Galloway, New Jersey — Sheryl Ochayon knows how difficult it is to teach about the Holocaust.
“It’s a dark, depressing, complicated subject, which is shrouded in misinformation,” said the director of the Echoes and Reflections project and educator at the International School of Holocaust Education at Yad Vashem in Israel.
“But if we want to keep memory alive, we need to have teachers who know how to do that. How to communicate this to their students and how to use the resources available. »
Ochayon hoped to achieve this during a recent free workshop for educators sponsored by the Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center at the University of Stockton. Before a crowded conference room of at least 75 educators, Ochayon highlighted the impact of Holocaust education in middle and high schools and discussed the benefits and caveats of using photographs to teach. the historical event.
“The Holocaust is a way to teach and learn what racism can do, what prejudice can do, what intolerance can do,” she said. “It’s a way to create critical thinking. It’s a way to get people to examine the choices they make because the Holocaust is a laboratory of coerced human behavior. And we can learn a lot from it. »
Ochayon presented survey results showing that students who learn about the history of the Holocaust in high school are more open to different viewpoints, report a greater willingness to challenge intolerant behaviors, and have a greater sense of social responsibility.
We want to create students, people, who are active, not passive. Students who do not sit still, who are not indifferent. If you’re wondering if (Holocaust education) will really accomplish anything, we say yes and we have the results to prove it.
“We want to create students, people, who are active, who are not passive. Students who are not sitting still, who are not indifferent,” she said. “If you’re wondering if (Holocaust education) is really going to accomplish anything, we say yes and we have the results to prove it.”
Ochayon then showed several examples of Holocaust photographs, many taken by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, and warned of how they can be misinterpreted without the proper context.
“You have to be aware of what’s going on in an image because photographs can be manipulated,” she said. “Photography not only reflects reality, it interprets reality and can manipulate reality.”
She encouraged teachers to ask questions such as: Who took the photo? Was it staged? Were the subjects forced to cooperate?
And the best way to answer some of these questions is through the leading voices of victims, she said. The Echoes and Reflections Project (echoesandreflections.org) was created by Yad Vashem, which is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation to empower educators to confidently teach about the Holocaust. It does this by using video testimonies from Holocaust survivors, online courses, and lesson plans.
Kristian Ward teaches Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Kingsway Regional High School in Gloucester County in the four-credit dual-credit course in Holocaust and Genocide Studies offered by Stockton. He said he used oral history testimonies from Holocaust survivors in his class, but the workshop offered “more tools for my toolbox.”
“There are many resources for teaching about the Holocaust, but you have to find them,” he said. “You have to know where they are, so that really helps.”
Pairing photographs with testimonies from survivors can be a very powerful teaching method for students, said Sara Blumenthal, an English teacher at Atlantic City High School who leads a class on the Holocaust through literature and the movie theater.
“Many of my students are exposed to the Holocaust for the first time. So having this resource is really powerful and helpful,” she said. “I’m leaving with 15 new strategies that I can bring back to my kids, which is beyond valuable.”
Hearing comments like these from teachers gives Ochayon such satisfaction and just confirms that she made the right decision to give up her career as a lawyer to teach Holocaust studies.
“I’m imparting knowledge, but I’m also watching a new generation of teachers bring it to life for students,” she said. “That way no one will ever forget that it happened.”
Gail Rosenthal, the director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Center, was thrilled to have the opportunity to have a world-renowned educator teaching current and future teachers to fulfill the mandate of Holocaust and Genocide studies. from New Jersey in middle school and high school.
“We were thrilled to have Sheryl on board and we know of her innovative presentation for students at Stockton’s School of Education who are preparing to teach in the spring semester and our teachers who are currently educators in grades 5-12 have told us that Sheryl had made a difference by sharing with them new ideas, innovative teaching methods and other resources for educators,” Rosenthal said.
If a middle school or high school would like a continuing education workshop on Holocaust and genocide studies for its teachers, contact the Holocaust Resource Center at 609-652-4699 or [email protected]
– Story and photos by Mark Melhorn