The Annual Summer Teachers Summit concluded last week after an intense three-day dive into how to teach students to stand up to injustice.
The Baltimore Jewish Council, Jewish Museum of Maryland, Maryland State Department of Education and the Macks Center for Jewish Education co-hosted and presented this professional development opportunity for teachers in the area of Holocaust education. The conference lasted from Aug. 3 – 5 and was streamed live on Zoom.
This year, each session provided educators with resources to teach and encourage their students to be upstanders, or the opposite of a bystander.
Presenters broke the summit into informational sessions that lasted about an hour each. Many of these were followed by breakout sessions, where teachers could discuss a topic and share ideas in a private Zoom room.
Watchers joined from all over the world including the Philippines, Australia and Portugal, as well as from across the country such as Arizona, Virginia and, of course, Baltimore.
Because there are so many topics associated with the Holocaust, each year the summit has a different theme. In the past, it has covered rescue and resistance and propaganda, with last year’s theme being Women and the Holocaust.
Ilene Dackman-Alon, JMM’s director of education, kicked off the summit the morning of Aug. 3. She explained that this year’s summit aimed to deepen participants’ understanding of human behavior during the Holocaust and help students realize they have choices.
“[We want to] compel our students to speak up when they think and feel wronged,” Dackman-Alon said to the almost 60 people who joined that morning.
After opening remarks, Holocaust educator and child survivor Miriam Klein Kassenoff took the spotlight. “Instead of turning on each other, why don’t we turn toward each other? That’s what being an upstander is,” Klein Kassenoff said, as she spoke on her own experiences and the power of upstanders.
Following Klein Kassenoff, participants watched a short documentary called “Weapons of the Spirit,” about survivors hiding in the French village of Le Chambon during the Holocaust.
Paul Kutner, historian and DC International School teacher, then spoke and offered tools for teaching the documentary. Kutner showed the educators how to use Google Earth’s satellite to give students a tour of the actual streets students of Le Chambon would take. He also showed the teachers tips on how to analyze victims’ diaries, using the diary of survivor Peter Feigl. Kutner pointed out the disappointed tone, what readers can infer from him being able to speak German to his friend, and what was missing from the diary.
Then, to everyone’s joyful surprise, Kutner revealed that Feigl himself was actually on the Zoom call. Watchers turned off their cameras and joined in a Q&A session with the Holocaust survivor.
“That was quite a special moment for us,” Dackmon-Alon said.
The second day opened with a welcome from Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC. He stated that BJC is the advocacy arm of the Jewish community, and what better type of advocacy is there than education?
Tuesday’s first session was led by Christina Chavarría, program coordinator in the Levine Institute for Holocaust Education at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This and the other Tuesday morning sessions focused on the point that even in the face of injustice, people had choices.
For example, USHMM historian Edna Friedberg and program coordinator Kim Blevens-Relleva told the story of one teacher who quit her job rather than teach Nazi propaganda. This teacher then created an underground network to help children escape and joined a resistance.
“Over the course of three years, [she] is credited with saving the lives of over 2,000 Jewish children and many adults,” Blevens-Relleva said of the teacher, who was in her 20s at the time.
They also shared accounts where young children stood up for their peers against authority figures. “Children and teenagers have agency and can be empowered. And the values that shape them can drive them for the rest of their lives,” Friedberg said.
As with any event these days, COVID-19 came up. Friedberg noted that these materials are more difficult to share virtually, as a teacher cannot gauge how the classroom is responding to materials. However, there are other tools to diversify learning around the Holocaust.
For example, CJE librarian Jessica Fink shared book resources in a later session. She even set up accounts for every participant at destinydiscover.com to find tools they could bring to their classroom.
Later, during a presentation on why choices matter, one survivor, Kurt Messerschmidt, shared a testimony of a moment during Kristallnacht where he, as a child, saw people watching as soldiers forced an old man to pick up tiny glass shards on the street. While he does not believe the crowd supported the act of cruelty, “the disapproval was only silence, and silence is what did the harm.”
Another highlight from the final day was a testimony by Lola Hahn, JMM board member. Hahn’s mother and aunt were both workers in Oskar Schindler’s factory in Poland.
In the final session, teachers were treated to a virtual tour of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights and the Anne Frank Memorial in Idaho.
“We hope our days together as a community of learners [helped] you as an educator be more comfortable in bringing more Holocaust studies into the curriculum for your students,” said Jeanette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust Programs for BJC.