The last generation of Holocaust survivors is passing away. Educators believe that the history and education of the Holocaust must live on past the grave, and are trying new ways to make the stories more tangible.
On Nov. 13 the Psychology Department and the John Brown University Honors Program sponsored Once Upon A Yesterday: Lady Gaga, Mickey Mouse, and the Holocaust to discuss how the present generation can make tangible connections to an event that is distant from them.
The speaker for Once Upon A Yesterday was Danny M. Cohen.
Cohen is the assistant professor of instruction at Northwestern University an education designer, and a fiction writer. Cohen is also the creator of Unsilence, a program that works to bring enlightenment to teenagers and untold narratives of other groups targeted by the Holocaust.
“When we think about the Holocaust we think about people who are far removed from us,” Cohen said.
Lady Gaga and Mickey Mouse are images Cohen used to show how generations can bridge the gap between themselves and the Holocaust. Cohen said that it is beneficial for younger students to make the connection between themselves and the Holocaust, which is something the education system can greatly influence.
“There are states that mandate Holocaust education, some that encourage the discussion, but usually the time spent on teaching the Holocaust is left up to the teachers,” Cohen said.
When the Holocaust is taught in the classroom, only one or two perspectives are usually discussed: the Jewish perspective that explores the human will to survive, or the Nazis perspective that questions how humanity is capable of such an act.
To Cohen, these two perspectives are not enough. Students need to learn the narratives that history neglects to tell in order to gain a well-rounded understanding of how that history is alive today.
“Some issues and challenges from the Holocaust continue to happen and repeat. People are labeled as sub-human or un-worthy of life. The groups that were targeted during the Holocaust are still facing violence today,” Cohen said.
Other groups that the Nazis targeted where the homosexual community, the Romani people and those who where disabled. Cohen suggests that a good way to teach the Holocaust is through personal narratives that students can connect with.
At the event Cohen involved the audience in the discussion by first breaking their stereotypes of what evil looks like. Typically when the public is shown images of Nazis during the Holocaust, they are dressed in their uniforms and are committing genocide.
Cohen chose to present pictures of Nazis in family portraits, on the beach and spending time with their loved ones.
Cohen is currently working on a fiction novel that approaches the Holocaust through the eyes of six ethnically, socially, and economically different teenagers. Cohen is designing his novel to be a tool to teach about the Holocaust through a different lens.
Kevin Simpson, professor of psychology at JBU, works to bring Holocaust victims and speakers to the campus to share their testimonies.
Simpson noted, “We are getting close to the day the last Holocaust victim passes away.”
The generations that are alive today were children when the Holocaust occurred.
Last year the JBU campus was blessed to have two Holocaust survivors, and couple Aisic and Riva Hirsch, to speak in chapel about their experiences.
During his time at JBU, Aisic shared his story of how he escaped the horrows. Unfortunately, on March 7, 2014, Aisic Hirsch passed away.
He passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 83, said Alabama.com. He spent his life using his testimony to teach later generations the patterns of the Holocaust so history would not repeat itself.