Teacher digs deeper into Holocaust education | New

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Last summer, Mary Traphagan, a teacher at Chadron Middle School, spent a week in North Carolina learning more about a subject she’s studied since she was a teenager: the Holocaust. From July 23-28, she attended the 20th Annual Martin and Doris Rosen Summer Symposium. This year’s topic was “Photography and Film During and After the Holocaust”.

Traphagan noted that her interest in studying the Holocaust began when she herself was a student at CMS, specifically in eighth grade. “I just saw things in photos that I never thought people would do to themselves,” she said. “I asked myself the same question all these years: how and why did this happen? I don’t think you will find an answer.

“There is so much information. It’s multi-faceted. It’s very complicated, and in some ways it’s simple.

Although she does not have a degree in Holocaust studies, Traphagan has been a member of the Institute of Holocaust Education of Nebraska (IHEN) for eight years. Its territory includes the Panhandle, making it the resource for Holocaust education in the region. Although no school has contacted her, other organizations such as the Gering Library Association and the Westerners Retreat Group have. She has also done the Graves Lecture Series twice, with another lecture scheduled for the spring.

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As to how she came to the symposium, Traphagan received information from IHEN and requested it. However, she added with a laugh, between her application and the award, she forgot about it. Since it was her first time in North Carolina and Appalachia, she described it as a beautiful, nice, cool area with rain every afternoon.

“It was a lot of work and very emotional too,” she said of the event. “But it was worth it.”

The symposium included presentations from Dr. Elizabeth Bellows, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Laura Bialis, Christina Chavarria, Holocaust survivor Peter Feigl, Dr. Dorota Glowacka, Dr. Thomas Pegelow Kaplan, Dr. Miriam Klein Kasenoff, Sheryl Ochayon, Bianca Stigter, Rabbi Ailty Weinreb, Dr Daniel Uziel and Dr Racelle Weiman.

Topics covered: how to use films in the classroom, an age-appropriate curriculum, developing new lessons about the Holocaust, visual propaganda, Germany and the transition from democracy to dictatorship, the perception of women during the Holocaust and the current climate of anti-Semitism in the United States.

They also watched a new documentary, “Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” about rediscovering old films and doing investigative work to uncover the people, places and time filmed.

Traphagan further noted that each of the speakers had a specific topic. But although the topics varied, one of the best parts for her was being in a group of like-minded educators totally focused on that topic. Although she teaches social studies and American history in middle school, her personal focus has always been the Holocaust.

“I had never been in a room with people as passionate or interested in the subject as I was. I met people from all over the United States. The speakers were truly amazing.

One experience in particular that Traphagan talked about was a visit with Dr. Glowacka. The doctor visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which houses more than three million photos. These are from aggressors, liberators and photographers hired by the Nazis.

“These are photographs that the public doesn’t see,” Traphagan said. “When you go to the Holocaust museum in DC, the exhibit you see is a small fraction for the public. They have to be very careful what they put in the public eye out of respect for the victims, and some of them are so horrible that it’s not something the public wants to see.

Glowacka also presented the perception of the female body during the Holocaust.

Another survivor, 93-year-old Peter Feigl, was one of 3,500 Jewish children rescued from the village of Le Chambon sur Lignon in southern France, a rescue story Traphagan had never heard before.

“He was amazing. Sharp as a tip, and didn’t miss a beat.

Although she learned a lot on her trip, Traphagan said the photography combined with the information made the stories feel much more real. “It was devastating to listen to. For me, it put a new perspective on the human part of the story that I watched, just not as deeply.”

Traphagan was also able to visit a synagogue, the Temple of the High Country, where she met and visited Rabbi Weinreb. She is now working with one of the men from the synagogue to help tell the story of her family’s flight to Russia and the United States.

Another presenter and survivor, Dr Miriam Klein, spoke of her family’s journey across Spain to catch a boat to the United States, forced to leave her sister behind.

Dr. Michael Berenbaum, also a rabbi, works in Los Angeles to ensure the authenticity of Hollywood films. “If they’re claiming this is based on a true story,” Traphagan said, “it must be historically accurate.” He recently worked on “The Zookeeper’s Wife”. At the symposium, he gave a presentation on anti-Semitism in today’s world.

“Everything was very nice,” Traphagan noted. “All of these people have been interacting with you all week, so you’ve really gotten to know each other.

“The opportunity to attend this symposium was like a dream come true for an educator who has researched, written lectures, given presentations, taught classes and held discussion groups with all ages. This opportunity has confirmed that what I have learned and used is the right way to present information on a difficult and painful subject in history.

“Being in a room full of like-minded people who are also passionate about the subject of the Holocaust was just…..amazing! We were a ‘think tank’ to share ideas, voice concerns and collaborate on new ways to present information to diverse audiences.”

Traphagan will use the information from the symposium and his years of research in his own class. A teacher at Crawford for 18 years before coming to Chadron, she took a semester-long course on the Holocaust that she wrote herself. At Chadron, she teaches a Holocaust unit and the school teaches Holocaust novels.

She recently received a scholarship from the Mark Schonwetter Holocaust Education Foundation to complete the Holocaust Studies program. On January 15, the school will host a large exhibition featuring new books as well as traveling trunks from Holocaust institutes.

“We’re all very excited about it.”

As for the students, Traphagan said during the unit that they were very interested and asked a lot of questions. “Some of them are very unknown. Some of them have heard the word. Some of them, not so much. You can get into a million levels of this stuff, but we go through the basics.

She even asked several students to take her course and decided it was a topic they wanted to research further. There is always a student in the National History Day projects led by Cathy Kaus, said Traphagan, who will do a project related to the Holocaust. Topics have included Nazi propaganda, Anne Frank, Oscar Schindler and Sir Nicholas Winton.

Although Traphagan had never applied for the symposium before, she continued her training through monthly Echoes and Reflections specialty seminars, which are also available to the public.

She also plans to attend the symposium next year and noted that the accent has already been selected. “It’s so relevant to our times. It is the destruction of information, propaganda and the burning of books. Former CSC professor Dr. Bruce Mackh will present at the program.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Traphagan said of the symposium, “and opened up my resources for future Holocaust studies!”

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