California English Journal
The hygiene in
Auschwitz was abominable….We were dying of thirst…
There was no gas
chamber in Bergen-Belsen…,[b]ut there was an
[Walking to the
latrine in the morning] you had to walk past [the dead]….
And so died Margot
and Anne Frank, the latter undoubtedly the most famous victim of
the Holocaust. Few people reading the eyewitness testimony
of Anne’s camp mates would deny that what was being described
was atrocious. Truly barbaric acts, appalling deeds, and abominable
feats all fit the Nazi camps' conditions.
California, in 1986, became one of the few states to mandate “age appropriate and consistent with the subject frameworks on history and social sciences [the teaching of] civil rights, human rights violations, genocide, slavery, and the Holocaust” (California Education Code/Section 51226.3).
Genocide itself was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 after he and his brother had lost their forty member Jewish family to the Nazi regime. For Lemkin, genocide included not only the extermination of a people, but also, attempts to destroy the foundations of the life of such a people.
Physical and cultural destruction of people, through dehumanization, is the crux of the genocide known as the Holocaust. Nowhere else have such poignant pictures of groups targeted by Hitler’s Nazis been drawn than in the multitudinous memoirs of victims. Yet, as Elie Wiesel has noted, “Whoever has not lived through the event can never know it. And whoever lived through it can never fully reveal it” (Wiesel, 1978, pp. 197-198). The response to this paradox must be: We can't not teach it. Wiesel agrees, ultimately, warning us: ''But it must be approached with fear and trembling. And above all with humility” (1978, p. 202).
How to begin? The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), adhering to Wiesel’s dictum, has provided the following fourteen guidelines:
Where to begin? Narrow the focus, to one city, one family, one story, one person. Literature written as events occur is different from the literature of memoir, since memory selects and thus reshapes to some extent the details of the past. So it is that the ongoing diary entries of Anne Frank can serve as a window to the Holocaust. The diary is not actually a testimony of Holocaust atrocity. It does, however, portray two kinds of time: the historical period that it records and the lapse of time during the recording. Through Anne, both the external and internal diary exist. That is, we see/hear Anne’s observations of life inside the annex, short reports of life about Amsterdam and beyond, and her own reflections and impressions.
And what a record it was! On June 20, 1942, Anne wrote, “I don’t want to jot down the facts in this diary the way most people would do…” (p.7. Note that all quotes are taken from The Definitive Edition. Teachers who have not carefully examined this 1995 version will need to do so before using with a class.). The narrative of the diary thus focuses upon the irrationality—the improbable possibility of the Holocaust. Yet Anne herself also chronicles growing up—with unrelenting honesty. She reveals herself as a physical being, a lover of nature, intrigued with her own sexuality. It is this unfolding of the particular feminine self that differentiates Anne’s diary from other diaries written at the same time (See, for example, Zapruder’s 2002 Salvaged Pages.) While moving through puberty into maturity, Anne captured with great clarity her physical and psychological teen growth angst. Anne’s alter ego in the diary is filled with foreboding, not fully able to imagine the atrocities that lay in wait should the eight occupants hiding in the annex be discovered. She drew support and strength from her desire to write, which seemed to afford her a sense of future. That she was serious is revealed in the frequency of her entries, the range of topics, and, again, her candid reflections about the lives of the annex occupants. Her revelations transcended typical adolescent development; many entries had a moral and didactic spin, as though written for posterity. Anne’s growth as a writer—and realizations about her art—were revealed in this April 5, 1944 passage: “I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!” (p. 250).
Anne’s writing revealed her inner strength to establish a moral world view, unique in one so young. In one of the longest diary entries, April 11, 1944, following the feared discovery by burglars, she wrote:
During the same entry, somebody suggested burning Anne’s diary, the record of annex longevity, to which she responded: “Oh, not my dairy; if my diary goes, I go, too!” (p.256)
On May 3, 1944, Anne added perceptively:
Anne’s constant dialogue with her addressee, Kitty, and her imagined audience, allowed her to negotiate despair; still pass judgment on the world around her.
