Bringing the Holocaust Unit to Closure: Implications for the Future
Elie Wiesel at the Museum’s dedication ceremonies. Washington, D.C., 1993.
Bill Fitzpatrick (Photo #N07193)
President Clinton at the Museum’s dedication ceremonies. Washington, D.C., 1993.
Bill Fitzpatrick (Photo #N07084)
OVERVIEW AND BACKGROUND
Study of the Holocaust would not be complete without a discussion of implications for the future. How should the Holocaust be woven into the fabric of twentieth-century history? How can its study move us forward so that our children are not traumatized and fixated on its atrocities? Most important, what are the lessons that can be learned from this horrific event so that our children learn from the past to make a better world? These essential questions must be asked if the study of the Holocaust is to have meaning in the post-Holocaust world.
The lesson I describe is the last one in a three-week Holocaust unit. It involves three segments: one focused on Elie Wiesel’s opening address at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993, one focused on Schindler’s List, and one on Leon Bass’s speech about the liberation of Buchenwald.
The impetus for this lesson came from two places, the opening ceremonies of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. I was at the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum when Elie Wiesel turned to President Clinton and asked him what he was going to do about Bosnia! It was an electrifying moment. Wiesel was admonishing us for our inaction when faced with yet another instance of genocide. His speech contended that the purpose of the Museum would be unfulfilled unless we confront genocide and terror when it occurs and take action to rescue those in need. Wiesel’s words were also a reminder that we are all accountable. The lessons from the Holocaust must be taught and applied to today.
The Schindler’s List lesson was taken from an activity at Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, during my participation in its summer seminar in 1999. During one class we watched the last segment of the movie and then went directly to Oskar Schindler’s gravesite. There we were met by Schindler survivors Genya and Nachum Manor who related their firsthand experiences and memories of Oskar Schindler. Standing at Schindler’s grave with these two survivors while they related their stories was a profound experience. My personal connection to the survivors of the Holocaust has brought the history alive. I found the same thing to be true with liberators’ testimony as I read Mr. Bass’s statement while reading the accounts from the The Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps 1945, Eyewitness Accounts of the Liberators (Washington D.C.: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council).
These events personalized the Holocaust story for me and helped me make a vivid personal connection.
The history of the Holocaust is complex; therefore, understanding its implications is complex as well. Elie Wiesel refers to the Holocaust as a question within a question. Questions lead to further questions, and still there are questions that will remain unanswerable. It is, however, only through the process of study and questioning that we gain understanding of the Holocaust and of its significance for the future.
Content and experience that precedes lesson
This lesson seeks to synthesize the historical period and show the relevance of the Holocaust to the present. For the project to be successful, students need to have had background study in the Holocaust. They should be familiar with the basic history, events, and outcomes. This lesson is not designed to stand on its own, but rather is a culminating activity.
I teach this lesson in a traditional World History since 1500 course and in Advanced Placement European History. It occurs in the fourth quarter of the semester (April–May) after a study of World War I and the Rise of Hitler. My students are sophomores (10th grade). There is a wide range in their exposure to history as a discipline. Many have had World History since 1500 or World Cultures in their freshman year. However, for some of them, this is their first history course. About 1/2 of my students are Jewish and have had previous education on the Holocaust, but there are others who have had little or no previous exposure to the subject. The challenge, therefore, is to reach students who have a variety of learning styles and prior knowledge.