MTF Spotlight – Todd Hennessy

Interview and Article by:
Jen Goss, VA (MTF 2010)

Firefighter, father,  hockey player, friend, and educator. These are just a few of the words that one can ascribe to Todd Hennessy (Denver, CO; MTF 2000). Todd gives his all no matter what area of his life one is examining and his dynamic personality make his friendship and collegiality an unequivocal treasure. Although the path he has taken since his entrance into the field of education has been less than traditional, Todd has given back to educators in the field a thousand times over through opportunities he has helped to create in Colorado and nationwide.

Todd graduated from Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University, Mankato) in 1993 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Secondary Education/History, and a minor in Geography and Athletic Coaching. His first teaching assignment was at the very middle school he had attended – Eagle Valley Middle School in Eagle, Colorado. There, he taught U.S. History, Civics, and Geography for seven years. He then moved to Castle Rock Middle School  in Castle Rock, Colorado for two years teaching U.S. History. His last transfer was to Highlands Ranch High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Todd spent a year teaching U.S. History there before feeling a pull to enter the fire academy. Today, his full-time position is with the South Metro (Denver) Fire Rescue; however, teaching about the Holocaust still plays a central role in his life.

During his years in the classroom, Todd taught a two-week integrated Holocaust unit within the Language Arts curriculum. It was this experience that sparked his interest in furthering his formal Holocaust education at the Museum. In 1997, he participated in the Belfer Conference and in 1999 he attended Belfer II. Todd’s acceptance into the Museum Teacher Fellowship program in 2000 was the next logical step, and as it has been for all of us, it was truly life-changing. Of the MTF program, Todd shares, “Without question the MTF program has made me a better educator. The approach, support, resources, and the people involved with the MTF program continue to amaze and inspire me to be a better educator, parent, and person. We are a part of something very special. Earn it, enjoy it, respect it, and never stop learning from it.”

Todd’s journey with the Museum continued in 2002 when he was one of the Belfer classroom facilitators. He also began teaching a Holocaust course for the Introduction to Judaism class sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and began teaching part-time for the Holocaust Awareness Institute at the University of Denver’s Center for Judaic Studies and for Temple Sinai’s Religious School facilitating their Holocaust curriculum. While he was enriching the lives of others, Todd didn’t cease learning on his own. In addition to the opportunities with the Museum, Todd also participated in  the Jewish Labor Committee’s Summer Teacher Institute, Yad Vashem’s International Conference on Education, the Auschwitz Jewish Center’s Faculty Fellowship, Yahad-In Unum’s European Educators Conference and countless classes offered through institutions, synagogues, and universities.

In 2011, six MTFs from the Denver area, Kirsten Aarested, Barb Figg, Peter Mehlbach, Carrie Olson, Mark Thorsen, and Todd founded the Colorado Holocaust Educators (CHE). Todd states that, “Our goal was to create an educational non-profit that would seek to promote, exemplify, and support quality Holocaust and genocide education throughout the state of Colorado. With the guidance and pedagogical approach we had already received from the Museum we saw a need and fit for our goals in Colorado.” At the MTF 20th Anniversary event held in 2016, Todd shared the ups and downs of this journey.

To date, since their first sponsored training in the spring of 2012 the Colorado Holocaust Educators have facilitated over 500 hours of Colorado Department of Education re-certification, trained over 1,200 educators from eleven states, have participated in twelve different educational programs in six countries, and have partnered with over 30 like-minded institutions on three continents. Their most recent success was a multi-week collaboration with Yahad-In Unum’s Holocaust by Bullets program and exhibit, which also included collaboration with CHE, USHMM, and Colorado schools and universities. In total, over 60 educators were in attendance including eleven MTFs from four states.
It is this work that leads fellow MTF, Andrew Buchanan ‘11 to call Todd, “an engaging, collaborative and thoughtful driving force in Colorado. [He is] constantly looking for new and exciting ways to reach and teach Holocaust history.” Andrew’s quote captures the essence of Todd who says in regards to Holocaust education that, “I’m really looking forward to the future, there are tremendous people out there with fantastic ideas. Change is already happening, and the early results are very positive and impactful.”

In closing, I asked Todd to share advice with with MTFs who are at the start of their career as Holocaust educators but it is really advice that can resonate with all of us.  “Listen, read, ask…..then do it over and over again. There is always something new to learn. There will always be someone with more knowledge, experience, and insight. We must always strive to be better students, better researchers, better educators.”


MTF Spotlight – Thea MacFawn

Interview and Article by:
Casey Pallister, MT (MTF 2016)

Thea MacFawn, (Albany, NY; MTF 2013) is Co-Director and Founder of the Capital Region Institute for Human Rights. Thea has had a diverse teaching career, serving as a high school Language Arts teacher, an instructor for NYSUT’s Education and Learning Trust, a facilitator for professional development workshops, and a graduate college professor. In addition to her work with the Capital Region Institute for Human Rights, Thea is a board member for GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network).

What kind of work are you involved in as co-director of Capital Region Institute
for Human Rights?
As founder and co-director of the Capital Region Institute for Human Rights, I
work with fellow director Kelly Wetherbee and a team of educators to develop
human rights focused programming for teens. Through sessions on historical and
contemporary human rights issues, meeting local and international human rights
advocates, and workshops on 21st century skills, like web design, we empower teens
to see themselves as leaders capable of improving their communities and the world.
The Capital Region Institute for Human Rights is a sister program to the Summer Institute of Buffalo, led by fellow MTF, Drew Beiter. His program just celebrated 10 years. The goals of both programs are to provide students with models of individuals who are making a difference, connect them with other teens interested in human rights, and to provide them with training and skills to challenge injustice and advocate for positive change in their communities. At the end of the program, teens present their plans for human rights focused advocacy project.
Drew and I hope to expand on the Summer Institute model and would love to invite any MTF to visit our programs this summer. The Capital Region Institute for Human Rights Teen Summer Symposium is July 9-11 ; the Summer Institute of Buffalo is July 23-27.

How did you first become interested in studying and teaching the Holocaust?
My first year of teaching, my mentor suggested Parallel Journeys to me as a class text. Learning about the Holocaust impacted my students in ways that encouraged them to want to know more about history and how to be actively engaged citizens. After reading Parallel Journeys, students in my class chose to research the ongoing genocide in Darfur and created presentations to share with other students about how they could help raise awareness and call on our government to intervene.
My first class of students taught me that in order to meet the challenge of “Never Again,” there must first be an increased level of awareness of contemporary genocide. Students who have studied the Holocaust are in a position to begin conversations with their peers that can lead to change and action.