One of the most
unique facets of the definitive diary version is Anne’s
revision of her first draft. Prompted by the Dutch Secretary of Education’s
radio call on March 28, 1944, for firsthand source material to be published
after the war, Anne rewrote 320 plus pages of her “a-version” diary
in ten weeks, approximately 200 entries of some 50,000 words! Those who have
examined carefully the “b-version” revision note Anne’s inner
development, her tremendous growth into a mature, objective, and autonomous
writer. (Nussbaum, 1999, pp. 6, 9-10). Anne realized as much herself when she
penned on January 2, 1944: “Because this diary has become a kind of memory
book, it means a great deal to me, but I could easily write ‘over and
done with’ on many of its pages”
But what of the girl who penned, on July 15, 1944, “…I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart” (p. 332)? That line, of course, ended the 1950s play and film versions, but not the diary. Recent critics too often have adjudged such media depictions, or her father, Otto’s, diary passage selections, rather than Anne’s own words. Media depictions ahistoricalized and deJudaized Anne’s diary and life. In addition, adapters removed much of Anne’s skepticism, a vital part of her coming of age. The diary itself is a very significant part of children’s Holocaust literature (Younglove, 2007, pp. 630-631).
Some teacher readers may feel that Anne’s diary, long a part of eighth grade English language arts curriculum, is not a viable window to the Holocaust for older and more advanced students. On the contrary. Research in recent decades provides the background and impetus to contextualize fully Anne’s writings and life. Just as Jerome Bruner of Harvard conceived of the spiral curriculum introducing students to similar concepts in varying levels of sophistication at different ages, so recent research into and media documentary depictions of Anne’s diary can help scaffold the life of Anne beyond the annex (See particularly my asterisked Reference sources). Anne’s death constitutes a crucially important addendum to her diary. To overlook her last months is to misuse Anne’s life. Willy Lindwer interviewed six women, all of whom knew Anne at one point or another following her arrest and deportation. His book, entitled The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, contains complete interviews from a 1988 television documentary of the same title, providing graphic eyewitness accounts of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As the excerpted quotes at the beginning of this article reveal, those who accompanied Anne on her final trips, sometimes on the same transports, serve as her senses in the camps.
In addition, scholar
Melissa Mueller published, in 1998, Anne Frank The Biography, which
became the four-hour miniseries,
Story. The final
days of Anne’s life were revealed by witness survivor, Jenny Brandes-Brilleslijper
(See Lindwer, 1988, pp. 38-85), who, in 1945, informed Otto Frank that Margot
and Anne would not be returning home. At that point, Miep Gies, the person
who had sustained the annex occupants the most during the 25 months of their
captivity, gave Otto Anne’s diary
If, in providing full context of the events surrounding Anne’s life and death, however, we deprive students of their basic faith in humanity, what then? Elie Wiesel, the survivor emissary, probed the issue:
How indeed? Gideon Hausner, chief prosecutor in the Eichmann trial in 1961, wrote:
Further on, Hausner concluded,
On April 5, 1944, Anne Frank asked, “…will I ever be able to write something great… (p. 250)? In the 60 years since the diary was first published, it has sold over 30,000,000 copies in some 55 languages; has been researched by scholars for decades. Two well-known institutes bear her name, as well as an international traveling exhibit. Through Anne’s modern classic, we inhabited the annex with seven other people for over two years, while righteous gentiles and the radio confirmed the growing atrocity outside the walls. Through multiple and varied texts, however, students can now go beyond the walls, discovering the impact of the Holocaust, during classroom acts of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing. We must take them there.
Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, summed it up best in The Drowned and the Saved:
It is thus to one such as Anne Frank we must look if we wish to learn about the millions who suffered at the hands of the Nazis over three generations ago. It is imperative for teachers “to render as truthful an account as documents and testimonies will allow without giving into the temptation of closure, because that would avoid what remains inevitable indeterminate, elusive and inexplicable about collective horrors” (Friedlander, 1994, pp. 252, 261).
Only the voices of individual victims can puncture seeming normality and prevent flight from the concreteness of despair, pain, and death (Minow, 1998, p. 24). Those who teach and study the Holocaust must, like its victims, confront the reality, even if remaining incredulous in the face of atrocity.
H.A. & Solotaroff-Enzer,
S. (Eds.) (2000). Anne Frank: Reflections on her life
Frank, A. (1995). Anne
Frank: The diary of a young girl: The definitive edition. Eds.
Frank, A. (1983) Tales
from the secret annex. Transl. Ralph Mannheim
Frank, A. Retrieved on March 7, 2007, from http://www.annefrank.org*
Friedlander, S. (1994). Trauma, memory, and transference. In Geoffrey
Hausner, G. (1966). Justice in Jerusalem. New York: Harper & Row.
Langer, L. (1998). Preempting
the Holocaust. (Tape T-662, testimony
of Charles A.
Levi, P. (1988) The
drowned and the saved. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal.
Lindwer, W. (1991). The
last seven months of Anne Frank. Trans. Alison
Minow, M. (1998). Between vengeance and forgiveness. Boston: Beacon Press.
