Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

The Importance of Holocaust Education

We interview Jody Spiegel of the Azrieli Foundation about how to better integrate Holocaust studies into the classroom

By: Zak Edwards

Published: May 5th, 2014 in News » World

The Holocaust is obviously an important part of education, but there are challenges facing educators who think the Shoah is still needed in classrooms. Even Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees, who recently visited Jerusalem and discussed the Shoah.

For Harper, the Holocaust represents an important learning moment for students, one that is necessary to understanding many of the significant events in recent history. In his own words, “We must remain vigilant against all forms of prejudice and hatred to ensure that such unspeakable acts of inhumanity never happen again.”

One of the many resources available to educators is the Azrieli Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing tools for engaging students with the Holocaust. We had the opportunity to talk to Jody Spiegel about her work with the Foundation earlier this year, but we had another chance to talk with her today.

ShalomLife: Given the increasing time between when the Shoah happened and today, how can educators talk to students about this important moment in history?

Jody Spiegel: Students can relate more to the context when they realize that the Holocaust happened to real people, like them. Hearing directly from survivors, through face-to-face encounters, film and written memoirs, helps build that bridge.

ShalomLife: Are there ways educators can use recent technology to talk with students about the Holocaust?

Jody Spiegel: As a way of deepening the personal connection students have with the stories of survivors, The Azrieli Holocaust Memoirs Program recently launched a Twitter Book Club. Students in classrooms across the country all read the same memoir and had an opportunity to share their impressions and questions with their peers in a medium they live in every day. We could then enhance their learning by tweeting replies, including links to primary source documents, films, and other educational resources available on the web. New media, like Twitter, is like the campfire of old – bringing people together to share stories.

ShalomLife: Why is the Holocaust specifically important when we talk to students about genocide?

Jody Spiegel: The Holocaust was an unprecedented event but set the precedent for how we’ve come to understand genocide. There is no equivalent event; the specific historical situation in which it was carried out make it this way. The same can be said of every genocide that has happened since.

In studying what Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer calls “The Core” of the Holocaust – what happen, where, when, to whom and who the perpetrators were – we are able to see how dehumanization, human rights abuses, ethnic/national identities, etc are manifested through institutions of power and individual choices and actions to create genocides. It is in this study that we come to see that genocides are not inevitable forces that just occur but are in fact preventable, products of human agency.

For more information on the Azrieli Foundation, their Memoirs Project, and other initiatives, please visit their website here.

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