Why do you teach about the Holocaust? 
I teach the Holocaust because I believe it is a moment in history that we haven’t fully learned from. It it is important for students to be made aware of our shared history and to critically look at the pre-existing conditions in Germany, post World War I, and the entrenched history of antisemitism that contributed to an environment where Jews were first scapegoated, then removed from mainstream society, and ultimately murdered.
Genocide is a process. Any process that results in neighbor turning against neighbor, a government turning against its people, and neighboring countries choosing diplomacy over lives, is one that has a place in my classroom.
Today, there is still a level of indifference to the suffering and needs of others. We close our doors, our eyes, say, “at least it’s not happening here” and look away. It is imperative that young people today recognize the role we each play in one another’s lives and feel an intrinsic need to give aid, voice, and time to issues and causes that involve human rights. Prejudice and intolerance are still part of our society.
I teach about the Holocaust because it helps my students recognize injustice and provides a place to discuss what can be done. Teaching about the Holocaust empowers and challenges my students to think differently about discrimination and prejudice. It provides them with the historical knowledge to approach these topics and suggest change that is rooted in an understanding of hate and what can be done to prevent it.

What have been the pivotal or profound moments in your career as a Holocaust
The most pivotal moments in my career as a Holocaust educator have been when my students take the lead in educating others about the Holocaust. I have had the honor of helping organize Holocaust Remembrance programs for my school community, and each year a few of my students volunteer to plan the ceremony. They take the lead—serving as master of ceremonies, sharing what they have learned in class, introducing survivors, and creating videos and resources to share with public.

Are you excited or worried about the future of Holocaust education?
The number of educators committed to teaching students about the Holocaust and contemporary genocide is growing. States around the country have mandated Holocaust education as part of their learning standards and New York has recently added the Armenian Genocide. I believe these are good signs that the Holocaust will continue to be taught in schools.
Additionally, recent events like Charlottesville have made it essential that teachers discuss with students the roots of antisemitism, Holocaust denial, and the presence of active hate groups in the United States. We have a commitment to teach students how to challenge hatred and bigotry.

What rewards and challenges have you found in educating teachers about the
I truly enjoy working with fellow educators. Teachers are eager to teach about the Holocaust, but they are often afraid of “doing it wrong.” I have found the Museum’s guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust and contemporary genocide an invaluable source for teachers new to Holocaust education. Sharing lessons, discussing strategies for building on existing student knowledge, and addressing misconceptions are tools that help to build teacher confidence.

MTF Spotlight – Matt Rozell

MR.June 2017 cropped
Interview and Article by:
Josha Sietsma, Netherlands (MTF 2016)

For Matt Rozell (Granville, NY; MTF 2008), the term ‘retired’ doesn’t define his state of being. A real teacher never stops teaching. Writing books that educate, and with a bigger audience than ever, Matt talks to us on his connection with the Museum and connecting survivors with liberators: “I think [also] it is true that our work as educators is never ever done”.

To start, what are your tools of trade? What is essential to your work, your performance.
A passion to connect to history using real people. When I begin to speak about the history, Holocaust or otherwise, there is a level of excitement and passion that just flows out of me and engages my audience, be it high school students or senior citizens listening to one of my presentations. And it has been with me since my earliest days. As a kid I roamed the banks of the Hudson River looking for lost encampments and historic battle sites. On museum trips to NYC, I was the kid everyone else in the family had to wait for, lagging behind, lost in the exhibits.

You’ve been connected to the Museum for at least ten years. Looking back, what made you want to connect at first?   
Honestly, the USHMM found me and invited me to apply for the Fellowship. An Associated Press article about my first foray into attempting a Holocaust survivor-liberator reunion in September 2007 went viral and the Museum contacted me. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with the Museum. My outreach project was another reunion in Sept. 2009, in which we were filmed by the Museum and also ABC World News as their Persons of the Week.
Over the years, I have helped the Museum identify photographs related to the ‘Train Near Magdeburg’ incident and acquire photographs and survivor artwork and testimony. I’ve worked closely with Judy Cohen in the Photo Archives and Steven Vitto in the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center. I also reconnected around 275 survivors with the actual American soldiers who freed them. I wrote a book about this called Train Near Magdeburg; it nearly killed me in the process but it had to come out of me. The book is divided into four parts.
The first part of the book is the chronological unfolding of the Holocaust as it happened, through the eyes of train survivors, who hailed from all over Europe. The second is the experiences of the soldiers themselves, landing shortly after D-Day, knowing nothing about the Holocaust, just fighting for survival. By then of course, most of Europe’s Jews had already been murdered, but their encounters would be raw and searing. These battle hardened soldiers were about to be placed on an emotional roller-coaster.
Part three of the book is the actual liberation, recalled by dozens of survivors and the soldiers. Part four is the aftermath and the experiences of eleven reunions on three continents, including three at our own high school in upstate New York, and my observations and takeaways on what it all means.
And I had to write it from my own personal experience and perspective. My experience as a re-uniter, and as a Holocaust educator, unfolded organically. Any survivor you know will testify as to the miracle of their survival. I honestly think what happened here was also a miracle, being able to bring together over 275 survivors with their actual liberators 65+ years later, all due to the fact that I took the time to sit down and listen to a World War II veteran, and push a little further. But it nearly did not happen at all—he did not volunteer his experience with the ‘train’—his daughter reminded him to tell me after two hours of conversation, just as I was thinking we were done and about to turn the camera off.

You’ve been retired since June but still speak on the subject of the Holocaust and your books. Which book has influenced your work the most?
Yes. I dislike the term ‘retired’ because I don’t think a real teacher ever stops teaching, in a sense, and it is especially true since my books are designed to educate, but now perhaps the audience is the masses. I think also it is true that our work as educators is never ever done, as evidenced by the recent events in our own country highlighting the rise of antisemitism.
When I wrote Train Near Magdeburg, this was a constant in the back of my mind. I knew that my audience for the most part might not know much about the Holocaust, so it was essential to distill a historical backdrop for the narrative of survivors’ and soldiers’ voices. But how does one ‘distill’ the sheer magnitude of the Holocaust? This is a challenge. I also felt like I had an obligation to more knowledgeable readers to present the topic of the Holocaust in terms that might add to their experience in learning about it.
Finally, of course, I had an obligation to my survivor and soldier families to place their experiences in the proper context, so they might also learn something new about what happened to them. This was a very difficult thing to do; I struggled with it for ten years. It did not all come together until I was able to visit the authentic sites with the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program in 2013, and further study on a scholarship at Yad Vashem at the International School for Holocaust Studies in 2016.
There is a film in the works on the Train Near Magdeburg, and right now I am a consultant, making sure they get the Holocaust right (we are waiting with baited breath for word from the Claims Conference regarding some crucial funding). As we all know, there are a lot of ways to teach or present the Holocaust wrong.

