Context matters when teaching the Holocaust

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Andrea Lockard

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

When teaching the Holocaust, most instructors reach for the graphic and disturbing images and hope to convey the horror of the 6 million Jewish deaths at the hands of the Nazis.

But that isn’t the best tactic.

“When you present the images with no context and no background, it becomes about the response to the image rather than the events surrounding it,” said Andrea Lockard, a McNary High School instructional coach.

The key question when choosing images is: who was holding the lens?

“Depending on the picture or video it might have been shot by the Nazis as propaganda and that can have an effect on how it is received without the proper context,” Lockard said.

Lockard’s interest in the Holocaust has followed her since she was a junior in high school and first read Elie Wiesel’s Night. That book and the events surrounding that time period became the focus of her master’s thesis, the topic of one of her first classes at McNary and took her to Washington, D.C. over the summer where she took part in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Teaching Fellowship.

“The mission behind the fellowship is that to become better teachers, we have to become better teachers of the Holocaust because you have to be so intentional with every decision you make in presenting the material,” she said.

During the weeklong program, Lockard took part in seminars from visiting scholars and took guided tours through the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent and temporary exhibits.

Lockard had been to the museum on many occasions prior to moving to Oregon, but this time she found an image that struck a deeper chord.

“When I left D.C., I was not a parent and now I have two little girls. When I walked around, there was a picture of people lying in the street and I noticed the curls on the little girl’s head. I immediately thought of my youngest daughter. I recognized that she and the family had been shot during the liquidation of the ghettos and she was laying in a pool of blood. It made me realize how we see the world differently depending on where we are in life,” she said.

One of the big questions the group of about 20 educators addressed was how to define victims of the Holocaust. Over the years, two numbers have been bandied about: 11.5 million and 6 million. The first is the total number of victims who in some way died as a result of Nazi violence, the second is the number of only Jewish victims.

The group settled on the 6 million Jews.

“It’s not to compare experiences and we make a point of saying that, but the only group that could  never change who they were in order to not be persecuted were the Jews,” Lockard said.

Lockard herself is not Jewish, but her family is Polish. For a long time, she feared delving into personal history might reveal things she’d
rather not confront.

“But when I started talking with my great aunt about my research, I discovered that my great uncle had been killed in front of his family for hiding Jews in his barn. He never even knew the people in hiding and the Nazis didn’t find them. It was a relief to find out he wasn’t complicit in what happened and, in fact, was part of resisting the Nazi oppression,” Lockard said.

As part of the fellowship program, Lockard is planning a professional development seminar for teachers and preservice teachers who want to incorporate the Holocaust into their curricula so that it is done in the right way.

For guidance and motivation she’s returning to the man who first introduced us to the topic, author Elie Wiesel:

“He told us that only those who were there can truly know, but everyone who has heard a story is a witness. The question becomes: Are you going to carry that story forward and make sure it’s not forgotten or let it be pushed to the wayside?”

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