Monday, March 26, 2012
Read Part I here.
Read Part III here.
When I saw that there would be a pre-session educators’ tour of Terezin (also known as the National Memorial of Suffering), I was both eager and frightened. Even though I have worked in Holocaust education for more than 5 years, I had yet to visit a concentration camp.
Terezin was a place of lies. But it was also the setting for startlingly brave acts of truth-telling. Jewish artists, poets, journalists — even a secret photographer — risked their lives to document the physical and emotional reality of this horrible place. There were many other acts of spiritual, artistic and other resistance, perhaps the best-known documented in I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a book of children’s art from the camp, and the film Brundibar about an opera created in the camp, which helped to both keep spirits up and serve as a coded cry for help.
For the first part of the tour, I felt both sadness and shock, but when we stepped into the crematorium, the reality of the horror hit me: the scale of the room, the meticulous engineering of the ovens. I purchased a candle, and was touched when one of the teachers on the tour asked if she could light one with me. However, that was nothing compared to the emotions I experienced when nearly the entire tour said Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) with me. Words do not describe the feeling of support and compassion from this group of strangers — almost all non-Jewish — who stood with me. It was a transformative experience.
I can not thank our tour leader, Trudi van der Tak of the American School of the Hague in Amsterdam, enough for the sensitivity, depth of knowledge and sense of humanity that she brought to the experience. I am also grateful that she invited me to speak about the Jewish partisans at the end of the tour.
Though we were all somber, it made the experience more bearable for both my fellow educators and for me. And that is one of the most valuable lessons I received: telling the stories is just as healing as hearing them, perhaps even more.
So I highly recommend encouraging your students to share what they learn about Jewish resistance to their family, friends, and anyone else who will listen. We all know that the best way to truly learn something is to teach it. The lessons of the Jewish partisans and the millions of others who engaged in non-violent resistance teach us that resistance is always possible, always worthwhile. Evil can be fought even in the harshest circumstances, and even the smallest acts of defiance make a difference. The world will always need these lessons and people to teach and realize them.
Part 1 — Insights from the Prague International Schools Conference
Part 3 — Auschwitz/Birkenau: The Heart of the Beast
Friday, March 23, 2012
JPEF Education Manager Jonathan Furst recently returned from a trip to Prague, Czech Republic, where he attended the 26th European League for Middle Level Education (ELMLE) Conference for European International School middle-school educators. The trip included a pre-conference tour of the Terezin ghetto, and was followed by a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He shared the following reflections.
Part I - Prague
“Question what matters”. When I saw these words on the conference website, I knew it would be worth attending. Doubly so when the 2012 European League for Middle Level Education (ELMLE) conference brochure introduction asked if our thinking is “radical enough” for today’s students.
The International Schools (IS) network represents a true global community – over 6,000 schools and 3 million students in 236 countries*. The students and teachers come from around the world, and there are international schools on every continent. The IS network is an excellent opportunity for new teachers who would like to live abroad, and there are great opportunities for retired teachers or those who would like to travel for a semester through their international substitute program. Most classes are taught in English and one other language (in Europe, generally Spanish or French).
Mindfulness is a key new trend in the International Schools community. Mindfulness in the classroom goes far beyond relaxation techniques to teaching students to be mindful in all their choices.
It is being integrated into nearly every subject – Social Studies, Physical Education (P.E.), Sciences, Language Arts, etc. – to promote ethics, tolerance, critical thinking, standing up to bullying, and more. Interestingly, several teachers said that JPEF’s ethics and leadership materials would fit right in: mindfulness does not mean passivity, and ethical resistance provides examples of proactive, engaged forms of mindfulness.
Mindfulness in the classroom could also help save lives. Kevin Hawkins, Middle-Level Principal at the International School of Prague writes, “according to some research, the onset of recurrent depression is most common in 7th grade” and that, “depression is one illness that has been clinically proven to benefit from treatment by developing a mindfulness practice.”
Other interesting trends include:
- Differentiation – collaborative and learner-directed education, which fits the curriculum to students’ needs and learning styles, is becoming widespread in the International Schools community. Though this may be easier to do when you have a low student/teacher ratio, new technologies such as tablets and even smartphones can make this more feasible for larger classes.
- Electronic Storytelling and Collaboration – it was heartening to see that though there are great new tools for student self-publishing and collaboration, the emphasis is shifting from the tools themselves to the skills needed to use them well. What is the grammar of online communication? How can students select, edit, and sequence different media to create a meaningful narrative? In a collaborative online environment, how can we encourage each student to participate and have his or her personal voice come through? At least eight sessions touched on these issues.
Even in Europe, the history of the Jewish partisans is nearly absent. Outside of the the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, most teachers I talked to had never heard about the Jewish armed Resistance. Even the greater partisan movement, which was instrumental in turning the tide of the war on the Eastern Front, is little-known outside of Eastern Europe.
It was gratifying to find out that not only History and English educators were excited to use our materials, but Math, Science, Spanish, and French teachers as well. Even a couple of P.E. teachers said they would try to find a way to bring the partisans into their classes.
Call for Ideas: Has anyone used – or have ideas for using – the Jewish partisans to help teach any of these subjects? (I suggested that building a zemlyanka would be a good team-building exercise for P.E.)
Send your suggestions to email@example.com and we will share them in our next newsletter. Thanks!
* IS statistics from www.iscresearch.com.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
JPEF’s Education Manager, Jonathan Furst, traveled to Prague last week to attend the 2012 European League for Middle Level Education Conference. When he was not busy presenting at the conference, Jonathan attended a guided tour of Terezin.
Terezin is a fortress and a town that sits across from the Ohře river in the Czech Republic. Built in the late 1700s by the Hapsburg Monarchy, Terezin was a military town for over two centuries. It was first utilized as a prison in the second half of the 19th century, and housed political prisoners of both World Wars – including Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
During World War II, the Gestapo converted part of Terezin into a Jewish ghetto, interning over 144,000 Jews throughout the course of the war – 33,000 died within its walls due to hunger, disease, and sadistic treatment; only 17,000 prisoners survived. It was also used as a transit camp for European Jews on their way to Auschwitz, and a part of Terezin called the Small Fortress also served as a Gestapo prison for Allied POWs.
Terezin also gained notoriety because the majority of Jews interned there were artists, musicians, professionals, and scholars – their captors encouraged them to lead “creative” lives and even erected and concert venues as a ploy to fool the International Red Cross.
During the guided tour, Jonathan led an impromptu seminar with over twenty European school-teachers participating.
“Thanks to Trudi van der Tak for an informative and deeply moving tour, and for inviting me to teach about the wider spectrum of Jewish resistance.”