Matthew Rozell April 2017
In your work you focus on the testimony of survivors from WWII. How did this come to happen? Why and how did you start your research that eventually led to several publications and awards?
I was always interested in World War II—as a kid I devoured the ‘Sgt. Rock’ comic book series. Just after college, the 40th anniversary of D-Day and the liberation of the continent occurred. The vets began to gather in Normandy for the commemoration. Studs Terkel’s oral history on the war, ‘The Good War’, came out in 1984 and was a huge influence on my development as a teacher, and later, as an author. I decided to put kids in touch with our veterans. The veterans were ready, after 40 or 50 years of silence, to tell their stories to me and to the young people. And later I found a similar phenomenon with my Holocaust survivor friends. I think it was cathartic for them. Frankly, this is a model I would like to take further.

In addition to teaching about the Holocaust, you have an interest in archaeology. Is there any relation, for you, between archaeology and the field of Holocaust education? 
Yes. My book opens in Bergen Belsen in the summer of 2013. I am walking the grounds, and I see things that the average person would not notice. The evidence of the past, just beneath the layers of the present, poking out obtrusively to remind one of the evil that occurred in what is a relatively peaceful and tranquil setting today. The original camp was burned down a month after liberation by the British, and nature has reclaimed the grounds. The fact is that these artifacts speak to you—broken window glass, brick fragments, a concrete gutter channel running through what is now woodlands—and you realize that you are having a personal encounter. This happened to me time and again at places where the Nazis tried to erase the evidence—Belzec, Treblinka, the destroyed structures at Auschwitz.

To round up a question from another context. The Paris Review asked Aldous Huxley, spring 1960: Do you keep a notebook and do you ever use maps or charts or diagrams in your writing [work]?
A notebook is absolutely critical for my personal recollections and growth. I carry a composition notebook on every tour, and they become the basis for my later book development. I have also been blogging for ten years straight, and this helped in honing my writing style and my past entries are a resource for further chapters and books. On a recent family trip to Ireland with a private guide, I was in the front seat everyday, making notes and observations on what I hope will become another history book with a personal twist. My grandfather was 18 at the time of the Easter Rising (1916) in Ireland. He was in the early IRA, as were most of his eight brothers, active in the most rebellious part of Ireland in the War of Independence (1918-1921). After the Irish won it, a civil war over the peace treaty broke out, and split the family. My grandfather came to America. We drove around and found the cottage where he was raised—nine boys in a small dwelling overlooking the Shannon. (If you are not familiar with this chapter in Irish history, watch the film ‘Michael Collins’ w/Liam Neeson. Or wait for my book to come out, ha ha.) But anyway, my journals/notebooks are very important.

My final comments: To anybody teaching today who is frustrated with lack of support or feeling shackled with testing, or stifled in their classroom creativity,–just do it. Close the door and channel your passion. Your kids will thank you for it, and who knows, maybe you will change the world.
Links on Matt Rozell
Amazon Author Page
FYI: the book is also for sale at the Museum shop

MTF Spotlight – Karen Levine

Karen and Kristin
Interview and Article by:
Megan Helberg, NE (MTF 2016)

Karen Levine (Succasunna, NJ; MTF 2006) is a retired middle school social studies teacher who now serves as a docent at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.

How and when did you become interested in learning more about the Holocaust, and then, eventually, make the decision to teach about the Holocaust?
Growing up, the Holocaust was never a part of any history class or even mentioned in Hebrew School. Of course we knew certain things about it but it was never discussed. When I started teaching about the Holocaust it was not part of the curriculum and a principal once criticized me for speaking of “what happened in Germany during the war” – that’s how he put it.
I started going to conferences and hearing about the Holocaust and about how it should be integrated into the curriculum. When New Jersey published their first Holocaust curriculum I started using parts of it realizing that this wasn’t just a Jewish issue but was a human issue that had to be part of any meaningful study of history.

The past several months have been quite tumultuous in our country, what advice do you have for current teachers on how to approach these difficult topics in the classroom?
I have said many times that I’m happy I don’t have to teach because of what is happening but I often think of the marvelous opportunities to have students investigate issues and form opinions. Students should be given the tools to do this by the teacher using reputable sources and then have students engage in discussions and debates based on FACTS. Yes, this opens the door to a lot of uncomfortable areas, but I believe it will also help students become citizens who think critically in a democratic society.

How did your involvement with the USHMM begin? What motivated you to apply for the MTF program?
In 2000 I went on the NJ Holocaust Commission’s trip to Europe and Israel and from there I knew I had to learn more in order to teach more effectively. When I came back I volunteered to work on the second NJ Holocaust Curriculum and while there I heard about the MTF program and realized that’s what I needed and wanted. I had visited the Museum before but had not taken part in any other programs there.

In what ways did the MTF program change your approach to teaching about the Holocaust?
I became an MTF late in my teaching career but this program impacted all of my teaching, not just my teaching of the Holocaust. I started designing my lessons using more critical thinking skills, more individual research, and more student-centered activities. It’s not that I didn’t use them before, but now I felt they were more integral to my program. My teaching of the Holocaust spent more time on diverse topics and a lot more time on life for people both before and after the Holocaust.

Do you have a funny or memorable moment that has occurred around fellow MTFs?
The memorable moments with MTFs is simply being with these educators. I have formed new friendships that go well beyond the scope of just teaching about the Holocaust. I look forward to spending time with other MTFs in both virtual and real time.
You have been a docent for the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. Can you tell us about the unique connection this museum has with the USHMM in relation to teaching about traumatic events?
That is a thread that weaves together the USHMM and the National 9/11 Memorial Museum. In both instances a part of that answer is by exploring choices people made in these horrific situations. At the USHMM the exhibit on Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity focused on these choices. At the 9/11 Museum that story is interwoven with everything else.

I know a project dear to your heart is the Man in the Red Bandana. Could you please tell us why this particular story is important to you.
I believe that the story of Welles Crowther, the Man in the Red Bandana, helps to discuss choices in a positive way. I am still, in my heart, a teacher and I want students of all ages to think not just about the horror of these events, but about how people reacted. Welles didn’t wake up that day and suddenly know he had to help others. During his entire life he had made decisions based on helping. This is a story that needs to be told.

Outside of your volunteer work with the USHMM and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, how do you spend your time?
I am an avid reader and belong to three book clubs. I also enjoy working out (yup I do), traveling and playing golf. Here, in the interest of full disclosure, I must say I am one of the worst golfers ever but love the game.

