Among the tributes given were two from South Carolina public teachers, Garry Barnette of Fort Dorchester High School and Mary Beth Gibson of Guinyard-Butler Middle school in Barnwell, South Carolina.
July 18-23, 2004
Columbia Collage, SC, USA
By Szilvia Dittel
Peter Bornemisza High School
Peter Bornemisza High School is a 12 grade school in Budapest with over one thousand students. I have been working here for seven years, in the high school section, my main subject is English, but I also participate in the Holocaust workshop, which is an optional course in the school going on for over a year now. The course is open to anyone, but it is mainly from grades 8-12 where most students come from. The group meets for a double lesson (90 minutes) every week, during which time we (with my colleague Tibor Pecsi, who teaches history) try to give students a wide picture of not only the events that are commonly referred to as the holocaust, but the preceding period and the aftermath of the shoah as well. Since this course is designed to be interactive, we always try to integrate different activities in the workshop that demand an active part from the students. It was the background of my application to the teacher training on the Holocaust at Columbia College in South Carolina. Needless to say, to be chosen was a great privilege for me both as a holocaust educator and an English teacher. In this way would I like to give thanks to all those organizations that made this program and the following visit to the Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum possible: Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research; Columbia College, South Carolina Council on the Holocaust; Facing History and Ourselves; U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington D.C.; Cultural Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Budapest, Hungary.
Before going into the actual report on the course itself, I would also like to comment on the personnel of all the above mentioned institutions and their wholehearted work and efforts to make the best of the training. Considering our provision I would like to say special thanks to Dr. Selden and Dorothy Smith (Columbia College), Dr. Mary Johnson (Facing History And Ourselves), Mrs. Barbara Parker (Columbia College), and Lilla Matos (U.S. Embassy, Budapest, Hungary).
The course was basically taught in workshop format, which, in this case, proved to be a great advantage. While the lecture format is more suitable to conferences, for a teacher training, in my opinion, the workshop format is the most useful and the most inspiring. Theories and factual knowledge on the subject can be easily read from books on the teachers's own, but thoughtful and motivating ideas can be the best acquired once you try them as if you were the student. Of course, it requires much more preparation and energy from part of the facilitators, but in this respect, too, our teachers did a great job at Columbia College. I certainly have learned new activities that I am determined to use and include in future holocaust teaching.
An other strong point of the course was supplying the teachers with relevant material and literature, as well as with most useful web site addresses. It is one of the biggest challenges in teaching to find out where you can turn to refresh and renew your material, texts and resources. Here we were presented many books, videos, poems and even pieces of music that can be used in an interdisciplinary approach to teaching the holocaust. Through this method you can reach students with different background and different fields of interest, be whatever age group, since the course focused on teaching in both elementary and high school. Our resource book on Holocaust and Human Behavior by Facing History and Ourselves covers the different aspects of the whole topic, supplying us with a great number of original sources and documentation, which is in itself a great value of the book. Not only were these sources introduced to us, but, most important of all, we were also taught where to turn and how to apply in case we needed more material on any specific aspect of the topic. This I found also very helpful.
Now a few words about the group itself. The greatest advantage of participating in a teacher training abroad is the possibility to learn about the teaching situation in a foreign country and compare it to your own environment. It is also fascinating to find out about the experience and ideas of our foreign colleagues. In this respect the course was very open, contributions of the participants were highly welcome. Thus personal relationships could be developed as well, so we can share experience in the future, too, and throughout the new school year, which will be also motivating and exciting. One of the greatest differences I noticed between the Hungarian and American approach to Holocaust teaching was the general way of thinking in society and the social background in which the work can be done. Due to the differences in the history of the two countries, in America it is in accordance with the national traditions to examine the events of the shoah in the light of human/civil rights, the crime of genocide, and personal responsibility. In Hungary, however, these topics are simply non existent as educational units, they are absolutely not suitable for the theme of the holocaust to be embedded in. I would say the society is simply not ready for such an attempt yet. Even the holocaust has been a taboo for decades, and it is still a very difficult topic to focus on, so great is the resistance. Also, when talking about personal responsibility, unlike in America, people will get furious, aggressive, feel condemned (with good reason, in many cases!) and turn against you at once. It is a society where perpetrators (many times more cruel to the Hungarian Jewry than the occupying Nazi forces) have never had to face their deeds and their morals have never been put in question. We are teaching their grandchildren.
First of all, as an introduction to the whole topic we began to talk about (and discuss together) the relationship of society and the individual, raising the question of the universe of obligation (using the video titled The Bad Samaritan, and A Good Man in Hell). Here, the main teaching point is to get students realize, instead of remaining bystanders in a given crucial situation, they should act as up-standers (or rescuers), daring to behave in a moral way even when moral has ceased to be a social value. We also examined (through the story of the Murder of Emmet Till) how to react to "otherness" in our personal environment, and how not to react, and to be consciously aware of the responsibility of our personal deeds. After this did we turn to the rise of Nazism, and the causes of anti-Semitism from the late 19th century. (racism or religion as the main root?). Through the testimony of holocaust survivor Rudy Herz we could get an authentic picture of pre-war Germany and the rise of national socialism as well. The role of propaganda was strongly emphasized, too. Next came one of my favorite activities that I would like to do with our students as well; after studying the Weimar Republic, in groups we were asked to prepare a newspaper lead on why Hitler came to power. Then the different headlines were introduced to the others, and finally we also had a chance (thanks to the Internet) to look at the original article of The New York Times reporting Hitler's coming to power. It was fascinating. Following this we discussed our reactions to the Confessions of a Hitler Youth. The next topic of discussion was the question of (unconditioned) obedience to authority, and the change of personality due to this phenomenon.
