Volume: 4, Issue: 3


Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center
Кеннеди, Илана Коун [about]

DESCRIPTORS: Holocaust education resource center, teach and learn for humanity, teaching trunks, Speakers Bureau, writing and art contest, genocide.
SYNOPSIS: As a director of Washington Holocaust education resource center, the author describes the mission and activities of the Center and shares her own feelings about the Holocaust,  Holocaust Education, and problems of genocide today.

I work at the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center in Seattle (http://www.wsherc.org/). My daily language consists of the most obscene of numbers of concentration camps, death, suffering, and incredible personal miracles.

I am just beginning my tenth year as the director of education. When I tell people where I work, I am often met with looks of pity or silence, and then a change of subject.

“Isn’t that depressing?” is the most frequent question I receive.

Until recently, I would answer that I am inspired daily by the educators with whom I work. The teachers in our schools who teach this subject — a subject that is not required or mandated — are creative, insightful, and motivated. Ten years later, I am only more impressed by their efforts and determination.

However, my answer to the question has changed. The gravity of the Holocaust — of any and all genocides — is severe. The depth of human suffering is beyond description. This tragedy did not end in 1945, but continues in the survivors’ memories, in their children, and in new generations of survivors of more recent genocides. As I type this, there are at least four places in the world on the brink of genocide. No one should suffer so extremely at the hands of another person or group of people. No one.

It’s easier for us to turn the other way, to bury ourselves in our own lives, to glance over the headlines without associating the individuals involved. It is easier because we have no explanation for innocent people being persecuted and suffering so greatly — we know it is unjust, we recognize the absurdity of it all, and this is why we can hardly bear to face it.

I am the mother of two young children. When they were born, as everyone warned me it would, my view of the world changed. I think I was always sensitive to people’s feelings, fears, and to the pain and hurt a person experiences at being rejected, put down, disappointed. After having children of my own, the stories of parents hiding their kids, sending them to safety, holding on to them — all of it was too personal.

The fear experienced by children, parents, grandparents, the grappling with the unknown, the efforts to save loved ones, and even the pursuit of joy that occurred in the worst of conditions — all of this becomes part of the world we live in. We wish this was history, but in fact, people around the world continue these experiences on a daily basis.

The Holocaust Center’s mission is to inspire teaching and learning for humanity in the schools and communities of this region through the study of the Holocaust.   We work with thousands of teachers in the state of Washington, providing them with lesson plans, speakers, materials, and general support.  The Holocaust is not a subject that is required to teach in the state of Washington, so those teachers that choose to teach the subject often do so because of their own interest.  However, they are often left with little support from their schools or the parents.

Almost all of the Holocaust Center’s programs and resources are offered to teachers for little to no cost.  For example:

  • Holocaust Teaching Trunks. The Holocaust Center has 19 trunks at various grade levels.  Each trunk is full of books, DVDs, lesson plans, posters, and activities.  Trunks can be reserved on our website. Grants and donations pay to ship the trunks to and from schools throughout the school year.  Trunks are free for teachers to borrow.  Last year over 8000 students used materials in the trunks.
  • Speakers Bureau.  Holocaust survivors, children of survivors, and those with a personal connection to the Holocaust volunteer their time to share their stories with students.
  • Writing and Art Contest. Each year the Holocaust Center receives close to a thousand submissions from students around the state.
  • Online Teaching Materials. Our website includes suggested activities created by local teachers, historical resources, clips of survivor testimony, and links to suggested websites.
  • Teacher Training. Several times a year, the Holocaust Center offers teacher trainings.  Some training will be introductory, focusing on the basic history of the subject and guidelines for teaching the Holocaust.  Other seminars are more advanced and focused on specific topics, like rescue or resistance.

We encourage teachers and students to study the Holocaust from various perspectives – including victims, perpetrators, bystanders, and upstanders.  “Upstanders” is a relatively new term, identifying those people who speak out or act out against injustices. We ask students to consider their own lives – to look about their schools and their communities and to see if they can identify these roles being played out.

We have found that students of the Holocaust recognize these roles and challenge themselves to speak up and speak out when they see intolerance – not just in their own schools, but also in the world.  Those who know the history of the Holocaust, the patterns of genocide, recognize the importance of awareness and that small actions matter.

Genocide is occurring today.  “Never Again,” the famous saying after the Holocaust, falls flat. 

The term “genocide” was coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, in 1944.  Lemkin fled Poland and came to the United States.  He lost his entire family in the Holocaust.  He devoted his life to giving this crime a name and making it punishable.

We have seen multiple genocides occur since the Holocaust, for example, in Cambodia (1975-1979), in Bosnia (1992-1995), Rwanda (1994), and most recently in Darfur.

There are days when I go home from work and feel overwhelmed by the suffering, pain, hatred, and ignorance that exist in this world. What can I, one person, do? Sometimes I feel hopeless.

Still, I like to think that maybe I am making a microscopic dent. I am idealistic, I suppose. I try to live honestly by my values, to practice the things that I tell others Holocaust education imparts: “To stand up to intolerance, recognize the dangers of stereotyping, be respectful of each other’s differences, know that your words and actions affect those around you.” Because really, if I can’t do it, how can I expect anyone else to? All I can do is to try to work toward these lofty ideals and hope that maybe others will find it worthwhile to do so too.

I am thankful to the survivors for sharing their experiences and for trusting their listeners with their stories. I am thankful to all of those who have made an effort to remember, search for, and hear the stories of those that did not survive.  We must not simply remember, we must feel, and we must act.

1 Kennedy, Ilana Cone – Director of Education, Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, Seattle, WA, http://www.wsherc.org/.

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