You have inspired your former students to not just learn about Holocaust and genocide studies, but to act, as well. Could you point out a few notable student projects?
Tweaking a USHMM lesson, I asked students to bring in any picture of themselves. From these they worked with the online picture archives and found similar pictures. I know that sounds unlikely but everyone was able to do that. They then did research on the countries that were shown and created a diary for these people using facts and their imagination.
I worked with Drew University in Madison, NJ on a project I am very proud of. They had a writing symposium for survivors and wanted to create a CD in which those survivors were interviewed by students. Since this came up in the fall, I reached out to former students who were now in high school to see if they would be willing to help. No grade, no credit, and I had to choose only 5 from the 15 or so who wanted to be involved. I worked with the students using the written words of the survivors to create questions. They then put it all together and even chose backgrounds and some music. These are students I am still in touch with and I’m so so proud to say that they are all involved in various human rights issues.
Karen family

MTF Spotlight – Colleen Tambuscio

Colleen Tambuscio pic

Interview and Article by:
Jen Goss, VA (MTF 2010)

In late spring of each year, I look forward to the day when a special booklet arrives in my mailbox. This booklet, featuring the journey of high school students on the Holocaust Study Tour profiles their stories as they make the journey to Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic under the guidance of master educator, Colleen Tambuscio (Riverdale, NJ; MTF 1998), who has coordinated this incredible opportunity for 18 years with colleagues and fellow MTFs, Bonnie Sussman (CA, MTF 1998), and Lisa Bauman (KS, MTF 1998). According to Colleen, “The program seeks to engage students in an in-depth study of the Holocaust at authentic learning sites in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland. [It] emphasizes local history and has created partnerships with local communities in each country to study the historical narrative of the Holocaust in each country and to develop partnerships to preserve this history. In Trisce, Czech Republic, the HST program researched and created a partnership with the local mayor and community to preserve the historical underground hideouts that hid Otto Wolf and his family for three long years.  (i.e. Otto Wolf’s diary is featured in Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder and is a core text for many educators teaching this history.) The partnership between Trsice and this program evolved from the curiosity of the students who read Otto’s diary annually and teachers involved in this program.  

An additional partnership with three teachers, Jurek Stelmach, Jolanta Stelmach and Pawel Chojnowski from Dabrowa Tarnowska High School in Poland was established four years ago.  These educators helped restore the synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska and make it a cultural and education center which most importantly tells the history of the Jewish community of their town.  These teachers have hosted a regional Yom HaShoah program for the past 18 years which includes student theatrical, musical and vocal performances in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish demonstrating cultural and religious aspects of the history of Jewish life in this region. We have been privileged to witness this meaningful remembrance program each year during our visit

With Colleen at the helm of this amazing journey, it should be of no surprise that she was recently honored by Princeton University as an outstanding secondary educator in New Jersey. The impact of this experience and her work in the classroom as both a special education and Social Studies teacher is far-reaching. She is now in her 33rd year of teaching. Having spent the first 17 years of her career at Midland Park High School as a teacher of the deaf in the subjects of English and History, Colleen now teaches at New Milford High School. In her 16 years at New Milford, she has created two courses in the History Department – “The Holocaust, Genocide and Human Behavior” and “Contemporary Genocide: A Call to Action”. It is through these courses that students can take the opportunity to participate in the Holocaust Study Tour, as well as a trip to USHMM.

Colleen still maintains a role in Special Education, serving as New Milford’s Special Education Department Liaison. In fact, it was through her work in special education as a teacher of the deaf that Colleen first attended a teacher training focused on the Holocaust at William Patterson University (NJ). This training coincided with the introduction of the mandate in New Jersey in 1994 and it was there that Colleen says that she realized how, “relevant this topic was for my deaf students and began designing programming that not only met their educational needs, but focused my entry point on the marginalization and murder of the handicapped during the Holocaust.”

Four years after that first workshop, Colleen was named a Museum Teacher Fellow. Of that experience, Colleen shares, “My experience as an MTF remains the single most important and sustaining training program I have participated in throughout my career. I have created life-long relationships with teachers who have become dear colleagues and close personal friends.  The MTF network is so strong that these relationships come from my fellowship year and beyond.” Those who have been fortunate to work with Colleen as a result of her connection with USHMM will concur wholeheartedly that she is a true asset to this network, never being too busy to lend an ear or an idea to teachers of all ages and abilities, both near home and far away. In fact, her work with educators and her dedication to this topic led to her continued partnership with Alexandra Zapruder to provide supportive educational materials for Zapruder’s Salvaged Pages. In 2015, Colleen was part of a launch of materials through Facing History and Ourselves that help educators work with this crucial text in their classrooms. Both before and since, Colleen has also presented at conferences regionally and nationally on this topic and many others related to Holocaust education.

In 2001, Colleen established the Council of Holocaust Educators in NJ and currently serves as their president. This professional development organization works closely with the NJ Commission on Holocaust education to encourage, foster and mentor new teachers in the field. Additionally, they sponsor an annual conference for educators. Colleen believes that this role and the others she fulfills help to continue important work that maintains relevance inour modern social, political and cultural times worldwide, [and] unfortunately, reminds us to keep vigilant in our teachings of such a dark era in human history.”

This mentor of many also offers advice to new MTFs who are just embarking on their journey. She shares, “Embrace the opportunity to learn and create educational programs for your students through the network that the fellowship affords. When we are back in our schools we find fewer and fewer like minded individuals.  The Fellowship cadre affords each one of us an extraordinary opportunity to network with individuals who care as deeply as we do about the teaching of the Holocaust.”

In closing, I offer you a quote that truly embodies Colleen’s spirit. Friend and fellow MTF, Lisa Bauman, said of Colleen – “No matter how busy she is, she always manages to fit in one more thing if it means teaching about the Holocaust. She makes every student feel loved and she lives the messages that she teaches.”

MTF Spotlight – Bob Smith

Survivor Volunteer, Henry Greenbaum, and MTF Bob Smith

Interview and Article by:
Jen Goss, VA (MTF 2010)

Where to begin on Bob? Bob Smith (South Deerfield, MA; MTF 2001) is one of the most genuine human beings I’ve been privileged to call friend, colleague, and mentor. Bob cares for his students and athletes as both a teacher and a coach and brings that same nurturing spirit to the Museum programming he facilitates. I’ve never been with Bob when he didn’t make a Teacher Fellow feel valued and enriched. In fact, I’ve heard Bob say of the USHMM, ‘I don’t ever come here and not learn something new.’ After having known Bob for over a decade, I  can say I feel the same way about him. He has made me see exhibits in a new light, challenged me by encouraging me to read books he has recommended, and has caused shifts in my pedagogy. I am a better teacher for having had the opportunities I have had to work alongside Bob,” shares Doug Wadley (IL, MTF 2002).