Mueller, Melissa. (1998). Anne
Frank the biography. Trans. Metropolitan
Nussbaum, L. (1999). Anne Frank: From shared experiences to a posthumous
Schnabel, E. (1958) Anne Frank: A portrait in courage. Trans. Richard Winston and Clara Winston. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World. Reprinted as The Footsteps of Anne Frank. (1959). London: Longmans Green.*
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (2001). Teaching about the Holocaust: A resource book for educators. Washington, D.C.: USHMM.
Wiesel, E. (1978). A Jew today. New York: Random House.
Wiesel, E. (1977,
October 9). Then and now: The experiences of a teacher. Address
at the National Invitation Conference of Anti-Defamation League of
Younglove, W. (2007). Children’s Holocaust literature. In Encyclopaedia Judaica. (2nd ed. Vol. 4, pp. 630-631). Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd.
Zapruder, A. (2002) Salvaged pages. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
About the Author
I try to teach the event we call The Holocaust with respect for the
victims and with spaces of silence for the learners. I proceed from
the assumption that if I can bring the right books and materials to
students, in an appropriate manner, they will be moved to study this
subject on their own; they will begin to incorporate some of its terrible
lessons into their private thinking.
Before beginning to read literature about the Holocaust, I think about how I don’t want to trivialize, reduce, distance, or repeat what students may already know about the subject. I want them especially to see that aside from paragraphs in a history book, the Holocaust has engendered a huge field of study and research encompassing areas of theology, art, music, sociology, psychology, memory, science, medicine, memorials, culture, film, propaganda, rescue and resistance, memoir and literary response, to name some. The history is vast and dense and covers individual countries affected as well as Germany. That history is still being written. To that end, I want to introduce students to an array of materials that they have most probably not encountered before.
When students walk into the first session of a class on the Holocaust, they are asked to silently walk around the classroom and look at posters, books, and artifacts. I set up 40 large posters from the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Courage to Remember the Holocaust, 1933-1945” series. These posters are 2.6’ by 3.3’ and they depict through text and pictures multiple aspects of the event—from the beginnings of anti-Semitism and Nazi racial laws to rescue in the camps--in startling and powerful ways. On tables students find books of maps, artwork, photographs, pamphlets, propaganda, very short testimonials and poems. My intention is for each student to engage and begin to absorb the enormity of what happened in a personal way. This investigation might go on for several days as student share and trade resources . . . in silence. At the end, students are asked to generate their own questions about what they’ve just viewed. My belief is that this introduction encourages student interest and that these questions hover over whatever we read providing a more personalized context. (If teachers do not have access to such source materials, they might look into Holocaust Centers found in most major cities as well as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Israeli Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem. There is an abundance of resources found on the web that can be downloaded.)
Because this history
is so complex, I have found a multidisciplinary approach to be the
most valuable and productive. Though an important
objective for the history teacher is to accurately present the historical
event, a second, equally important intention for the English teacher
should be to saturate it with a human perspective. I want to transmit
to students something of the difficulty involved in writing about a
subject such as atrocity, and, I want to both complicate and connect
them to the texts they are reading. To that end, I’d like to
comment about three commonly taught books: Night , “The Shawl,” and
The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as briefly address the use of poetry,
art, and music in the classroom.
I never ask students to “put themselves in the place of the character.” Though a basic tenet of literary integrity is that the reader can identify and engage with a character, it is impossible to place oneself in the circumstance of a concentration camp victim. Students understand and empathize with characters who exhibit recognizable traits and characteristics within a situation. Both Wiesel and Ozick present potent portrayals of male and female adolescents, children, and parents, who act in ways that are true to gender and role. Students identity with these images when they know them to be grounded in how real men and women behave. Night and “The Shawl,” additionally tap into deeply felt responses and associations that inspire dread and anxiety in all teenagers—the separation and loss of family. Adolescents need not have experienced that condition in order to understand it.
Fathers and sons and mothers and daughters are themes that can be compared and contrasted. Fathers and sons guarantee that the thread of the past will be remembered. If the father dies, the son is cut off from the knowledge that would have been passed on through him. The deaths of the child in “The Shawl,” and the father in Night make significant companion pieces when we talk about memory and the bridge between past and future. Both stories deal with the loneliness and loss experienced by adolescents and the longing for a return to childhood and innocence. Themes of how parents teach and protect children and what happens when those basic human instincts are thwarted are painful lessons in both works. The problem of time, of communicating love within an impossible situation, the need to stay together at all costs, the guilt-ridden momentary relief that both Eliezer and Rosa experience when finally parted from father and child are conflicts grounded in real family tensions played out in bizarre, unnatural but tragically real circumstances.
