What to Remember

We are doing our Holocaust unit right now in 8th grade language arts. Each time I’ve taught this, I struggle with what we tell the kids. . .there are, of course, things I don’t tell them and photos I don’t show them. Besides the fact that some things once seen can’t be unseen, there is, quite frankly, too much to show. The horror and death and loss is too great to comprehend. But it comes back to this quote–

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

It try to bring it home to the kids by using examples with which they are familiar, “If you have the right shoes, or the right jeans, or the right hair, or live in the right neighborhood, or have the right friends, then you have status in our school. If you are a jock or an emo or a prep or a gangster. . .then you can look down on the ‘wanna-be’s or the nerds or whomever isn’t a part of your exclusive group.” Some of them get it–most of them don’t. But all of them understand that what happened was a bad, bad thing.

This video will be used as a “hook” to introduce the novels from which our students can choose–different stories, but all the same. Intolerance, war, hatred, but ultimately–stories about humanity.
(Click the link below to view the video.)

Holocaust Novel Unit.


7 thoughts on “What to Remember

  1. Is the reason you censor information and images of the holocaust from 8th graders a school or district thing? (Or personal?) Or do the history/social studies teachers cover this topic more in depth? I would think 8th graders are able to handle it. I just don’t think there is any reason to omit truth about the holocaust. I found my moms high school composition book when I was in 2nd grade. Page after page after page she had pasted clip-outs from the old Life magazines that showed skeletal people, hollow eyes, piles of bodies… they ARE images that cannot be undone. Mom sat down and answered all my questions frankly. Why? How? All that. The message: Brainwashed nazis, lies, and hidden truths.

    And, as an adult, I get what you are saying to the class about cliques or groups of people, but if I was a kid in your class, and considered myself a nerd or wanna-be, gracious, talk about compound confusion πŸ™‚

  2. The censoring comes from many areas–mainly that there is so much information that I can’t even begin to touch on all of it in a way that does it justice. For instance, we talk a lot about the injustices done to the Jews (and other sub-groups) by the Nazis and their citizen sympathizers, but we don’t have time to talk about how that parallels the American settlers’ anihalation of the native American. We talk about the denial of rights and loss of property of the Jew, but we don’t normally touch on the Japanese-American Internment that did the same thing to 100, 000 Japanese-Americans in our own country. There is simply too much to cover.

    Some of the censoring comes from teaching this age child for many, many years and knowing what they can and can’t handle. There are some kids who can see the atrocities and read about them–absorb the information, and not bat an eye. There are others who break down and are haunted by it. We try to show enough and tell enough that they get what happened–and learn from it–but not so much that we traumatize. That being said, there are some who can’t even take what we DO tell them–and there are others who will go home and look at the graphic information on the internet to find out more.

    I have told them that Dr. Mengle performed medical experiments on people without anesthesia–but not in gruesome detail, because I don’t want to know some of that myself. I have told them about Corrie ten Boom being grateful for lice, because it kept the soldiers out of their barracks, but not of the large scale rape of women and girls both during and after the war by soldiers from ALL armies including our own.

    There are some topics that they should be able to choose to study for themselves or that they should see/discuss with their parents. Knowledge of the Holocaust is an imperative thing to teach–but there are some things that I wish *I* didn’t know. A lot of these children have witnessed atrocities of a similar nature in their own homes. . .and some of these children don’t even know what rape really is. So I walk a fine line as a mother, parent, AND teacher.

    As far as the geeks and the wannabe’s –they know who they are. . .so do the gangsters, the preps, and jocks. . .everyone knows who everyone is. It’s Jr. High. THAT kind of honesty, to them, is refreshing, because it lets ALL of the groups know that I see them–that I know what is what–that I get where they are and why–and that I see how things need to change. I have more kids open up to me from ALL groups after this unit than any other.

    1. Steph

      That was a long response! And i truly get that you cant possibly cover it all. I love the video by the way, – just seeing a pile of eyeglasses is in some ways more haunting for the imagination fills in the rest. You are a good teacher and it takes a hero like you to be one.

      1. Yes. Long. . .but I wanted to answer your questions as they are good ones. AND, I, like you, think that a huge pile of glasses and hairbrushes and shoes tell the tale without showing huge piles of corpses. . .it’s a hard thing to teach not matter what. And I don’t really feel like a hero a lot of the time, but thank you for saying that.

  3. Roxanne, this is an amazing video. It is in good taste and informative. Like a good teacher, you have created something that will peak their interest in the subject. That is a gift, my friend. Excellent work. I’d love to sit in your class. πŸ™‚

  4. I have to give you a quick comment saying that I have read all of your recent posts, and I am so glad that you are blogging. Also, when when when are you going to come visit me? Jack needs to meet you.

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