This statement shares the very essence of what makes Bob Smith a truly amazing MTF. Upon working with him, my first impression was that he was both quiet and thoughtful – when he spoke, you listened carefully because he always had a unique and important perspective to share. He addresses every educator with his calm nature and effective style – truly class in action – particularly with a range of participants bringing different perspectives  At the end our first experience together, I not only gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from a world-class colleague but I also gained the friendship of an individual who brightens my life whenever we connect.

Bob’s teaching career began in 1977, the same year the very first Apple computer went on sale! Following his graduation from Wesleyan University and earning his education degree at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, Bob taught for a year at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield, MA. He followed this a year later at an alternative program in Middletown, CT, before landing at Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield, MA where he taught eighth grade for 38 years. In addition to teaching, Bob coached middle school boys basketball for 28 years, for the past 38 years he has coached girls and boys cross country. Next spring will be Bob’s 39th season of coaching girls’ Track & Field. In his sports pursuits, he has coached many to state finals and championships and it is evident that he loves sharing these experiences with his student athletes. Each season, his social media posts beam with pride and it is evident to all how much he enjoys this aspect of his career.

Neil Garfinkle (MTF 2014), Kristin Thompson (USHMM Staff, MTF 2003), Bob Smith (MTF 2001), Laurie Schaefer (MTF 2006)

In 2001, Bob was named a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow. When asked about the impact of the MTF program on him professionally, Bob responded, “There is no finer professional work that I have done than being an MTF. I have enjoyed the friendship and scholarship of many wonderful classroom teachers, and have been able to share my knowledge at conferences across the United States.  To me, being an MTF carries a near sacred responsibility to share with students and teachers the importance of individual decisions —or lack thereof —in shaping our common humanity.” Bob has certainly lived this responsibility throughout his career, educating students both inside the walls of his classroom and in the world.

One of the things that stands out from his career is the many opportunities he has provided to students by expanding their horizons through travel. Bob has traveled throughout the world with students to sites of the Holocaust, allowing them to experience history through a new lens. Travel, both with students and his family, is a big part of Bob’s life. He shares, “I travel a great deal—often to the Netherlands, to the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany, Belgium, Iceland and anywhere the winds take me in the States.” Since retiring in 2016, Bob has had many more opportunities to see the world.

This past summer, Bob was part of the inaugural group of MTF Mentors (see article) and I can think of no better person to serve in that role. He shared that it was an outstanding opportunity to expand his network with even more like-minded teachers. Bob enjoyed sharing ideas, techniques and lessons that he hopes will impact future generations of students – something he feels every teacher should certainly do and something that he exemplifies so well. “Holocaust education remains critical in our society”, Bob says. “
I believe that now more than ever, teaching about the Holocaust provides students with a wide world view. It tells them that it is ordinary men [and women] who commit heinous crimes against humanity, and ordinary people who can act to stop them.”

When Bob is not out changing the lives of students and teachers, he revels in his life as a farmer – a role he holds dear to his heart. Bob has an enormous garden where he grows fruits and vegetables not only for his family, but for friends as well. Sharing the items he grows gives him great satisfaction and the closest recipients are his family consisting of his wonderful wife and life partner, Mary Ellen, and their two grown sons. Bob proudly shares that, “Geoff is Sports Editor of the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA, and Nate is a licensed electrician with his own business.” Mary Ellen and Bob also count a cat, Gracie, and their beloved and beautiful Golden Retriever, Finn, among their family members.

In closing, I asked Bob to share some advice for MTFs who are closer to the beginning of their journeys. Bob says, “Their experience in the program will give them strength in their instruction, depth in their knowledge, and the courage to speak out against injustice.  It will reaffirm in each that ‘the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’” Thank you, Bob, for sharing these important words!

MTF Spotlight – Kim Blevins-Relleva

Interview and Article by:
Josha Sietsma, Netherlands (MTF 2015)

Writer, volunteer at the Nashville Food Project, Holocaust scholar, middle school teacher. Where to start when interviewing Kim Blevins, a Teacher Fellow from 2011. How about her role as author? In her writings the sentence: cat gotcher tung?. The line is in Lacking Experience of Sophistication published on the website of Muscadines. The South is in your work. Tell us, what does the sentence mean?
This is a sentence from a short story that was published in 2009, I believe. I’d written it in southern dialect: cat gotcher tung? is dialect for “does the cat have your tongue?” which is an idiom that means, “why are you not talking?”

The Holocaust and the American Civil Rights movement are my two historical passions. I gravitate towards work with social justice implications.

You were a facilitator last summer at the Belfer National Conference. What got you started and wanting to teach about the Holocaust?
My paternal grandfather served in the US Army during World War II. He collected Time/Life picture books about the war, and as a young child I loved to pour over those books, and I loved to hear my granddaddy’s stories. I remember being struck by a photograph of a Polish girl working in a forced labor factory. She had pigtails and a kerchief on her head and she looked a great deal like me. I always wondered about her, if she survived the war. This interest in personal stories compelled me to learn this history from a very early age. I always knew I wanted to be a historian of this time era, and chose history as my major in undergraduate school, and modern German history was my field in graduate school.

2017 Belfer Conference Facilitators and USHMM Staff
Kim and Andrew Buchanan (MTF 2011) – Belfer, Classroom A Facilitators

In 2008 you were named Belz-Lipman Tennessee Holocaust Educator of the Year for your outstanding and creative curriculum and classroom work. Most of us, reading this article, are teachers. Could you share one of your best-practices?
Do not try to force an emotional response to the Holocaust. Let the history and the individuals speak for themselves. Have patience with your student’s responses. People react in a variety of ways when confronted with something this terrible and they need time to process it. Don’t expect all students to respond in the same way: there is no “right” response.

From Nashville, TN, to Berlin, Germany: A Global Holocaust Exchange based on the initiatives on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The title of your project as a teacher fellow back in 2011. What made you want to be a teacher fellow?
I always admired the USHMM, since it is the premiere Holocaust authority in the United States and as soon as I heard about the MTF program I wanted to be chosen. It has not disappointed. Every event I’ve experienced at the USHMM has exceeded expectations.

The Museum staff is exceptional; the resources are without parallel. And the other educators I’ve met through the MTF program are some of the finest teachers out there. They have enriched my teaching and my life. The teachers that I worked with at Belfer this summer were simply amazing. Facilitating Belfer was an honor. It was hard work, but the team made it enjoyable.

From your reflections on the Europe tour (Tennessee Holocaust Commission European Study Trip 2017) : “This trip has profoundly changed my life.” What is the benefit of visiting historical sites?
There is no substitution for visiting the historical sites of the Holocaust. It deepens your understanding of the events in a singular way.

