“Silence is not an option,” said Paula Lebovics, a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Meeting Paula was a highlight for me; she is a beautiful, tenacious woman who is incredibly sweet. Without realizing it at the time, I think she taught me lessons that no other source could: There is strength in kindness — moving on from the anger and hate through being a positive force in the world.
There are many lessons I hope to pass on to my students as a result of participating in the Auschwitz: The Past is Present program. As one of 24 international teachers to embark on this journey, while honored, I feel the weight of the responsibility given to us.
We, as educators, are the bridge between the past and the present. In the words of Roman Kent, “Teach what happens when hate is allowed to flourish, we must teach tolerance and understanding, we must teach that hate is never right and love is never wrong.”
We must teach the lessons that will help our students “make this present a past we can be proud of,” said Soljane Quiles, a Rhode Island teacher.
Our hope is to teach the Holocaust in a humanizing way, to use testimony to help our students see into the soul of the individuals affected by these atrocities. My goal is to empower my students to make a positive impact on the world through their actions no matter how small; you don’t need to be courageous and put your life on the line. It can be the tiniest kindness as it is those small acts of kindness that are remembered 70 years later. I hope to be able to make my students into global citizens that recognize multiple perspectives. The profound impact of this experience has changed me. I will, “reflect the light,” as Johanna Soderholm from Finland said.
Teachers have the power to bring the world into their classrooms. It is increasingly important for teachers to be trained with international education experience as they have the greatest impact on student learning. The USC Shoah Foundation and Discovery Education have partnered to create classroom-ready resources for teachers.
While in Poland we were trained how to incorporate testimony into our classrooms. We designed student-approved projects using testimony and primary sources. Using these resources — the testimonies of survivors — we are better equipped to help our students understand the atrocities of the Holocaust and to empower students to have a positive impact in their communities. Like Roman Kent said at the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz Commemoration, "We do not want our past to be our children's future."
The power of information is truly astonishing and reinforces the importance of good teachers. Education is the most effective way to make positive long-term changes; the earlier you stop hate the more understanding you have in a community.
While in Auschwitz we had the opportunity to be there with survivors, who were there with their families. One survivor said, “The Germans were basically good people, but Adolf Hitler poisoned them — too much power, too much hate.”
It all started with an idea; that idea grew into something truly horrifying. We will never be able to precisely measure the loss caused by the Holocaust. Not only were generations of families and people destroyed, there is a void left in communities and in the world that we will never get back. Oświęcim, the Polish city that was named Auschwitz by the Germans, was more than 50 percent Jewish in 1932. By 1945 that number went to zero percent until 1962 when Szymon Kluger moved back and became the only Jewish resident of the town until his death in 2000. Today there are no Jewish residents of Oświęcim.
Attending the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, meeting Holocaust Survivors and visiting authentic sites has been one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Although we were able to meet important people like Steven Spielberg and David Zaslav, it was the survivors and the lessons that were most poignant. I am not sure if I will ever be able to eloquently state what I learned or how profound of an effect it had on me, but I hope that my students will, in the words of Roman Kent, “embrace tolerance and understanding for all people and oppose antisemitism or any prejudice.”
Similar opportunities for educators
There are many chances for teachers from all content areas to have learning opportunities. The Utah State Office of Education offers an online teacher development course called, "Global Perspectives for the 21st Century Classroom.’" Discovery Education, Institute for International Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities are a few national sources. Internationally, Fulbright Japan is accepting applications until February 11 for their 2015 Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). In addition, I am creating a website as a resource for teachers to learn about international travel and incorporating global perspectives into their classrooms.
Here is my website/blog: TeacherTravelTips.weebly.com