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From: Harriet Sepinwall <sepinwal@liza.st-elizabeth.edu>
Subject: K-4 Holocaust Education Conference in Hamburg
Date: Wed, 2 Jul 1997 10:05:40 CDT

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I want to thank all those who wrote to me to share experiences of teachers in K-4 whose work might be considered to be "Holocaust education". I heard from teachers in several states, including New Mexico, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey. It is clear that for the youngest children, there is a focus on helping children gain self-esteem, avoid stereotypes, gain respect for diversity, reduce prejudice, and develop strategies to settle conflicts in peaceful ways. Several teachers in the DC area who teach 3rd & 4th grade take their children to the USHMM, see the "Daniel's Story" exhibit, and have discussions about the meaning of what they have learned; these discussions at the Museum seem to be very important. All the teachers use literature-based programs and books such as "The Lily Cupboard": and "Number the Stars" seem to be common. Cathy Bullock who works at the A:Shiwi Elementary School on the Zuni Reservation in New Mexico with a multigrade classroom teaches her students not only about their own culture, traditions, and holidays, but also about Jewish holidays and customs (there is one Jewish child in her class). She uses a wide variety of books, has her students learn more by using the internet (communicating with Honey Kern's secondary school students in ColdSpring Harbor, NY who are studying the Holocaust and publish a journal "An End to Tolerance").

While the presenters at the conference came from Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Israel, and the U.S., most of the teachers were from Germany. They were eager to learn what others are doing and to try to see how this might be applicable to their own situations. I was able to show them New Jersey's K-8 curriculum guide "Caring Makes a Difference" as well as information about the K-4 Resource Guide published by the Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine.

The discussions were often quite intense. Some felt that the subject of the Holocaust should not be included at all, but that generalized prejudice reduction kinds of resources and materials should be used and the focus of the curriculum. Others felt that, especially in Germany, that students needed to learn the "truth" and that this could not/should not be avoided. Dr. Matthias Heyl's excellent presentation of books for K-4 used in German schools demonstrated this range of approaches. FROSCH UND DER FREMDE (The Frog and the Foreigner), 1993, Lentz, ISBN: 388010-269-4, was excellent for teaching children about the contributions of immigrants and newcomers to a community. FUER TOMMY ZUM DRITTEN BEGURTSTAG (For Tommy on His Third Birthday), written in Theresienstadt by a father to his son on Jan. 22, 1944, (Gunther Neske, Pfullingen, Germany) is a poignant story which, without knowing its context seems like a sunny story written for a 3 year old, AND with knowing its context, is so much more revealing. ALS EURE GROSSELTERN JUNG WAREN: MIT KINDERN UBER DEN HOLOCAUST SPRECHEN (When Your Grandparents Were Young: for discussions with Children about the Holocaust) by Judith S. Kestenberg (Kraemer, 1993; Hamburg, Germany), ISBN 3926952695, is an honest, sensitively written history of the Holocaust which is designed to be read WITH a child, not by the child alone. These three books illustrate the variety of approaches being tried or considered: some dealing with "processes" (i.e. solving problems, friendships, breaking down stereotypes) and others with the Holocaust directly.

I learned that while there are several professors in Germany who are concerned about Holocaust education (including Prof. Helmut Schreier of the University of Hamburg and Prof. Gertrud Beck of the University of Frankfurt), they have not yet been successful in establishing any kind of Holocaust education "clearing house" or Holocaust education center in Germany. While Holocaust education is mandated for 7th or 8th grade and again in high school (gymnasium), teachers do not receive formal "training" unless they study with someone who has special interest/experience with this in Germany--or they go to study at Yad Vashem in Israel. Kathrin Volkmann who attended the Conference was a teacher in Germany who now works for Yad Vashem helping to train German teachers. A minister of education in Hamburg who attended this conference indicated that the group of teachers who attended the conference were not "typical" in terms of concern about "Holocaust education". While there are clearly problems and issues which Germany and other European countries are facing because of increasing diversity of their populations, many of the concerns, goals, strategies, and resources of increasing U.S. teachers (who are using "Holocaust education" more and more) do not yet seem to be a priority in Germany.

[In an aside, a study of what history means to adolescents in 26-27 countries in "Europe, including Israel and Palestine" did not seem to ask any qustions directly about the "Holocaust" or about the fate of the 6 million Jews. I am following up on this study YOUTH AND HISTORY so that I might learn why the specific subject of the Holocaust was not included in their questionnaires when they attempted to find out how study of history had affected the attitudes, understanding, and behaviors of adolescents. I would be grateful if anyone, with some knowledge and insights about this study, could contact me directly about it.]

Dr. Matthias Heyl deserves much credit for the ambitious conference he planned. It was of value to all of the presenters; we learned much not only from each other and from the teachers who attended, but also had the opportunity for sharing and reflection about the important issues relating to the inclusion of "Holocaust education". The teachers who attended were a special group, eager to learn from us and to find the "right" thing to do with their own students.

Dr. Heyl seems the ideal candidate to become the head of a Holocaust education "clearing house" in Germany if one were to be established. He is knowledgeable in both Holocaust studies and pedagogy, and is a thoughtful, sensitive, well organized, and caring scholar himself. I am especially grateful to him for all the "special" ways that he tried to make me feel "welcome" on my first trip to Germany: the opening reception for presenters and conference organizers was kosher/vegetarian; I had the opportunity to attend sabbath services in Hamburg; a translator was provided to me not only for the Conference ssessions, but also for a separate side trip to a new exhibit at the Hamburg Museum, "Juden of Hamburg".

I left Hamburg with much to think about, and I am planning to write an article based on this experience. I am continuing to collect information from K-4 teachers in the U.S. about ways in which they feel they are doing "Holocaust education" and will aim to relate this to what we know about child development, existing K-4 curricula goals/objectives, and to the hopes/expectations for Holocaust education both here in the U.S. and in other countries.

Harriet Lipman Sepinwall
Professor, Education Department and Interdisciplinary Studies
Co-Director, Holocaust Education Resource Center
2 Convent Road
Morristown, NJ 07960

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