Seminar gives teachers tools for tackling the Holocaust

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Every year, students in Bernadette Ho’s eighth-grade English honors class delve into “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s poignant Holocaust memoir.

While the best-selling book holds an established place on Ho’s syllabus at Presidio Middle School in San Francisco, the Holocaust is not part of the eighth-grade history curriculum. 

As a result, Ho is often charged with introducing the concept.

Bernadette Ho

“As someone who’s not a history teacher, I try to give an understanding of how the Holocaust could happen,” Ho said, “why people bought into it and why genocide continues to happen. The hope is that it doesn’t happen again, and yet it continues in our world.”       

In her quest to find innovative ways to familiarize students with the Holocaust, Ho participated in an Oct. 8 seminar, “Teaching the Holocaust,” hosted by University of San Francisco Department of Education. About 30 educators sat in at USF for the day, which covered everything from partisan resistance to the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.       

The seminar was one program of a three-day forum, the first California Holocaust Education Forum for Catholic Educators, organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Ho was one of about 200 educators from non-Jewish schools who participated via video from sites at USF and the University of San Diego. Among the goals of the three-day teleconference were for attendees to walk away equipped with the tools to bring the complex history of the Holocaust to their students and help them understand its modern relevancy.

Educators left with a wealth of online and print resources, including books, bibliographies and DVDs.   

“The Holocaust raises profound questions for religious educators,” said Stephen Feinberg, the museum’s special assistant for education. “It transpired in Christian Europe, and its ramifications continue to reverberate through interfaith relations.”   

Rene Cardenas

Sessions included presentations from museum educators and historians, university professors, Henry Greenbaum, Holocaust survivor and museum volunteer, and Bonnie Sussman, a member of the museum’s regional education corps. Sussman and Caryl Hodges organized the USF seminar.

Holocaust survivor William Lowenberg of San Francisco and Aaron Hahn Tapper, a professor of Jewish studies at USF, were among the local speakers.

Rene Cardenas, an educator at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento, said he found Tapper’s discussion on pedagogical challenges and opportunities most interesting.  

“Because I teach in a Catholic high school, I teach the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust,” Cardenas said via e-mail. “I participated in the seminar to increase my knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust.”

In addition to bringing a survivor living in Sacramento to speak with students, Cardenas said he plans to incorporate the new information into this year’s curriculum.

In teaching the Holocaust, Ho said it’s challenging to narrow an expansive topic into one unit. Turning the focus on an individual, such as a child, was one idea she took away. Teachers were shown a picture of child’s shoe discovered at a concentration camp, an image to spark a narrative from students.

“I learned I have to take my time and emphasize the humanity issue,” said Ho, who takes her students on an annual trip to the Holocaust museum in D.C. “The workshop reminded me to talk about how people were so susceptible.”