Here came a switch in the usual activities and we had a splendid time together with all the invited holocaust survivors and ex-soldiers having fought in the American liberation forces from South Carolina. The reason why I say it was a splendid time is because we could not only listen to the testimonies of these people, and ask our questions afterwards, but we also had the possibility of free conversations while having lunch with them. It was during this time that I was literally shocked. When one of the survivors (once captive in Auschwitz) heard that I was from Hungay, he wanted to show me that he still remembered some of the basic vocabulary of the camp even in Hungarian language, so he said (with almost perfect Hungarian accent): 'kicsi kenyeret!', meaning '(give me) a little bread' in English.
Listening to different survivors' testimonies is always an experience for me, and for the students as well, I guess. Though they might have some similarities, each is different and touching in an other way, reflecting the personal characteristic traits of these people. Again, this is a kind of activity that we would like to use in the future, and if we manage to get the video version of these South Carolinian witnesses, we can use them in our classrooms.
After this period we turned our attention to two of the recently come out Facing History publications, Sonia Weitz's I Promised I Would Tell, and The Children Of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Both of these works can be used in an artistic approach to the Holocaust, the former one having poems, while the latter one having music in the center, accompanied by a CD recording as well. One evening there was a special Greek night organized with dinner, here the holocaust in Greece and Hungary were more in the focus.
Since teaching was not restricted to the area of the classroom only, one day we visited the local, conservative Beth Shalom Synagogue by a car caravan. Here Rabbi Philip Silverstein taught us about the faith practice of Judaism, and showed us all the sacred things used during the services. Naturally, we had a chance to ask our questions again, which we did. Then the caravan moved to one of the nicest parts of Columbia, the Memorial Park. Our main aim here was to take a look at the Holocaust Memorial, but we took interest in the other monuments and memorials of American history located in the park. On returning to our base (that is Columbia College) we got on the Net and studied some other Holocaust memorials from different countries. We differentiated between the traditional and the abstract ones, and we did it all on purpose; now we were given colored clay and (in groups or pairs, again) and were asked to form our own memorial out of this. First the task seemed something close to mission impossible for us, but in the end I was amazed at the results(!) and took pictures of our 'works of art'. If we can get to the point with our students where they are ready for an activity like this, I will certainly use this idea with them.
The next big theme that we started to study was judgement and responsibility, with the emphasis on the Nuremberg and Eichman's trial. For me, personally, this is one of the most 'exciting' (if the word can be appropriate here) topics within the Holocaust studies, one that I can never stop 'wondering' at. Besides, what our teachers (and group mates, really) did with the material, was just incredible. After studying the cases of some of the convicted people, we imitated their whole trial. Some took the part of the persecution, others acted as defense, our teachers forming the jury. What surprised me the most here was the fact that defense could be more convincing at times, and could easily argue for these criminals (can they be regarded anything else?). This made me think about the blessings but the limits of democracy as well.
Sometimes we were working in the computer lab of the school, which was very useful. Here Margaret Walden showed us websites dealing with the holocaust, and we also got the a list of related links. We used the net during the classroom activities as well, whenever a topic came up that we wanted to know more about, we went into the lab and found the information. At the end of the course we were also asked to fill in our evaluation forms through the Net. In the evening we departed and the next day, already in Washington D.C., as a 'crowning' to the whole program we visited the holocaust museum.
The Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum. Taking into consideration the standard of the exhibitions on the topic available in Budapest and Hungary, I must say this museum was fascinating. The beautiful 5-storey area contained exhibits for all the different age groups, and facilities for research work as well. The reason I say it was the crowning of the training is because here we could see everything that we were learning about during the course, the best thing would be to take all the visitors of the museum to this course first, then to the museum! It has a special effect this way. We started our journey on the 4th floor with the permanent exhibition, Nazi Assault 1933-39, 3rd floor: The Final Solution 1940-45, 2nd floor: The Last Chapter (Hall of Remembrance, Wexner Learning Center, and the Meed Survivors Registry). The first floor was dedicated to the children exhibition Daniel's Story, but it was not for children only! The Children's Tile Wall and the Education Center, together with the Meyerhoff Theater and the Kimmel-Rowan Gallery were located on the lower level. In the museum shop I bought some works by <9>Elie Wiesel (Founding Chairman of the museum, being a survivor himself) which my friends are reading now! Among the course material I was delighted to discover Wiesel's letter written to our host in Columbia, dr. Selden Smith. I hope he will not mind my quoting from the letter here: "I see you are active in 'retirement' - keep up the good work! Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher, and I am proud to share the profession of teaching with you. I wholeheartedly agree with you that our hope for the future lies in research and educational programs and not in museums and monuments." He was absolutely right, we were lucky indeed!
So, how am I going to use all that I have learned here during the course? As I mentioned earlier, there was a holocaust workshop in our school last year. This year we would like to carry on that work, but, apart from that, there are negotiations going on between us and the recently established Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest regarding the teaching process taking place in the new center. In case we can agree on doing courses for high school students there, we would like to make good use of all the material and pedagogy acquired at the teacher training course. Besides, since I am an English teacher, basically I can use any of the given material anytime in my regular language lessons. (E.g.: the Flight from the Nazis by Rabbi Philip Silverstein, or the story of Friedrich by Hans Peter Richter, or the teacher's guidebook to the film Schindler's List, etc.)
To conclude, the course (which was very well organized and very thoughtful) was an unforgettable experience for me, I am very glad to have taken part, and I would recommend it anyone dedicated to the teaching of this very troublesome spot in history, the shoah.