Holocaust Memorial Day

“Education cannot be neutral. It is either positive or negative; either it enriches or it impoverishes; either it enables a person to grow or it lessens, even corrupts him. The mission of schools is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful.” ~Pope Francis, May 2014.

As educators, this quote from Pope Francis can resonate with many of us. You can have one experience or another in school – it may be positive or negative and this matters hugely in the daily life of any student.

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Teaching in schools everyday is about us as educators developing the student’s skills,  abilities and fostering a confidence in them to believe in themselves. I often find students saying ‘I’ll be no good at that, there’s no point’. I believe that it is up to us to encourage the students and try and help them reach their absolute potential. When students say they can’t…always reassure them that they absolutely can… there is a possible in impossible!

When teaching, it is also important to express to the students the realities of the world and what is out there but also the absolute truth (or what we know as truth). This includes exposing the horrific event that was the Holocaust (Ha-Shoah in Hebrew). The word Holocaust originates from Greece and means ‘sacrifice by fire’. The Holocaust lasted from January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, to May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe officially ended. During this time, Jews in Europe were subjected to progressively harsher persecution that ultimately led to the murder of 6,000,000 Jews (1.5 million of these being children) and the destruction of 5,000 Jewish communities. These deaths represented two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of all world Jewry.

Jews were persecuted in places known as concentration camps were mass crimes were committed and were all intolerably brutal. The main concentration camps were Ravensbruck, Neuengamme, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Flossenburg, Natzweiler-Struthof, Dachau, Mauthausen, Stutthof, and Dora/Nordhausen.

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All of the Jews who died were not casualties of the fighting that ravaged Europe during World War II. Rather, they were the victims of Germany’s deliberate and systematic attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe, a plan Hitler called the “Final Solution” (Endlosung).

January 27th marks Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day, I always have a candle lighting at home and in school, to remember the 6 million Jews and more who lost their lives and those who have suffered by genocides globally and those who still live in persecution. There are many activities , resources and ideas to teach students about the Holocaust which I will share with you all today.

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The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) is the charity that promotes and supports Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). 27 January is the day for everyone to remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the millions of people killed Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

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27 January also marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

How can life go on? is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016. The aftermath of the Holocaust and other genocides continues to raise challenging questions for individuals, communities and the world. HMDT asks US to think about what happens after such a traumatic event. This year’s theme is broad and open ended and there are few known answers. It is good to discuss this theme with a class using key words like Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Remembering, Hate, Communities and Justice, to name a few. A good place to begin is a quote from author and survivor of the Holocaust Elie Wiesel who said:

For the survivor death is not the problem. Death was an everyday occurrence. We learned to live with Death. The problem is to adjust to life, to living. You must teach us about living.’

The HMDT website has fantastic FREE resources and activity packs to make tomorrow a day of remembrance in your home and school. The website is easy to use and the organisers have featured stories from survivors of the Holocaust. You can access the material here ; Content and Resources for Educators.

An amazing website to learn about the Holocaust is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website. This highlights the issues surrounding it and features stories from many survivors and victims and also features video clips, resources and podcasts. The website features so much information and links to other sites -an amazing resource for anyone with an interest in the Holocaust. A new feature on the US Holocaust Museum’s website is their ‘State of Deception’ exhibition via Google Cultural Institute, which I found to be an engaging addition to the resources available online about the Holocaust.

I have taught about Anne Frank when I covered the the Holocaust. Her diary is a great class read and students seem to really enjoy it and become thoroughly engaged in her story. You can also print or download The Diary of Anne Frank or listen to the Diary of Anne Frank Audiobook. Both are FREE and downloadable for all.If you follow this link you can access the Secret Annexe Online which students love or browse the online Anne Frank exhibition, which features her original writings. Students could create their own diary entries as a personal narrative or write what they would say to Anne. Resource packs, worksheets and more are all available on TES Resources and FREE to download.

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The Holocaust Education Trust Ireland is another fantastic website when teaching about the Holocaust and the consequences of it. It aims to educate and raise awareness about Anti Semitism and all forms of racism, and intolerance in Ireland. The website has FREE downloadable resources and materials for teachers and students including a timeline, activities and booklets. HETI invite you to come along to the commemoration they are holding in in the Mansion House on Sunday January 29 2017.

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HETI also have plenty of information about the Holocaust programmes available to schools and photographs of the National Holocaust Memorial day with photos of Holocaust survivors living in Ireland.

When I was in fifth year, I did my special report for History on a survivor of the Holocaust. This was a man known as Zoltan Zinn Collis. Zoltan Zinn-Collis was incarcerated as a four year old boy along with his family at the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. He and his sister, Edita, managed to survive the inhuman brutality of the SS guards and near-starvation, disease and squalor. His mother tragically lost her life on the day of the British Army finally liberated the camp. The story of how Zoltan and Edita were taken under the wing of Dr Robert Collis and a Dutch nurse named Johanna, who came to make their lives in Ireland, is highlighted in his amazing book: The Final Witness. In a peculiar twist of fate, having suffered so much so young but having lived fulfilled adult lives, Zoltan and Edita, passed away within a few weeks of one another at Christmas 2012 in Athy, Co.Kildare. May they rest in peace.

