By Will Klocke
Cold Spring Harbor High School
Have you ever wondered how someone your age, in another country, feels about something that you, yourself, may be discussing in school? Well, since computers, modems, and e-mail have been available, students from around the world have been able to contact each other about all types of things.
Students from Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York, Moscow schools #429 and #444, and Broadford Secondary College, Australia, have been interacting with each other for two years to discuss the history of the Holocaust of WW II, to join in common assignments, and to help each other express and understand feelings that came up while learning about this topic.
Limbless Trees Sculpture at Majdanek
Extermination Camp Site (Lublin, Poland)
Interesting ideas relating to the Holocaust have been talked about on all sides. The Russian students have even initiated a topic on the <iearn.hgp> teleconference entitled, "Topic 45: World War II -- Holocaust (Moscow)." Most of the exchange among students has taken place on that topic. The students from Moscow, Russia, between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and approximately the same age as the Australian and American students, are learning about this horrific episode in history for the first time. Their mentor is Dr. Ilia Altman, the director of the Holocaust Center and Archive in Moscow, who spoke to students and showed them several research documents in order to verify for them what went on during WW II. Here is what some of the students from school #429 had to say about the meetings with Dr. Altman:
"Ilia Altman came to our school and told us about concentration camps. I was in shock. I couldn't believe that people could do such things and I would learn about it. Ilia showed us pictures and documents about life in "Oswiecim" (Auschwitz). It was terrible. I couldn't understand how people could treat each other like this. I hope that it will never happen again."
Nastya, 14 years old
"When Ilia Altman came to our school, he told us about concentration camps. We knew very little about it. We were shocked by the things he told us. We couldn't believe that people could be so cruel. When Ilia Altman showed us magazines with pictures, we couldn't believe it. We hope this is a sort of lesson for mankind. Such things should never happen."
Olya, 14 years old
"We are taking part in the Holocaust/Genocide Project. We had some meetings about the Jewish genocide and concentration camps. We got to know many things both interesting and terrible. We saw many newspapers and many journals with fascist signs. We do not like the fact that such materials are being sold in our country. We know some people are influenced somehow by fascist ideas and support them. We do not want wars between people."
Natalya and Ann, 13 years old
It is evident that Olya and her classmates were astounded by the facts told to them. Elena Stefanova, their Russian teacher said, when referring to the lesson about Auschwitz, "It was a real shock, both for our minds and hearts." After reading all of the Russian students' reactions to their Holocaust studies, students from Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York, and Broadford Secondary College, Australia, replied to their new Russian friends:
"Dear Vladimir, Nina, Lena, Irina, Mari, and Sasha,
Hi to all of you! Our names are Olivia and Matt; we are both 15 years old and are currently involved in a project called the Holocaust/Genocide Project too. We read your letters and were shocked to learn that schools don't teach you about the Holocaust until you are in junior high or high school. However, then we learned that even here, in our school, most students don't learn about the Holocaust until junior high. The two of us learned about it when we were much younger than that. We think we were around seven or eight, but we don't remember why or how we learned about it that early in our lives. We just did.
After learning about the Holocaust, we were wondering how it affected you and why you think it's important for others to learn about the Holocaust. Do you think students should learn about it at an early age? Do you think that if they did, they would be able to handle it? Is it too powerful and emotional for students to learn about? And have you seen signs of religious or racial prejudice around you?
Olivia and Matt
"Dear Elena, Nastya, Olya, Ulya, Sasha, Natalya, Ann and Jane,
Hi! We are 15 years old and go to Cold Spring Harbor High School. Welcome to the project. We are glad you joined. If you can, can you tell us more about the fascist signs in your country? We have groups like that in the United States also. They are known as Ku Klux Klan, or for short, they are known as the KKK. The KKK are prejudiced against Catholics, Jews, and many minority groups. We also have Neo-Nazis which is a generation of people who believe the same things that Hitler taught the Nazis during WWII. We hope to hear from you soon."
Pooja Badlani and Shreema Sanghvi
"Dear Natalya, Ann, Jane, Shasha, Nastya, Olya, and Ulya,
Welcome to the HGP conference and project. My name is Sonya Adams and I am a student at Broadford Secondary College in Australia where I facilitate the Australian side of the Holocaust Project. It's great that you are taking part. Your meetings with Ilia Altman sound very interesting. There are so many things to learn from Holocaust survivors. I have spoken to many Holocaust survivors when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne. The very first time I visited this museum I had the same type of reaction as you had with Ilia Altman. Since then, my interest has just kept growing.
Keep up the good work. If there is anything I can do to help you on the project, please write to me."
Working together in pairs, Olivia, Matt, Shreema and Pooja proposed some thought-provoking questions and topics. Now, the students from Moscow took information that was given to them by Dr. Altman and posted their own opinions:
"Dear Olivia and Matt,
We read your letter. We do not feel that people should learn about this topic at the age of seven or eight. We learned about it at the age of 13. We don't think it's too late. We think that there should be a special Holocaust course in seventh or eighth grade. We want Holocaust museums to exist in every city. We want to watch TV programs about the Holocaust. We want fascist newspapers to be closed."