On a slightly different note. In The Paris Review, Spring 1984. James Baldwin was asked the following: “Is that one of the reasons you decided to be a writer – to find about yourself?”. Can you relate to this question? Have you found things in your writing process you’ve shared with other Holocaust scholars?
James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers. I love him, and yes, I write to learn about myself and my place in the world. Writing is how I make sense of everything. I write fiction and creative nonfiction, and I teach English as well as history. I incorporate a great deal of writing into my history classes. Overall, I urge students to find the vehicle for their voice: writing, dance, painting. We are all artists and just need to find the medium that is our preferred way to communicate with the universe. My medium is writing, and I hope to encourage my students to give writing consideration as the way they raise their voice.

Class of 2011-2012
Tennessee Holocaust Commission European Study Trip 2017
Paris Review
The Nashville Food Project

MTF Spotlight – Scott Auspelmyer

History Day Teacher of the Year
Interview and Article by:
Megan Helberg, NE (MTF 2016)

Scott Auspelmyer (Columbia, DC; MTF 2015) is in his 17th year of teaching high school social studies in South Carolina. During his undergraduate studies at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY, he became interested in the topic of Holocaust education. 

Overall, how have your students responded to learning more about the Holocaust in your classes?
While they think they have a good general idea about what happened, they are always surprised at how little they actually know and, more importantly, how much learning about the event is really learning about humanity as a whole.  

The past few months have been somewhat tumultuous in South Carolina. As a teacher, have these events changed the way you approach your students? Have the discussions taken a different direction?
For several years SC has had its fair share of intrigue and unfortunate events, from natural disasters such as flooding and hurricanes to atrocities such as the Charleston Church shooting and historical controversies including the removal of the Confederate battle flag from our state house grounds. I do not feel that these events change the way I teach, but they do serve to highlight the realities of the problems of race, discrimination, and historical issues that still hold significant relevance today. They clearly help to display that the issues often discussed when teaching about the Holocaust are still issues today in our own communities.

What have been some of your most reliable materials/resources regarding Holocaust education that you would recommend to other teachers?
Since I started teaching in the late 1990s there have been a plethora of material released regarding Holocaust education and with the ubiquity of accessible materials online now it is often overwhelming. I still prefer the USHMM website for much of my Holocaust web material, and I find that the Facing History organization also has great resources to prompt discussions related to Holocaust and genocide studies. I stray away from pre-packaged/all-inclusive Holocaust units and instead rely on a variety of texts that I have cultivated from my own reading library over the years. Most consistently I use Holocaust: A History by Deborah Dwork as one of my central texts as I feel it is concise, yet thorough, and therefore accessible for students (though I will say I teach mostly honors students). I also like engaging survivor memoirs such as Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and Leap Into Darkness by Leo Bretholz, both of which explore powerful themes and both are easily readable for virtually all high school students. I also like to include excerpts from Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 by Christopher Browning, Nazi Doctors by Robert Lifton, and I’m looking to add excerpts from Fear: AntiSemitism in Poland after Auschwitz by Jan Gross; all of these works help students gain a deeper understanding of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. I find that the challenge I most want to overcome is getting students to understand the complexity of the Holocaust.  Too often their limited knowledge leads them to a belief of stark contrast: all Germans were evil and all victims were good. I want them to truly attempt to understand the variety of situations that the events of the 1930s and 1940s (Great Depression, World War II, Holocaust, etc.) put people in and how there simply were not many easy or obvious choices for them to make. Once they can truly comprehend this reality, then they come to better understand that the event is much more complex and they are forced to be more mindful about how they think about it and also how they think about current events, such as the recent events in Charlottesville, VA.

In addition to the MTF program, have you attended other conferences or programs that you found especially helpful in your mission as a Holocaust educator?
Yes, a multitude. The highlights are the Facing History and Ourselves week-long Holocaust workshop in 2004, Holocaust Remembrance Project in 2005 through the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Alfred Lerner Teaching Fellowship in 2011, and of course the MTF Program in 2015-2016.

Do you have a funny or memorable moment you could share with us from your MTF years?
I cannot pinpoint one particular moment, but the time I spent getting to know and learn from my MTF colleagues will always be special to me and the sincerity with which Kristin Thompson approaches the program and all that she and her staff do for the teachers to make their experience worthwhile in a multitude of ways will always be held in immensely high regard by me for the future.

Outside of teaching, how do you spend your time?
I like to travel, though I do not get to do it enough, but I was fortunate enough to be a member of the National World War II Museum’s first summer teaching cohort focusing of the War in the Pacific and we went to New Orleans in July 2016 and then Hawaii in July 2017 for teaching training and to visit historical sites. It is a program similar in design to the MTF program and one I also recommend.  

I also like to golf and attend live music events, and I have been known to travel hundreds of miles to see my favorite bands such as Metallica, as much as I can in addition to being a craft beer aficionado, so I try to find local breweries every time I travel to a new place.  (PS: Hawaii has some great ones!)

You have inspired your students to not just learn about Holocaust and genocide studies, but to act, as well. Could you point out a few notable student projects?
Former Students
In 2008 a student group of mine created “Save Darfur” at my high school to raise awareness about the genocide in Sudan.  The group sponsored a “Save Darfur Week” at our school for two consecutive years and raised over $5000 in funds to donate to the Save Darfur Coalition. For our efforts we were recognized by the Save Darfur Coalition as one of the top ten schools in the nation in raising awareness two years in a row, the only school in the nation to be recognized twice by the organization.

History Day WinnersOver the years I have become heavily involved in National History Day. I have been fortunate to have two students win top places in the regional and state competitions of National History Day each of the past three years.  Notably, last year’s winners wrote papers on topics of human rights, including one paper on Paul Rusesabagina and his valorous efforts in Rwanda during the Rwandan genocide and another paper on Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar a politician and social reformer in India who campaigned against social discrimination.

This interview is about over, so how about sharing some Scott Auspelmyer words of wisdom or closing remarks to leave us with as we all continue our school years. I know you are waiting for the opportunity to say something about Metallica, so this might be your chance!
First and foremost, I believe that while we have one of the toughest occupations in the world, we also have an immense opportunity to make the world a better place by impacting each and every student we teach in a positive way.  I think we have more than enough evidence to know that the work we do is needed now more than ever in recent history. The mark we leave on our students is indelible and irreplaceable, and we should approach our profession with a responsibility and attention to caring that we would approach our family.

And yes, I could imagine Metallica would echo my statements about the impact that we have from the perspective of our students with a statement maybe like, “Trust I seek and I find in you, every day for us something new, open mind for a different view, and nothing else matters.”

MTF Spotlight – Amy McDonald

Amy 1
Interview and Article by:
Megan Helberg, Nebraska (MTF 2016)
& Josha Sietsma, Netherlands (MTF 2015)

Amy McDonald (Wilsonville, Alabama; MTF 2014) teaches history at Shades Valley High School in Irondale, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.  She recently wrote a book about Holocaust survivor, Max Steinmetz, who currently resides in the Birmingham area.  We’d like to introduce you to Amy’s work as a MTF and her journey to write Max’s story, Determined to Survive: A Story of Survival and One Teacher’s Passion to Bring That Story to Life.