Students don’t need teachers to understand and identify with the fundamental roles and relationships found in the two texts. However, teachers can help students to ask questions about the power of those things and about why literature is so persuasive a vehicle for presenting them. The two stories are made memorable by the language used to convey their meaning. Though a close look at literary and metaphorical devices is common in the study of literature, their employment in these two stories is especially significant. For example, hunger and the need for sustenance inform both works. At the end of Night, Wiesel recounts how the first act of free men after liberation was to throw themselves onto the provisions—but then he suffers food poisoning for three weeks and almost dies. In Rosa’s last scene, the shawl stuffed down her throat—an image of choking strangulation—she also receives Magda’s saliva and scent. Life, after the Holocaust, is presented in both texts ambiguously. That which is supposed to sustain (food and water) also strangles and poisons.
A central premise of most Holocaust literature is the way the world turned upside down and all that was formerly true became untrue. Even now, as we reflect on such ideas, ways of previously looking at the event are called into question. The play The Diary of Anne Frank, often taught in middle schools, became controversial in the late ‘90s. How Mr. Frank edited his daughter’s words, how the diary was adapted for stage and screen, who suppressed scripts, who owned rights, and whether Anne’s legacy had been obscured and sentimentalized were widely discussed. Furthermore, the appropriateness of The Diary as the central-literary-work-of-the- Holocaust-taught-in-schools was reexamined in light of Anne’s terrible and unrecorded end. The debate, chronicled in both The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, provides a good starting place in which to revisit The Diary of Anne Frank in high school. An invitation into the storm asks students to consider how this much loved work fits into the historical context of the 1950’s versus the present. It sensitizes students to anger and disagreement around the correctness of portrayal and response to the Holocaust. Students might read the whole or parts of the original diary, discussing the play side by side with the diary. Teachers can call attention to the strong and eloquent voice, asking students to find those parts that signal Anne’s age and adolescent aspirations. The words she chooses to convey her claustrophobic and frightening predicament are keys to the power the work has over its readers. How and why she found respite through her writing and what the enduring values of this piece are ask students to explore her tragic and ironic loss. An obvious extension into this history would be the study of the plight of the Jews in the Netherlands.
I have found that students respond very well to poetry of the Holocaust if I let them choose the poems and if I begin the discussion by asking “what line or image especially stood out for you?” A student-owned discussion ensues from that initial question. There are several good Holocaust anthologies. I am currently using Truth and Lamentation: Stories and Poems on the Holocaust, edited by Milton Teichman and Sharon Leder, University of Illinois Press. Each student chooses his or her poem and reads it aloud. The poems are moving and wrenching; I am less interested in literary analysis and more interested in what they see and hear and associate. Students do use the tools of analysis but less self-consciously and because the poems are painful and often quite beautiful, their inner workings and the author’s intention inevitably evolves out of the discussion. I have also been moved to find how earnestly students respond to music of the Holocaust. Recently, we looked at Yevtushenko’s great poem “Babi Yar” and heard Shostakovich’s adagio, about the poem, from his Symphony No. 13 in B Flat Minor. Reading the poem side by side with listening to the music was an extraordinary experience—but not one I’d engage in before some study of the Holocaust. I’d also recommend “Holocaust Cantata,” by the Master Chorale of Washington Chamber Singers, (Albany Records) and “Composers of the Holocaust: Ghetto Songs from Warsaw, Vilna, and Terezin” (Downtown Music Productions) both found online. Last, there are many web sites that feature art of the Holocaust. Both art and music allow students to compare different types of response to literature; but more importantly they show that the Holocaust is irrevocably connected to the world and can’t be studied apart from the suffering it unleashed and continues to unleash.
About The Author
A woman bends over and sifts through a mound of trash as the sun sets in Calcutta. Children surround her, scavenging. A cow stands casually close as if observing. Southeast Asian girls, probably ages twelve to sixteen, shift their feet as they wait in a glittering hotel lobby, wearing short skirts and red lipstick, for their male escorts to arrive. Human skulls stand in a pyramid near cells once used for torture and photos of the deceased line the walls in this old Cambodian prison, now a museum named Tuol Sleng. Barbwire fences enclose a concentration camp where human ovens sit quietly as if frozen in time.
If one has experienced the awe-inspiring film, “Baraka,” directed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson, then he recognizes without a doubt, the images described above. It is a series of scenes in one of the best films ever made, as well as the perfect attention-grabber for an audience who will inevitably become passionately curious about the world.