Ksenia, Lena, Irina, Mari, Lena, and Nina
"Dear Pooja and Shreema,
Thank you for your message. We're glad to take part in this project. You asked us about fascist groups in our country. We saw many posters with fascist signs in Moscow. They say that we must create a new, national racist Russia, and it's very much like what Hitler said. There are fascists in our country near us. We meet them in the streets and we can't do anything about it. We care about it very much. We want to do something. We think that people should know about such things from an early age in order not to be influenced by fascist ideas. We think that little children should learn about the Holocaust, but it's so powerful and emotional. You should very carefully choose how to do it."
Nastya, Jane, Ann, Sasha
It is obvious these students, even after being given a lot of information, wanted to learn more about the Holocaust. More importantly, they want others to learn about it, too.
These students have formed their own opinions and want other people to have that same opportunity. I applaud their ideas and hope that others will, too -- but not everyone shares the exact same opinion on anything. Here is someone with a different view:
"Dear Olivia and Matt,
I want to say that I think younger children should learn about the Holocaust, but it should be done very carefully. Also, younger children shouldn't learn about the Holocaust before nine or ten years old. I would also like to say something about religious prejudices. I feel that everyone should be allowed to choose their own religious beliefs."
It should be noted that besides Vladimir's view on when children should learn about the Holocaust, he brought up another pertinent topic. It is his opinion, and that of many others, that people need religious freedom. People should be allowed to have their own religious beliefs. If all of us were able to practice our own faiths, the end result would allow freedom of religion to exist around the world. The teacher of these students, Elena Stefanova, after hearing all the views of her students said:
"Dear Olivia and Matt,
The questions you have asked appeared to be really difficult for my students. They all agreed that people should learn something about the Holocaust at an earlier age, but they said it is extremely difficult to handle and that you should be very careful when discussing such problems with little children. Even now, when they discuss what they have seen and heard at the Auschwitz survivors' meetings, their hands and voices tremble."
Soon after the previous exchanges, Boris Posnianski and Inna Kruchkova, two teachers from Moscow School #444, joined the discussion and contributed information about how they started their students' Holocaust studies:
"A history circle was organized in our school to study the Holocaust with students from school #429 who had taken part in the <iearn.hgp> conference. We were under the leadership of the manager of the Russian Holocaust Center, Ilia Altman. He had a lot of information about the tragedy of the Jewish nation. It exerts a great influence on the students' world outlook. The facts that they've gathered prompt them to give their own opinion about events of WWII. When we were on an expedition in Byelorussia, we also learned about Brest's ghettos and the tragedy of the village of Hatyin. Students have also known about fascism. They watched the film, Schindler's List, and they've met with veterans of WWII.... Our school is ready to render help in making a Holocaust museum in Moscow."
As the interaction of students from Moscow, Cold Spring Harbor and Australia continued, students expressed many different views about the Holocaust and their study of it. Many students from Moscow School #444 had the same views as students who are learning about the Holocaust elsewhere.
"This problem is very interesting to me. I support the actions against the fascists during World War II. There were many actions against Jews and against other different nationalities. I know there are people supporting pro-fascist views. I think views like these are not deserving to people because, to me, all nationalities should be thought of as equal."
"I think the Holocaust was a great tragedy. I can't understand the idea to destroy some nation. I think that all people have the right to live, to have their own religion, language, and customs."
"I am interested in the problem of the Holocaust. I have learned that during the war many Jews and Gypsies were killed. I think it is terrible that some people intentionally killed other people. Nowadays this problem is also actual."
"I heard the word Holocaust not long ago. I had never heard it before. It is strange because the Holocaust is getting real now. I don't want a repeat of that tragedy. And I will do everything I can do to stop the growth of fascism again."
Some people believe children should learn about the Holocaust at an early age. Others feel that children should not learn about the Holocaust at an early age due to the negative effect it may have on them. All in all, this discussion topic on the <iearn.hgp> teleconference was educational for everyone, and all participants were able to receive input on the feelings of others about the Holocaust as they were learning about it.
Hearing different ideas may help students from different countries respond to their peers. Even if this discussion caused only one student to think about what was learned, it was well worth it. Since you have read what some students are thinking, I wanted to give my opinion, too. I feel that students should not learn about the Holocaust in school until seventh or eighth grade. When kids are young, they should be taught wrong from right. This in turn produces morals (to play fair; be nice to everyone; if you do not have something nice to say then do not say it at all, and so on). The early years of a child's life are vital because they indicate the kind of person he/she will grow up to be.
"Even now, when they discuss what they have
seen and heard at the Auschwitz survivor's
meetings, their hands and voices tremble"
I believe that interrupting this natural flow of development with antisemitism, hate, supremacy, death, and other heavy issues at a young age can be a disservice to the child. The Holocaust was an atrocity in history and must not be forgotten, but there is no need to rush teaching a child about it before he or she is ready.
What do you readers think about this? What is the right age to teach students about the Holocaust, and how do you learn about it in your classroom? Please write to me, Will Klocke, and I will do a follow-up with your opinions and post them to the <iearn.hgp> teleconference.
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