall, and it was packed. There were students sitting outside on the floor, just listening to the translation. There wasn’t even a screen where you could see the professor.”
Most recently, Siman collaborated again with the Museum to help host the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center’s first international faculty seminar, The Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence. It was held in Mexico City last June and included junior- and senior-level doctoral students and professors from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico.
The seminar offered Museum staff the opportunity to support and further the work Siman’s team has been doing to institutionalize the study of the Holocaust and mass violence and to strengthen teaching by “pulling together networks of people who otherwise are not in the same set of conversations,” said Krista Hegburg, senior program officer for International Academic Programs at the Mandel Center.
Hegburg and her colleagues introduced attendees to the Museum’s archival collections, exhibitions-related educational resources, and materials on atrocity prevention. They also learned that there is a need for more Spanish-language resources about the Holocaust, especially primary sources, which illustrates where the Museum can step in to help. Currently, on the Museum’s website, which is translated into 18 languages, Spanish is the second-most used language after English, and the majority of those visitors come from Mexico.
The seminar also presented an opportunity for the Museum to support its collecting efforts, especially of archival material. Samanta Casareto, a Museum contractor who is based in Argentina, attended the seminar and stayed to meet with people across Mexico who have archives and collections in their institutions or personal possession that could advance Holocaust scholarship.
“It was really great that Samanta was in the room and she was able to say, ‘What do you have in your archives? What have you seen?’ And was able to have a conversation with 20 people about what they’ve come across in their
own research,” explained Kierra Crago-Schneider, campus outreach program officer in the Mandel Center.
Outreach to International Scholars
Beyond Mexico, Hegburg also has coordinated recent events in Guatemala and Shanghai. In Guatemala, the Museum partnered with Yahad–In Unum and the Museo del Holocausto Guatemala to host a conference on the role of the police in the Holocaust, which was held under the patronage of UNESCO.
In Shanghai, the Mandel Center partnered with New York University Shanghai and the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum to host a research workshop, The Reception of Jews in China during World War II. The program, which was the Museum’s first in China, brought together researchers and academics across disciplines and helped forge relationships with the up-and-coming generation of Holocaust scholars at Chinese universities.
Wherever the event, Crago-Schneider stresses the importance of partnerships with leaders committed to teaching and learning about the Holocaust, such as Siman. “It just takes one advocate to say, ‘This is for me,’ and we really need to be well-connected internationally to get good participants around the table.”
Encountering Disbelief in Tiruchirapalli, India
Dr. Laura Delano traveled from Tiruchirapalli, India, to Washington, DC, to attend the 2016 Silberman Seminar for University Faculty. Last year, Delano, an assistant professor of English and research supervisor, offered the first-ever course on the Holocaust at Bharathidasan University. She explained that where she is from, few people know about the Holocaust.
How did the Holocaust first enter your awareness and then your work?
Delano: In 2003, I stepped into a used book store and picked up After Long Silence, the memoir by Helen Fremont, whose parents were Holocaust survivors. I finished reading the book that very day and sat numbed by the realization of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Though I’d vaguely heard the term, I’d never known the details. Sometime later, I became a research supervisor. One of my scholars was interested in Holocaust studies and began studying the memoirs of Helen Fremont, Helen Epstein, and Eva Hoffman. I wanted to learn more in order to be a better advisor.
What did you get out of attending the Silberman Seminar?
Delano: The seminar’s impact has been so huge that I cannot do it justice. Firstly, I had never met another academic working in Holocaust studies. When I started researching the Holocaust, I had to ask my sister who lives in Canada to bring me books when she visited. So I did not have a very systematic knowledge.
The Silberman seminar filled those gaps and gave me a topographical, historical, and contextual mapping of Holocaust studies. The first day was overwhelming in many ways, but I got the hang of it and absorbed every discussion and detail.
The talk by the Holocaust survivor Dr. Gideon Frieder impacted my heart more than my head. There was so much wisdom in that one-hour talk that I still often go back to. For a person like me so culturally and topographically
remote from Europe and America, this talk rendered the raw reality of the Holocaust and its impact through time.
What has prompted your students’ interest in the Holocaust and led them to register for your new course?
Delano: Curiosity. On the first day, none of this class of 11 had heard of or known anything about the Holocaust. One student said he loved history and so opted for this course, while others just wanted to know what it was. I introduced the Holocaust, the event, the history, and the number. There was a general disbelief that six million innocent people could have been killed just because they were Jews. But when they saw a small visual clip, there was not a single dry eye in the class. It took them a while to process the reality of Holocaust.
What questions did your students have when they first learned about the Holocaust?
Delano: They have still not gotten over the question “Why?” But as they learn more, the main question is, “How can someone’s life be ended over an identity over which they have no choice?”
Do the lessons of the Holocaust resonate with young people in India today?
Delano: Our youth relate this history to the social inequalities they observe in our society. Can a person be born so low that they are fit enough to only serve others? Can any characteristic someone is born with form a moral or rational basis for termination, discrimination, and marginalization? These questions prompt a deep rethinking and commitment to treat every person with dignity.
Do you foresee Holocaust studies growing in your region? How could the Museum support that?
Delano: That will be a resounding “yes.” Last October, one of my doctoral candidates was awarded a PhD for her dissertation, “A Study of Repositioning and Reconstructing Identities as a Dialogic Continuum in the Select Works of Second Generation Holocaust Life Writing.” Currently three others are working on dissertations related to the Holocaust. As all of them are teachers in other institutions, they have in turn introduced this history to their students and colleagues. My graduate students also are eager to learn more. All of them use the Museum’s extensive online resources, especially the primary sources.