“ No one can really understand what being tortured means until that fateful moment when you find yourself naked, blindfolded and tied up at the mercy of your captors. Your entire life is confined to that fragile moment when darkness becomes your enemy…” (Tricot par. 1). In our classroom, we read the lines of Tito Tricot’s autobiography as he describes the moments he spent in the torture chambers under the dictatorship of the now deceased Augusto Pinochet. Tito was a journalist who dared to write about ideas contrary to the Government. His experience was important; yet, not many people know about him and others who suffered the same or similar fates. If Tricot was brave enough to write this, I tell my students, then we must be brave enough to read it.
How do educators bring up genocide, holocaust, evil, torture, and not send developing minds into a pit of despair and detachment? It can be done. It must be done; in fact, it is an educator’s responsibility to tackle these topics, breaking a cycle of denial and ignorance.
“ There is a holocaust going on right now in Sudan? How come I didn’t know about this until now?”
“ How come we’ve learned all about The Holocaust every year of high school and middle school but we’ve never heard about the child armies in Northern Uganda?”
“ Are you telling me that this was a true story, that “The Butterflies” were actually real people? They tortured women, really?”
These are questions are asserted all too commonly in my English classroom as we read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies.
There is blood and gore in room D-2, a lot. I know, that sounds terrible! But they like it. It’s not because they have played too many video games, or they were numbed from “embedded” reporting during “Shock and Awe;” it is because my students are compassionate and they want to know what they can do to make a difference.
As we read Things Fall Apart, we learn about AIDS in Nigeria. We “get married” and do a “fluid exchange” with tiny cups of water. Some are “infected” with the base Ammonia, and others are inevitably and exponentially infected as we pour our water into others’ cups. After round two or three, I visit each student with a dropper of the PH indicator, Phenoylthpaline, pouring tiny drops into every cup. HIV positive, only in an analogous sense, some students grasp fluid-filled cups neon pink in stain.
We read an excerpt from “All Things Considered” on NPR which recounts Jim Wooten’s interview with Nkosi Johnson, a HIV positive boy of twelve who was advocating for rights, respect, and an end to the ignorance surrounding AIDS in Africa. Johnson, a remarkable person, “spoke to the International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000, reminding the audience that AIDS victims were no different from other people: ‘We are normal. We are human beings... We have needs just like everyone else. We are all the same’” (One Boy’s Heroism par. 3). Johnson also advised “"Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are” (One Boy’s Heroism par. 4). We give a moment of silence to the now deceased Johnson and try to follow his wise words.
In need of something to lighten up the tension, what else is there to do but chuckle a little, with Dan Hoyle, a 23 yr old Fulbright scholar, as we stand in his shoes for a moment in a crowded auditorium at the University Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He’s putting on a one man show about a time when he traveled a Kenyan road, got held up at knife point, and started rapping an Eminem song as his survival instincts told him to do.
On stage he recalls to the Nigerian audience how he befriended the gang and they begged him to teach them how to rap. Holye writes of his play, “in it I play myself playing Eminem, the white rapper whose virtuosity and accessibility helped thrust hip-hop, originally a largely African American art form, into mainstream American pop culture…. I was a white guy interpreting African guys interpreting a white guy interpreting black American guys, this time in front of African guys.”
Since “scholars have traced hip-hop's origins from funk to soul to jazz to blues and all the way back to African rhythms,” Hoyle explains, “normally the scene teems with irony” because he survives a mugging by “performing a white man's version of [the Kenyan’s] own -- stolen – culture” (Hoyle).
Senior students show up to class the next day and we read Section Two of Things Fall Apart where the main protagonist, Okonkwo, has been exiled to his motherland for committing an accidental killing. (This happens before the British impose control upon the governing structure of his tribe.) He’s angry and proud. He does not want to lose his crops or his high standing as a man of title in his homeland, Umofia. He has no idea what has hit him when an elder in his mother’s clan scolds, “A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say Mother is supreme”(134).
Then, students get into groups and read different poems by an African American writer. I do not tell them who the author is. Topics range from the birth of a child, to falling in love, to overcoming tough obstacles. The students always use the pronoun “she” to describe the author as they present thematic messages to the class. One poem evokes the possibility of a rose blossoming from the cracks of an urban sidewalk.(Shakur).
I say, “we are going to examine another work by the same author” and I blast “Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac Shakur, a song that says, in slightly different words, “Mother is Supreme.” (“I realize mamma that you paid the price, you nearly gave your life to raise me right…” -Tupac)
This segues into the most tender piece of the unit: Russel, Poole, and Bailey’s “Invisible Children,” a humorous, self-deprecating, and tear-jerking documentary about children captured and forced to join Joseph Kony’s child army that is ironically named “The Lord’s Resistance Army” in Northern Uganda.