We can’t interview a teacher from Alabama without asking about Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird). Megan loves To Kill a Mockingbird and Josha loves baseball, so we’re combining the two: “You know who loved the Mets? Harper Lee.” This quote was found in an old issue of the Paris Review. Amy, are you intrigued by Harper Lee or any particular sports?
I have always admired Harper Lee. We all know about the power and impact of her writing. As odd as it sounds, one of the things I loved about her was how she didn’t seek attention or fame. She loved living a simple life. I love the following quotes by Harper Lee: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”  (HL, To Kill A Mockingbird)

“You see, more than a simple matter of putting down words, writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer.”  (HL in an interview, 1964)

As far as sports, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of baseball, but I am a HUGE fan of Alabama football. Roll Tide Roll!  🙂

We know that you have recently written a book. How exciting! Hemingway was once asked the following questions for an interview and we want to pass the questions along to you: “Could you say something of this process? When do you work? Do you keep to a strict schedule?”
The two-year process of writing this book involved traveling to many places. Obviously, it’s all a very long story. Since sabbaticals are unheard of for public school teachers, I worked after school hours and on weekends. There were many nights when I woke up with my head on the kitchen table. During the summer, I tried to keep a consistent writing schedule. I had a routine of going to a library in the morning and working for a few hours. I found that working from home was too distracting.

We understand your book is on a story of a Holocaust survivor. Can you take us back through your journey and tell us what brought this story into your life?
Well, I met Max Steinmetz, a Holocaust survivor, in 2012 just after I returned from Germany and Poland. Visiting the places that I had previously only read about impacted me dramatically. This was an overwhelming experience for me. I teach a semester-long Holocaust course and when I returned from my trip I realized I needed to change the way I was teaching this class. I knew I wanted to bring a survivor in and make it more personal. I decided I would have the same survivor come in and speak on four separate occasions and make this a year-long project. The kids and I really got to know Max. He was liberated from one of the Dachau death marches. He couldn’t decide where he wanted to go once he recovered. He thought about going home to Romania, but was afraid. He moved to the U.S. in 1947 and wound up in Birmingham, AL in the 1950s, which is how we came to know each other since I also live near Birmingham.

I thought to myself, “His story needs to be written.” I didn’t know it was going to be me at that point. In 2012 I asked him, “Has anyone ever written your story? I would be glad to do it.” In 2014, Max and his wife invited me over for dinner and asked if I was still interested in writing his story. I was honored. I told them,”I am not an author! I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll do my best!”

After developing such a close relationship with Max and his family, I knew I had to travel back to Romania. Max was born in the small town of Targu Lapus, Romania.  In 2016 I was awarded a Fund For Teachers fellowship and was able to travel to Munich and then into Romania, following Max’s death march route. Going back to his hometown was really meaningful. He has such awful memories associated with his hometown. He said, “Why would I go back? There is nothing to go back to. But yet there is something inside of me that wants to go back to see where I was born.” It is a really complicated situation for him.

Was your work successful in Romania?
When I arrived in Romania the teachers and students were more than willing to assist and listen to Max’s story. Max was surprised that people wanted to help me with my research in Romania. I spoke at several schools and told his life story. Max was so excited! Kids and teachers sent gifts back to him. He just couldn’t believe it. There are these great pictures of the kids in Romania holding his book. It’s gone full circle. Maybe it’s restored his faith a little bit.

Also, since my return we’ve started a blog in my classroom and with a classroom in Romania. Last semester they read Night together and this semester they will read the book about Max together. I’m excited to see how the connection between the two schools might continue to grow.  

What part of Max’s story impacted you the most?
He always tells a story about a bridge that he and his Jewish friends would cross to get back and forth from his house to town. Sometimes they would get in the middle of the bridge and the other boys from town would block the ends of the bridge. Max and his Jewish friends would either jump in the water or get beaten up. This is such a powerful memory for Max. When I returned home from Romania, the students over there sent me a picture of the old bridge and Max recognized it. They also sent a picture of five or six high school kids holding up a sign on the bridge that says “We Remember”. It is so powerful to me because of what it means to him. I cry every time I see the picture.

What is your advice for teachers who are new to Holocaust education?
The key for me was being willing to make the effort and take the risk to step out and go to the workshops, and go to the trainings, and apply for the scholarships. Be willing to travel! Be willing to go! That has done nothing but broaden and deepen my knowledge. The people and friends you meet are priceless. It’s helped me learn and grow more as a teacher, and as a person, more than anything else.

Closing Thoughts?
I’m still in awe that I’m the author of a book, it still sounds so weird! It was so important to get the book done. There was an urgency because he’s 92. I’m relieved that it’s done. I have an “at peace” kind of feeling, and that’s a good feeling.

Book Details:
Determined to Survive: A Story of Survival and One Teacher’s Passion to Bring That Story to Life (Self-published). Available at the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and soon in your bookstore and Amazon.

MTF Spotlight – Jeff Parker

Jeff 2
Interview and Article by:
Josha Sietsma, Netherlands (MTF 2015)

In upstate New York, with twenty inches of snow, and drifts up to the shoulders, Jeffrey Parker (Farmington, NY; MTF 2013) takes some time for a conversation about French philosopher, Michel Foucault, the Holocaust, and teaching. Jeff is currently pursuing his PhD in education at the University of Rochester. His main research interest is Holocaust education: How do national metanarratives and power relations impact the social construction of Holocaust education in the United States and European settings? In the United States, there is, in many cases, the ‘heroic narrative’ that impacts history classrooms and impacts the ‘story’ that is told. In Europe, a very different construct exists, depending on a nation’s role in the war and their collaboration. As a result, how are the purposes and aims of this education affected?

Your PhD is in education, with a research focus of Holocaust education in particular; please share with us what got you started.
Holocaust education is an interesting and evolving field. It’s such a great and rich area for study and education development. I’m mainly interested in how this evolving understanding of the Holocaust – as we move into three or four generations removed from the Holocaust itself – is constructed in classrooms. Especially considering all of the focus on tests and standards from schools, governments, museums, etc. The biggest thing I’ve seen, and to me it’s most disturbing, is the fact that a lot of teachers don’t have and can’t take the time to do a deep teaching of the Holocaust. We see a lot of surface-level teaching in Holocaust education. That eventually leads to the idea, amongst students, and some teachers, that the Holocaust was inevitable; all Germans were Nazis, all Germans hated Jews, and that Jews meekly went to the slaughter. Shallow teaching can lead to a really simple narrative lacking the necessary context and often being misconstrued.

