Behind the Headlines a Unique Pilot Project

Thirty American teachers will leave for Israel July 27 on a three-week Holocaust study trip, striving to better understand the tragic period and relay their findings to their students.

Program coordinator Vladka Meed, a Holocaust survivor, said that President Reagan’s recent Bitburg visit has sparked interest among Holocaust related organizations “to transmit to American youth the events and lessons of the Holocaust.” Meed explained that “This pioneering program is designed to reach secondary school students by providing teachers with a new and intensive training program.”

The program, Introduction to the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance, is jointly sponsored by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (AGJHS), American Friends of Ghetto Fighters House, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), AFL-CIO, and the Educators Chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee.

This pilot project, directed by Henry Feingold, author of “The Politics of Rescue, The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1933-1945,” and a professor at the City University of New York and Baruch College, is built to knit the experiences of Holocaust survivors with the young generation of the 1980′s.

PROJECT NOURISHED BY A SURVIVOR

“The idea of this unique project was born and nourished by a survivor,” commented Meed, chairperson of the Education Committee of the American Gathering and vice president of the Jewish Labor Committee, as she referred to herself. “Working out the project was not an easy undertaking,” added Meed, who is also the author of “On Both Sides of the Wall,” an account of her own experience in the Warsaw Ghetto; but an “enthusiastic response” and an “inner feeling to our historic commitment overcame the hardship,” she said.

The Ghetto Fighters House in Israel, which will host the program, is an education center founded by survivors of ghettos and concentration camps and is located on Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot (Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz) in the northern Galilee. Here, where there is a complex that includes a library, an art collection and the largest archive of Holocaust related films in the world, the teachers will draw on the personal experiences of members of the kibbutz and will visit sites of historic Jewish resistance such as Masada and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

“We the survivors know the pictures are real,” Meed stressed, “but they present only one part of what went on during the German occupation” of Europe. While much attention has been devoted to the victimized Jew of the Holocaust, Meed asserted that there is “another part — filled with life and dignity.” She also believes that there must be a sharper focus shifted on the resistance and the struggle against Nazism.

At an orientation meeting last month, the participants were briefed about the aims and goals of the program. “When I became a parent,” revealed Roman Kent from the American Gathering, “[realized that you as teachers have much more power over students than we the parents.” He added that “We from the American Gathering realize that for us it is too late to do something. With your help, they (the students) will be able to prevent another Holocaust.” Feingold said he hopes to “develop a cadre of trained teachers who can transmit meaningfully the Holocaust experience.” Each participant will also be expected to keep a journal to record reactions and personal observations. These will be left with the kibbutz and collected over the years for the program to evaluate the teachers and to determine its own progress and success.

A DEEP CONCERN EXPRESSED

Many of the teachers, recruited on the basis of previous demonstration of their commitment to Holocaust studies, expressed a deep concern over spreading the Holocaust message to other ethnic groups. Due to a lack of education, some of the teachers, a majority of whom work in the New York area school system, pointed out that there still exists many stereotypes and misconceptions about the Jewish people among minority children. “It is not a problem solely of the Jewish people,” declared Jeannette DiLorenzo, treasurer of the UFT. “It is a problem of all thinking people.”

Dr. Belle Zeller, professor of political science at City University of New York, will follow through once the training is complete and check how each teacher is implementing the program. “I hope to see that the children, regardless of their ethnic background, get to understand this time period,” remarked Zeller.

But before any results can be tabulated or charted, three weeks of living and breathing the memories of the Holocaust await these 30 pioneers. And as Meed suggests, “An inner spiritual strength must be captured,” because “divorced from the reality of Jewish life, the story of Jewish death cannot be told.”

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