As Jacob, a 12 year old army-escapee, quivers to talk about his brother, still in the army, “my heart is beeping” he says, “when I think of him sometimes I can even cry” and he does. In a moment of stillness, the camera does not avert its eye from Jacob’s mournful sobs. Unwavering, the camera challenges us to look. Thirty seconds pass and the classroom is no longer located in white-flight suburbia, but instead, Uganda.
“ How did this situation get so bad?” They all want to know, and the filmmaker, Bobby Bailey, 23, and a recent graduate of their high school discusses the contrived division of the continent of Africa during the Geneva convention of 1890.
Thus the lesson comes full circle. “Folks, period five, period three!” I cry, “You ask, ‘why do we have to read a book that is boring;’ you say it confuses you with all the funny names and strange traditions. Now you know. How did Invisible Children happen? Look right there in the pages of Things Fall Apart; the seeds for the instability of Northern Uganda and many other African countries were planted many, many years ago! Isn’t it amazing that Okonkwo had the foresight to predict this?”
It’s not all dark and dismal at this point in class. Bobby Bailey bounces around the room, cracking jokes and inspiring students with video clips of “the Global Night Commute,” an event that took place all over the country where people slept on the street to raise awareness and to show solidarity for Jacob and his fellow children in hiding.
One might think that these wealthy suburban kids might forget all about the Invisible Children. Quite the contrary. They started a club. They tutored refugees. Some created fundraisers for a local Sudanese Church. Others helped edit vignettes for a bracelet campaign. Two students applied for internships with “Invisible Children,” the non-profit, and ended up working on the U.S. film tour. An aspiring teacher of seventeen years old created curriculum that aligned with the CA Social Science Standards and now these lesson plans are posted on the web site: www.invisiblechildren.org.
I forgot to mention the teen who decided to graduate early so that she could join the team at IC, and actually was able to travel to Gulu, Northern Uganda.
Just yesterday, I saw a poster on the wall at school. It was an advertisement for an after school showing of the film to raise money. I don’t know the kid putting it on, and I had no idea that the health teacher, his supervisor, had seen the film. Wow, watch the wave of education swell!
Something horrible happened today, though.
Saul, a sophomore in my ESL reading class drew a swastika on his flashcard and waved it around like a flag.
So, I am going back to the drawing board. I take back what I earlier implied ever so subtly, that maybe we need to move on from the Holocaust. My great Jewish Rabbi grandfather must have rolled over in his grave. On Monday, I will pass out twelve copies of a second grade reading level book called “The Story of Anne Frank,” and we will start from the top. It might take us two months to read it.
There are so many things I vow never to forget and I know I won’t as long as my students are here to remind me.
Baraka. Fricke, Ron. DVD. Magidson, Mark. 1992.
Hoyle, Dan. “San Francisco writer Dan Hoyle exports his 'Circumnavigator' to Nigeria, where they don't clap at the end but applaud with cash”. The San Francisco Chronicle. 28 August 2005: F1.
Invisible Children. Russle, Jason. Poole, Laren. Bailey, Bobby. DVD 2003.
“One Boy’s Heroism in the Face of AIDS.” Michelle Noris. Michelle Noris. KPBS. All Things Considered. NPR.. FM 895. San Diego. 01 December 2004. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4195336>
Strand, Mark. Boland, Eavan. “The Colonel” The Making of a Poem. Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. 281-282.
Tricot, Tito. “I'm a Torture Survivor in a Country Where Torturers Still Run Free.” Counter Punch. 02 December 2004. 09 February 2007. <http://www.counterpunch.org/tricot12022004.html>.
About The Author
With searing images of 9/11 and the Iraq War replaying in our minds, how do our students make sense of the escalating horror and suffering? For some, the visual imagery holds gruesome allure with graphic detail of human agony and desecration; for others, the plethora of morbid carnage desensitizes the soul. Beyond the gut-wrenching atrocities, which elicit both repulsion and morbid fascination at the visceral level, at what level can we promote discussion to address the futility of that which we cannot fully grasp? The pile of cast off leather shoes of all sizes, taken by Nazis from children, mothers, and fathers before their extermination, indelibly imprints upon the beholder the bathos and isolation of the moment. Perhaps more abstractly, the collection of six million paperclips impresses one with the sheer magnitude of the Holocaust numbers. At about the same time as the torture of the Jews, students may be blinded to the injustices inflicted upon the Japanese in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor as well as not having a sense of the global strife that afflicted many. Once some common ground has been established and indisputable facts have been recounted, the next step must entail some deeper scrutiny of the patterns and concepts that unfold and perpetuate such atrocity.
