Past Features

May 19, 2008 (Vol. 7, No. 9)

Professor Leads Seminar for Rural Educators Teaching The Holocaust

Sondra Perl
Professor Sondra Perl
Award-winning Lehman College professor and author Sondra Perl is leading twenty-one middle, high school, and college educators from across rural America in an intensive study of the Holocaust to help better convey the difficult, yet important, subject matter to students. The ten-day seminar began July 7 in New York City.

Professor Perl is author of On Austrian Soil: Teaching Those I Was Taught to Hate, a memoir of her experiences working with Austrian teachers who were descendants of Nazis. Through writing and dialogue, Professor Perl encouraged the Austrians to break lifelong silences and to explore the idea of the classroom as a place "where prejudice can wither and empathy can be nourished."

"The lessons I learned in Austria," she explained, "helped me fashion a pedagogy that brings the Holocaust into the present moment. Students, no matter where they live, begin to see the implications for their own lives when they learn about the dangerous potential of intolerance and racism."

During their time in New York, the teachers, all of whom are members of the National Writing Project Rural Sites Network, work with Holocaust survivors, tour the Museum of Jewish Heritage, take a walking tour of the Lower East Side, and visit the Tenement Museum. They also immerse themselves in the study of the Holocaust, write about their experiences, and collaboratively develop innovative lessons to bring back to their classrooms.

For teachers who have completed past seminars, the results are heartfelt. Mary Hawkins, a West Virginia teacher who attended last year's seminar, notes that "[Holocaust survivor] Irving Roth said, 'My parents survived because someone cared.' We must care about our fellow human beings in order to mold our world into the place it is supposed to be. That is the message I will take to my students."

The seminar, sponsored by the Memorial Library, is housed in a Manhattan townhouse that was the home of the late Olga Lengyel, a Holocaust survivor who lost her parents, husband and two sons at Auschwitz. Lengyel created the Memorial Library to support education aimed at preventing future genocides.

For more information, visit the Holocaust Educators Network website at www.holocausteducators.org.