One of the ways we have, as educators, to combat this [the simplistic narrative], is by adhering to the Guidelines. Recently, as part of my research, I examined the “genealogy” of the Museum Guidelines: what historical, social, and political forces influenced their creation, aims, and purposes? It’s not really a history per se, more of tangled spider web of overlapping events and ideas…There’s a lot of theory that gets involved when analyzing something like this, but the upshot is that the Guidelines have had a tremendously powerful and positive impact in structuring and normalizing the field of Holocaust education. For many years, Holocaust education focused on simulations and connecting the Holocaust with contemporary events, but too often, skipped over the hard reality – the facts – of individuals, choices, and events that made the Holocaust a particular event.

When first authored, the Guidelines served as a critique of these methods and proposed a practice that would steer educators away from poor methodological choices. Within the Guidelines, there are five broad areas that are addressed: defining the Holocaust, the disciplinary / historian approach, the importance of language, sources of information and focus of instruction, and comparisons of individuals and pain. What’s interesting is that they [the Guidelines] invite the students and teachers to work together in order to create their understanding of the Holocaust. This understanding though is rooted in a close study of primary documents, testimony, meetings with survivors…all things that are contextualized and lead to a nuanced, more accurate understanding.

Why should teachers take more time to teach about the Holocaust?
Time gives people the possibility to broaden their way of thinking and deepen their understanding. I hear people ask questions like,“Why should we study the Holocaust? It didn’t happen in America, why should I care? Why should we hear about this again?” My general response is: “It’s still happening. Look at Burma, Central African Republic, Syria, Sudan. The simple fact is: it’s still happening.” The Holocaust is a rich case study from which we can learn so much; a watershed moment in human history: an entire mechanism within a political movement focused on the elimination of a group of people. If we skip over this examination, if we don’t take the time to consider this unique event, we’re missing an opportunity and not respecting the memory of millions of people.

What made you want to teach about the Holocaust?
When I started teaching, I had little-to-no-background in the Holocaust. As a student, when I was in high school, in the 1980s, Holocaust education was new with barely any curriculum. The term ‘Holocaust’ was just becoming familiar to the American public and my teachers didn’t touch on the subject at all.

I started teaching twenty years ago in a school for special education students. They were all tenth graders and one of the books that was studied was Elie Wiesel’s testimony, Night. If there was an emotional response from my students at the time, I would be satisfied, feeling like I got through to them. Looking back, I feel embarrassed, but that’s what I did.

Students always had questions on the subject and I didn’t have the answers, so I started reading more about the Holocaust. For every answer that I found, two more questions arose. And as time went on, I changed my approach. I focused more on the historical, the disciplinary approach. Looking at the event from the psychology of evil. I really wanted to understand the context and in my search for more, I started meeting more people such as the folks at the Museum, the Holocaust Educators Network (in New York), and the USC Shoah Foundation. This had a tremendous effect on my teaching. It became much more about building an understanding that had personal meaning but was also accurate. It wasn’t necessary to use horrible images.

For a lot of us engaged in this work, at some point, this switch inside flips and you decide: “This is what I need to do.” It’s (teaching the Holocaust) hard at times. I realized at some point though, we’re losing opportunities, we haven’t effectively learned from the past.

Currently, I have a group of 20 seniors in a Genocide and Justice class. We begin with about ten weeks on the Holocaust, then focus on Raphael Lemkin, the genocide convention, contemporary genocide and people who are trying to work against genocide through rule of law. We work with a lot of primary documents, talk with survivors, meet with people over Skype, and try to delve deeply into the subject.

Jeff 1

What do you think we should learn?
That’s tough because there’s not just one lesson. It’s (genocide) still going on. There must be more effective ways to deal with contemporary genocide and that means today’s youth need to know about this and not feel powerless. We need to educate. People need to know about the history. These are not aberrations. The perpetration isn’t done by extraordinary people, it’s done by everyday, average, ordinary individuals. We need to know this, but we like to believe that we aren’t capable.

You mentioned that this work can be “hard”, have you ever collaborated with others in the field?
The biggest collaboration has been working with people who share similar interests in Holocaust education. That’s what drove me to become a Museum Teacher Fellow. I remember that when I met other MTFs in my cohort, my reaction was: “Wow, I found my tribe!” People with similar views, questions, and interests that also helped broaden my world immensely. There is also collaboration in the classroom: just coming in and lecturing is not sufficient. There needs to be collaboration in the classroom between teacher and student.  If I don’t think about it as collaborating with my students and I only see them as receivers of information, then it’s all for naught. We need to work together in the classroom and come to an accurate and useful understanding that is constructed from our knowledge. I need to know who my students are. “Who am I working with here? How am I going to teach this time?”  In order to be an effective teacher, I must collaborate with people in the Holocaust field, the education field, and my students.

The interview comes full-circle with a question similar to the first: “A doctoral degree in Holocaust education and the focus on power relations and heroic narratives…” Jeff asks if I’m familiar with the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault. I am, so after a short conversation on Foucault, I ask him to tell us how Foucault and the Museum came together for him.
Foucault, in his philosophy, focuses on the power relations, its driving forces, and who has access to information. What drives history and events and what gives events and people the power to achieve? In our classroom our power is our language. That means that we need to be aware of how we use this language!

I’ve wondered for a while how now about how the Guidelines came together. The requirements for one of my courses allowed me to pursue this interest and delve into their background. Foucault’s theoretical lens was appropriate for this as he suggests that social constructs don’t come together in a linear fashion, but rather result from innumerable factors and powerful forces. This is very true of the Guidelines.

An example of one of those perplexing questions that challenges power and story: “Why didn’t we (the United States) bomb the railways in order to stop the transports?” Even with our government knowing about the railways but making the choice not to bomb is an intriguing example of how a narrative will not fit in the average classroom. The bigger question that remains is “why doesn’t this fit the narrative?” What forces determine what is taught and what is not addressed?

Another heroic, but simplistic, narrative sounds something like:In an effort to teach about liberation, many facts are glossed over and the student understanding may be: “US forces liberated all of the camps, even the extermination camps.” But the truth is, the US forces did not liberate any extermination camps. We need to understand what was really happening. Also skipped over, far too often, is the fact that Antisemitism existed in the United States with people such as Henry Ford sponsoring the publishing of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. What is the real narrative? The Guidelines create space for us to do so.

And practically, when one looks at the Museum’s guidelines, the “avoid comparisons of pain” is really important and what separates this from other topics. We need to make sure that our students understand that the victims were individuals. That makes it real. Just as the seminal quote in the Museum, from Abel Herzberg, says “There were not six million Jews murdered; there was one murder, six million times.” This didn’t happen overnight and people made choices every step of the way.