Confounding the predicament, we must ascertain the knowledge base with which our students come. In dealing with issues arising in a discussion of World War II for example, students may read the work of Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Art Spiegelman, or Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston to acquire some basis for informed discussion, but they more often than not lack the understanding to perceive the historical contexts that opened the way for such injustices and killing to occur. Recognizing the constraints imposed by current educational theory adhering to pacing guides, scripted lessons, and quarterly assessments, educators may still find worthwhile common planning time for interdisciplinary teaming to introduce collaborative projects and cross-curricular learning. The lesson approach herein described encourages reflective thinking and connective associations that bridge two continents conceptually and in time for students to engage in more powerful learning as they realize synchronous events unfolding in disparate place and settings in World War II. By requiring the close reading of text and assigning exploratory activities, such as interviews that challenge students to uncover first-hand information, more cohesive connections are made that promote comparative analysis and lay the scaffolding for deeper discovery.
Students become more socially aware as architects of their own learning whenever they can conduct cross-generational interviews to gain insights from civilians, victims, or veterans of the war, thereby becoming more adept in questioning and critical thinking. The opportunity to meet with an actual person who has lived through atrocity or injustice imparts an immediacy to learning that accentuates the experience and imbues it with direct insights and emotional meaning. To enhance the students’ empathetic skills, opportunities to role-play pivotal scenes further their ability to interpret situations from the diverse characters’ points-of view. To have students role play the American interrogator questioning Papa Wakatsuki, and then to switch roles to discuss the emotions elicited from the scene, imparts engaging involvement and dynamics that elicit self-introspection and discussion of complicity during this period of xenophobia and war time hysteria.
Along with personal interviews, students may obtain valuable primary source information by examining artifacts of the period contained in various Southern California museums that provide educational exhibits and fieldtrips, such as the Holocaust Museum, the Simon Wiesenthal, Skirball, or the Japanese American Museum. Seeing an actual cattle car used in transportation, or walking through the concentration camp cell or touching the thin, prefabricated walls of the Manzanar housing project dramatically drives in the emotional reality of incarceration in the case of the Japanese, or torture and death in the case of the Jews, making the relevancy of the historical context painfully evident. Viewing first-hand the extension of war and its toll on human casualties elicits an emotional response that inspires opportunity for intellectual and moral development. In order for students to learn more caring and ethical behavior, to more fully internalize the gravitas of atrocity, it is essential not to skirt the complex issues arising from the extenuating circumstances accompanying traumatic upheavals and war as we try to make sense of unfathomable horrors and indignities. Alternately, several online resources, including audio interviews with WWII veterans, are available for teachers and students desiring more in-depth knowledge.
As is oft repeated in Farewell to Manzanar, “Shikata ga nai,” or the belief that one must endure that which cannot be changed, enabled the Japanese to persevere in maintaining their dignity despite the adverse social and political climate. Similarly, many Holocaust victims manifested out of the necessity of survival an attitude of seeming passivity or complacency before their captors that extols the human capacity to persevere in the face of overwhelming odds. Although issues of morality may seem dismissive in the context of war, our students must delve beyond the political theatrics to examine the resilience of the human psyche with the possibility that we revisit the literature of atrocity through the eyes of compassion. Then they may be better able to develop some degree of intercultural sensitivity and empathetic appreciation of those qualities that we seek to try to make sense of and alleviate the suffering of others.
The reason that I say “Yes” when CATE asks me for something is that my mother taught me never to hurt people’s feelings.
She also told me that I had to say “Yes” the first time I was asked.
This rule pertained to invitations to the prom; I had
to accept the first invitation.
My mother also taught me that I had to follow through
on my commitments.
At the top of the stairs, I tried to let go of the railing, but my self-preservation gene kept kicking in, and I did go to the prom with my neighbor, and we did dance. And it wasn’t so bad.
Tonight, the last place I want to be is up here on this stage making a speech to you. If I could, I would have jumped out of the elevator. However, here I am, and there you are, so here we are. And it isn’t so bad.
Concerning the error in the program:
I have three names I consider distinguished because of my relationship to the loved ones who have shared these names with me.
My father, my husband, my mother inspire me to teach and to be active within my professional community.
Orhan Pamuk, in his Nobel Lecture “My Father’s Suitcase,” writes about his father’s support of his writing. I am borrowing Pamuk’s words, with a few changes. He explains why he writes; I use his words to explain why I teach.
But I can’t do it alone. I need the connections that NCTE, CATE, and the regional councils provide. I need the stimulation of my colleagues who support, encourage, argue, challenge.
