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Jewish foundation brings teachers to Germany and Poland for intensive Holocaust-education program

Through lectures and visits to actual Holocaust sites, educators from five U.S. states gained a more profound understanding of the complex and tragic history of the Holocaust.

2023 Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) European Study Program participants pose with U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Daniel Lawton (center). Photo courtesy of JFR.
2023 Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) European Study Program participants pose with U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Daniel Lawton (center). Photo courtesy of JFR.

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) has selected 12 middle- and high school teachers and Holocaust center personnel from five U.S. states as participants in its 2023 European Study Program in Germany and Poland from July 1-15. Through lectures and visits to actual Holocaust sites, these educators gained a more profound understanding of the complex and tragic history of the Holocaust.

The program is a high-level, intensive and immersive educational experience that includes visits to concentration camps, ghetto sites and Holocaust memorials. Noted historian Robert Jan van Pelt, one of the world’s leading experts on the Holocaust, served as the accompanying scholar for the European Study Program.

The trip began with the group traveling to Munich, Dachau and Nuremberg, where the group explored the buildings that once housed the Nazi headquarters. They also saw documentation centers and the White Rose Pavement Memorial, a cobblestone replica of pamphlets paying tribute to the ones passed out by the courageous White Rose student group that had resisted Nazi ideology during World War II. The study program included a historical tour through Poland and a visit to the former Warsaw Ghetto and the Jewish Museum in Warsaw, as well as educational expeditions through memorial sites and concentration-camp vestiges, including those at Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz I and Birkenau.

The group met with some of the JFR’s Righteous Gentiles, non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, and toured through the remaining Jewish community in Krakow, a once-thriving community that has had a presence in the area dating back 700 years.

Throughout the program, participants had an opportunity to review and reflect on what they learned during their time at these important sites of the Holocaust, and how to bring those lessons into their classrooms.

Teachers selected for the program are English or social-studies teachers at the middle or high school level, have taught for at least five years, are at least four years from retirement, and currently teach the Holocaust in their classrooms. Holocaust museum staff also participated in the JFR’s Europeans Study Program. All participants are Alfred Lerner Fellows and have completed the JFR’s Summer Institute for Teachers.

“As we continue to move further away from the Holocaust, it is more important to teach this period in history to the next generation,” said JFR executive vice president Stanlee Stahl. “By focusing our efforts on helping teachers actually see the places where these complex events occurred, we believe it enhances their understanding and enables them to be more effective instructors in their classrooms.”

“Visiting and studying at actual Holocaust sites helps teachers to better understand the enormity of the Holocaust and aids in making them more effective educators. We designed the program to help educators learn the Holocaust experientially so they can present it in a more meaningful and insightful way to their students and colleagues when they return to their schools,” she added.

The 2023 European Study Lerner Fellows include Kelly Sorrell of Pitiz Middle School in Vestavia, Ala.; Angie Thompson of Alma Bryant High School in Irvington, Ala.; Melinda Walker of Holt High School in Northport, Ala.; Robin Blalock of Escambia County Public Schools in Milton, Fla.; Charles Hagy of the Benjamin School in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Alicia Booker of Lakota West High School in Hamilton, Ohio; Rhaymen Altagracia-Yunes of Atlantic City High School in Mays Landing, N.J.; Sarah Coykendall of the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University in Montague, N.J.; Sue Kenney of Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, N.J.; Rachel Worrell of Egg Harbor Township High School in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.; Shawn Riggins of Cumberland County Technical Education Center in Vineland, N.J.; and Caprice Erickson of the Holocaust Museum Houston in Texas.

The JFR continues its work of providing monthly financial assistance to more than 110 aged and needy Righteous Gentiles, living in 11 countries. Since its founding, the JFR has provided more than $44 million to aged and needy rescuers. Its Holocaust teacher education program has become a standard for instruction on the history of the Holocaust and guiding teachers and students about the significance of the Righteous as moral and ethical exemplars.

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