Teaching the Shoa as unique and universal
Thirty years ago, then Gov. Tom Kean saw the need for Holocaust education and proposed through executive order the creation for New Jersey of a Holocaust education council, the first in the nation.
In 1994, when the Holocaust/genocide curriculum was mandated, many educators believed that an inclusive approach to teaching about the Holocaust would succeed by conveying the horrific impact of the Holocaust on the Jews of Europe as a tragic experience from which all should learn. Since the mandate included teachings on genocide as part of the legislation, it was a conscious decision of members of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education not to separate the Shoa from other genocidal atrocities. The Holocaust and genocide would be taught in a coordinated, integrated approach. This methodology over the years has proved successful in that the experiences of the Holocaust are the examples used when educating about other genocides.
The success of this methodology is seen in the numbers of those trained through the network of Holocaust centers. Many more school districts and diverse individuals have been and continue to be trained in genocide studies than would have been had the training been limited to the Holocaust. With the lessons of the Holocaust as the basis for such training, those who are implementing the curriculum are in a more knowledgeable position to share with their students the evils of the Holocaust and genocide.
The issue of uniqueness has long been answered, as each genocide has its unique aspects. It is, nevertheless, the belief of survivors and educators that the horrors of the Holocaust have not only become part of the schools’ curriculum program, but the unique foundation for the curriculum.
Vigilance must always be observed to ensure that the Holocaust experience is not lost in the bigger picture of inclusion. It is also important that Holocaust education not become a Jewish issue alone, relegated to a yearly observance or, more disturbingly, taught in isolation as a footnote in history. By incorporating the lessons of the Holocaust as the basis for the curriculum, with a specific focus on training educators to teach about genocide, the program ensures that all who benefit from its mandated teachings come to know full well how the study of the Holocaust enhances their understanding of genocide.
Last year, over 8,000 teachers, from 90 percent of the districts in New Jersey, attended almost 300 workshops. The programs all included aspects of the Holocaust, while dealing with issues ranging from bullying to Darfur. Almost 40,000 students attended special programs at the network of Holocaust/genocide centers.
The commission has been continuously involved in bringing together students and Holocaust survivors in many different venues. During the past two years, through a generous grant from the Linda and Murray Laulicht Foundation, 15 schools, eight centers, over 1,000 students, and 100 survivors have been involved. This year, students will research the backgrounds of survivors they have been paired with and developing presentations that will be shown to students at their schools.
The second major activity being coordinated by the commission has been the bringing together of survivors and the generations of the Shoa. A major event, called “Gathering,” will be held at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor on Sunday, June 10. There are already many active second- and third-generation groups in all areas of New Jersey providing excellent programming and support for the survivors and their families.