I read CATEnet, California English, English Journal because I have a need to stay connected.
I help on committees because I can’t sit back and wait.
I go to conferences to learn from other teachers exciting ideas that I can steal and use in my own classroom.
attend board meetings because I believe that we can effect
I am grateful to the California Association of Teacher of English for honoring me with this award. I rarely feel that I have done anything that is “distinguishing” –just things that felt good to work on and to accomplish.
One day last week, however, for a moment, an instant, I did feel “distinguished.”
Spring has arrived, and with it thoughts of summer: warmer weather, time to relax, precious time for family and friends. It's all about recharging, isn't it? How we look forward to all that, especially now when state tests loom, semester or year-long projects are coming due, and the expectations from admin, students, and parents seem never-ending. Ah, summer's almost here…
In addition to recharging our personal lives, summer also allows for time to recharge our professional selves. There are opportunities to read more leisurely what has been recommended to us during the year, to work on our own writing, and to more thoughtfully consider adding a new book or theme to our school year repertoire.
This issue of California English asks us to consider integrating into our curricula of great literature some titles we may not be incorporating presently. This issue on literature of the atrocities begs us to address genocide and other shameful historical events, past and present, into our English Language Arts classrooms.
As teachers of literature and language, we know the power of reading and talking about what we have read. We do it every day, often discovering through discussion or writing that students' experiences and knowledge run the gamut, from naiveté or ignorance, to personal experiences so intimate or horrendous they make our hearts ache.
Recently a former colleague, a history teacher who left to study and earn a doctorate in education, returned to our school to provide a fascinating inservice about the importance of more often using various discussion models in every classroom. He reminded us how our very democracy depends on our instructing kids how to navigate difficult, controversial, complex topics. "After all," he asked, "where else will they learn this incredibly valuable life lesson?" After experiencing through role-playing some models of discussion strategies, we clearly understood the power of teaching constructive disagreement and negotiation. Difficult and risky? Yes, sometimes. Valuable and necessary? Absolutely.
I was reminded that my best days as a teacher have been those when during a discussion I am virtually no longer needed, when students begin to direct their own learning, talking to and respectfully challenging one another, looking back at the text, finding references on their own, pushing themselves and each other as they carefully and clearly navigate tough issues.
It is in this vein that I hope this issue of California
English inspires us all. We must continue to be willing
to take risks: introduce new literary pieces, broach
new topics, attempt new strategies, and open up dialogue
that may be difficult.
The titles recommended in this issue that I haven't yet read will be added to my running list. Please join me in doing so. Our responsibility is a great one, both in size and in power. The students of California deserve and require our continued diligence.
In his 1987 Nobel Prize acceptance speech Joseph Brodsky explained, “In the history of our species, the book is an anthropological development, similar essentially to the invention of the wheel. Having emerged in order to give us some idea not so much of our origins as of what the Sapiens is capable of, a book constitutes a means of transportation through the space of experience, at the speed of turning a page.” If books represent the range of behaviors our species is capable of, it should be no wonder that literature, both classic and contemporary, contains more than a few sordid scenes. Homo Sapiens is well-known both for its valor and for its viciousness. To limit a child’s reading to one without the other distorts his emerging understanding of mankind’s potential as well as of his own.
This issue of California English focuses on the literature of atrocity. During World War II, Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer, coined the term genocide to describe “crimes against humanity.” Survivors from various Twentieth Century genocides have published their stories widely. Currently, nearly half of the states recommend or require teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides. CATE asked teachers how they approached what has been called the “literature of atrocity and how they helped students deal with literature that probes almost unimaginable evil.
Some censors would have public schools and libraries cleanse their shelves of all but uplifting stories. According to the American Library Association, last year saw 760 challenges to individual titles. What occurs is that a parent will object to a book and demand that the school board remove the book from school library shelves. Parents have authority over their own child’s reading material and should exercise this right when they feel a book is objectionable, but they do not have the right to dictate what other children may choose to read.
In a letter to a school committee that had removed a book from their library, publisher George Braziller argued, “I would ask you to reconsider your decision for the sake of your students, the ideals of education and knowledge, and also the freedom of speech and thought. We shall not be protecting our youth if we swathe them in ignorance, nor shall we earn or deserve their respect, if we cannot place enough trust and faith in them to reason and respond on their own behalves.”
This issue of California English on the literature of atrocity would not have been possible without the tireless effort and inspiration of Bill Younglove. CATE is deeply in Bill’s dept for inspiring us to focus on this topic as well as for bringing to the magazine the world-renowned artist, Samuel Bak.