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Another Holocaust survivor living in Ireland is Tomi Reichental, who was born in 1935 in Slovakia. He was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944. Tomi has lived in Dublin since 1959 and regularly talks to Irish schools and colleges about his own experience. I was lucky enough to meet Tomi and Director, Gerry Gregg who hosted a film screening of their documentary “I was a Boy in Belsen” on 4 March 2014 at Mater Dei Institute. Tomi inspired me greatly and even now I still think about his visit. Even if you weren’t interested in history as such, you would have been captivated by his remarkable story about truth and survival amidst mass atrocity. A documentary about Tomi’s attempts to meet one of his jailers, Close to Evil was shown on television and in cinemas throughout the world, and helped again to raise the profile of the Holocaust. You can also read Tomi Reichental – I was a boy in Belsen here for free courtesy of O’Brien Press or if you would like a paperback copy you can Buy here. One idea is to show an excerpt of Tomi’s book on a visualiser in a classroom or read it aloud to students.

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Luckily, I also got to hear Uri Orlev, a Holocaust Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and Bergen Belsen, speaking about his story, also in Mater Dei Institute a few months after Tomi, on May 16th, 2014. Uri is a celebrated children’s author of over thirty books and was accompanied by his wife Yari. They answered many questions and were happy to stay after the talk to chat and have their photographs taken.  I remember being stressed over exams at the time of Uri’s visit but his talk definitely put everything into perspective for me.I was in mid-exam mode in this photograph but it will be one I will always treasure.

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A big thank you to Dr Peter Admirand and Dr Ethna Regan for organising these talks for the Institute. I completed ‘The Holocaust and Modern Culture‘ module as part of my Postgraduate programme last year. This included an in -depth study of film, literature, music, problems and theologies surrounding the Holocaust and the consequences and questions that arose after it.

Last year, President of Ireland, Michael D.Higgins, summed it up beautifully at the Holocaust commemoration when he spoke of survivors like Uri and Tomi;

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Supporting Material

If you love Netflix like me, then tonight you might be interested in watching a film or two based on the Holocaust or perhaps showing one of your classes a clip from a film. Here is a list compiled by Chai and Home on Pinterest.

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  1. I HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN YOU is a highly regarded documentary about the amazing life of the famed Nazi hunter and humanitarian, Simon Wiesenthal.
  2. THE LONG WAY HOME is the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary in it’s year, The Long Way Home explores what happened to Jewish refugees and camp victims after the close of WWII.
  3. NO PLACE ON EARTH is the incredible story about a group of Jewish families that hid in a cave in the Ukraine to escape the Nazis. The documentary features first hand interviews as well as well done reenactments.
  4. NICKY’S FAMILY is the inspiring story of Englishman Nicholas Winton who helped hundred of children escape Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. The documentary features interviews with the saved children (now elderly) and Winton himself as well as dramatic reenactments.
  5. THE LADY IN NUMBER is the true story about the life of pianist and Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer. She accounts how music helped her survive the camps and gives advice on how to live a meaningful and happy life. Only 40 minutes long, this film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short in its year.
  6. STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME Jack Polak is the central figure in this watchable documentary about his experience living in the same barracks with his wife and his girlfriend. As if life in a concentration camp wasn’t difficult enough.
  7. THE TRUCE is the true story of Italian Jews that return home after their internment at Auschwitz and the difficulty they experience adjusting to post-war life.
  8. NAKED AMONG WOLVES is based on a true story of a baby that is smuggled into Buchenwald and the efforts the prisoners go to protect him from discovery.
  9. MY ITALIAN SECRET explores the true story of how an Italian bicycling team risked their lives to save Jews during WWII.
  10. THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS is on many Junior Certificate film lists and is an amazing book and film, both which I would highly recommendA really different sort of Holocaust film that looks at the holocaust through a child’s eyes.  A young German boy befriends a boy who lives on the other side of the fence, unaware he’s a Jewish prisoner. There are excellent assessment and activity resources for this book on PDST Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Another way to bring the Holocaust alive to students is through virtual world Second Life, where you can visit the US Holocaust Museum with the click of a mouse. Second Life explores the US Holocaust museum, its contents and even displays information on events with audio and music. It is a brilliant way to engage students and features thousands of places across the world including cathedrals, monasteries and lets you create your own avatar and profile.

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If you are teaching and your students are active on Twitter,some great Twitter  handles to follow which all feature topics or information on the Holocaust are;

@HolocaustMuseum

@AnneFrankTrust

@annefrankhouse

@HolocaustCentUK

@UCL_Holocaust

@HolocaustUK

@UnitedNations

To commemorate the lives lost, Holocaust Memorial day is a day that we must keep in our hearts and remember the devastation to all victims, survivors, families, ancestors and anyone affected by the events.

It is also crucial to remember all those who live in persecution and fear everyday and those who have suffered worldwide through genocide and mass brutality.

It is on 27 January that we remember the past, the present and look towards the future, with the firm promise that history cannot repeat itself.To conclude this blog post,Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General said that;

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