The charge to Jewish educators to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in the next generation is gaining urgency.
And of course, the Holocaust is an emotional topic for the classroom, triggering complex questions on emunah and other complicated discussions.
But every generation should have a relationship with the Holocaust. Teaching it can give students perspective and inspiration. The goal in teaching the Holocaust is to teach students how to investigate the context, dynamics and complexity of the experience.
To better support teachers, the ATT recently held a professional development session in collaboration with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Rabbi Reuven Brand, Rosh Kollel of the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel, provided insights into teaching this difficult subject to students in grades 7-12.
Rabbi Brand is a noted scholar of the Holocaust, who has presented to the entire spectrum of audiences with sensitivity, clarity and practicality.
Different approaches to teaching the Holocaust
Using an interdisciplinary approach of integrating Holocaust stories in other subjects to inspire students in mitzvos and Torah observance can be a powerful way to approach the subject.
Sharing moving stories about Jews in the Holocaust finding ways to keep mitzvos can be an inspirational way to help students relate to the subject. There are incredible stories of Jews who found miraculous ways to wrap tefillin, keep Shabbos, have a Pesach seder and other moving examples during the Holocaust.
When effectively sharing stories from the Holocaust, it’s important to know the audience and share the information sensitively. With some of the sensitive material, giving the students an opportunity to journal about their feelings can be a helpful way for students to engage with the stories.
Showing artifacts can enrich students’ knowledge of what happened during the Holocaust, bringing the lessons beyond the page. When sharing artifacts, it’s important to use them in a meaningful way, sharing a story or lesson about what the artifact means.
An effective way to inspire students is to give them an opportunity to explore the material themselves, such as projects on Holocaust-related topics and personalities as well as pre-war and post-war topics of interest.
It’s important to differentiate between source material when planning lessons about the Holocaust. Primary sources give students more of a feeling of authenticity than secondary sources, but both can be used to enrich lessons.
Accessing Holocaust resources
There is a wealth of information for planning meaningful lessons about the Holocaust. Teachers can gain access to many resources for teaching the Holocaust from Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Illinois Holocaust Memorial Museum websites and Spertus Library.
For educators, it is increasingly important to make responsible choices in teaching methodologies when instructing their students about the Holocaust. This era of history should be taught in the most realistic and experiential way while tying in its relevance and impact on today’s Judaism.
Following any Holocaust lesson, the next step is to ask students, “What do we do now that we have learned about this?”
The Holocaust played such a pivotal role in our Jewish history, and finding ways to teach students about the history, repercussions and being open to the more complex questions that come up provide a rich and necessary educational experience.