The Holocaust happened about 70 years ago and a world away from Burnet Middle School, yet it came front and center for eighth-graders during Holocaust Remembrance Week and through a traveling exhibit.
“The Holocaust is part of the eighth grade language arts curriculum for, well, a long time,” said Burnet Middle School language arts teacher Sara Te. “We tell the kids that the message will always be relevant, that we will always need tolerance and be willing to stand up for others.”
Te said studying the Holocaust, the genocide of 6 million European Jews during World War II by Nazi Germany, is important because it helps students understand what happened, how it happened, and why it’s important not to let such attrocities happen again.
In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed a law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed, establishing Holocaust Remembrance Week, which was Jan. 25-29 this year. During the week, Burnet Middle School students delved into the Holocaust, starting with the definition of the word and followed by daily lessons stressing the importance of acceptance, kindness, empathy, looking out for one another, and standing up for others.
The week and lessons fit in well with the school’s “Start with Hello” and “Say Something” programs, which emphasize similar concepts.
In years past, even before the state set aside Holocaust Remembrance Week, Burnet Middle School put a special emphasis on the Holocaust. While it is a historical event, Te explained what better place to study it than through literature. Over the years, language arts students have delved into the atrocities the Nazis inflicted on millions of Jews and others while many stood by and let it happen through books such as Eli Weisel’s memoir “Night” and Jane Yolen’s young adult novel “The Devil’s Arithmetic.” Both books feature a young protagonist dealing with the Holocaust.
Te explained that by picking literature reflective of their ages, students can identify with the characters, whether fictional or biographical, and get a better understanding of the Holocaust.
And then there are the discussions about the Holocaust.
“I always hope that they will understand that if someone looks, believes, or dresses different than you, that it’s OK and we need to learn to accept them and really see them as people and not somebody less than us.”
Along with the reading and discussions, Te tries to bring in outside programming, including a collection of items from the Holocaust period. This year, Alpha Chi Delta Kappa Gamma, a teachers’ organization, awarded Te a grant to bring in a traveling exhibit called “Bystander to Upstander: The Power of One During and After the Holocaust.”
The exhibit along with additional lesson information is from the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The exhibit will be up through February at the middle school for all students and staff to see. It’s another reminder of the Holocaust but also a shows how some people at first stood by as the Nazis began sending Jews and others to concentration camps and killing them. Then, Te said, some realized they couldn’t stand by and let it happen, and at great risk, began to stand up to help the Jews.
“I think it helps show us that even one person can help, can make a difference,” she said.
While the Holocaust is a part of history, studying it, learning about it, and identifying with some of those who experienced it can help keep it from repeating.
“I think it does make a difference, studying the Holocaust,” Te said. “I have students who I taught several years ago who see me today and say how studying (the Holocaust) is something they still remember, and think about it.