Why I Am, and Will Always Be, a Holocaust Educator

Mission Statement: The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education educates about the Holocaust, remembers its victims and acts on its lessons. Through innovative programs and partnerships, CHHE challenges injustice, inhumanity and prejudice, and fosters understanding, inclusion and engaged citizenship. Resources include traveling and permanent exhibits, teacher trainings, and innovative programs.

Holocaust education has been seen for many years as the responsibility of Jews and Jewish organizations, even though the Holocaust was part of a world war and the genocides that occurred were many. The communities impacted by the war included: Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Afro-Germans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, clergy of various branches of Christianity, people with disabilities, and so-called asocials among others. (This list is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.) The ultimate goal of Adolf Hitler and his regime was to purify Germany of corruption and subhumans in order to create a master race to rule the world. His victims were not only Jews; anyone who did not fit his definition of Aryan, and even anyone not willing to follow orders, was deemed a threat. As a young Jew, I was taught little about these other groups until this summer, when I worked at The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education (CHHE) in Cincinnati, Ohio as a summer Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati fellow.

As a rabbinic student and as a Jew, my view of the Holocaust is already influenced in a particular way. While I am uncertain of the history of my mother’s family, I do know that my grandmother was a Jewish war orphan who was shipped from Europe to South Africa at the end of the war and then adopted by a Jewish family there. I’ve often tried to view the Holocaust in an impersonal way, but it has been a struggle. I chose to work at CHHE because I wanted to actively learn about the Holocaust and interact with the evidence of it. I was privileged to participate in March of the Living as a high school student in 2007 but since then have found it emotionally difficult to study the Holocaust. Traveling to Poland and Israel with the March of the Living and seeing the reality of the Holocaust in person caused me to have strong emotional reactions to Holocaust-related material (classes, movies, books), and I made the decision to not place myself in situations where I would have to actively interact with Holocaust related material. Choosing to work with CHHE was my first conscious effort since the trip in 2007 to face my emotional responses to Holocaust materials. Knowing that my grandmother was a war orphan was one of the reasons I chose to face my fear of studying the Holocaust, in her memory.

As a rabbinic student, I came to the conclusion that it was time to continue my study of the Holocaust because I am often asked questions about it as a community leader. My supervisor at CHHE, as well as the entire staff, was very supportive of my desire to continue my education and gave me multiple opportunities to do so. These included digitizing parts of their physical archives. I was able to view original photographs, read unpublished memoirs and interviews, and hear each member of their Speakers Bureau speak on various occasions.

These were powerful experiences, but how I now view Holocaust education was impacted the most by my participation in CHHE’s weeklong program, The Roma and Sam Kaltman Holocaust Studies for Educators, which trains teachers from various public and private schools in the Greater Cincinnati Area. Learning about the Holocaust with a group of teachers from a variety of backgrounds and through a variety of media helped me place myself in the position of students who have never been exposed to the Holocaust. This alone would have been worth the week we spent learning together, but there was so much more. I learned the story of the five Frieder brothers from Cincinnati who, along with others, helped Jews immigrate to the Philippines; the documentary “Rescue in the Philippines” tells their story. I was taught how to bring in the experiences of non-Jews who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis. And, through it all, I had the opportunity to learn from top scholars in various fields.

Words are not enough to express how much I learned from the experience of working at CHHE. I am a different person from the one I was before the summer. CHHE’s outstanding work has recently been acknowledged by the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and its exhibit, “Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz: 70 Years Later” was recently hosted at the Freedom Center and noticed by museums across the country. For a staff of five, the extended reach of CHHE is amazing, and its impact is priceless. The staff takes to heart the importance of their work, and it shows in everything they do. I am truly humbled by the opportunity I had to work closely with them, and I plan on using everything they taught me in years to come. The most important thing I learned there was that each one of us has an opportunity to be a teacher, regardless of what our profession is, and that is something to remember each day of our future.

Simone Schicker

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