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Holocaust history training for Loudoun teachers emphasizes making the right choices

The conference in Washington, D.C. incorporated workshops tailored around different experiences during the Holocaust, tours of the museum and guest speakers, one of which was a Holocaust survivor. Photo/ushmm.org/information
Three Loudoun teachers took part in a Holocaust history training this summer from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum educators.

The three-day conference in Washington, D.C. incorporated workshops tailored around different experiences during the Holocaust, tours of the museum and guest speakers, one of which was a Holocaust survivor.

"Our mandate is to ensure the permanence of the memory of the Holocaust, and our strategy is to prepare teachers to teach this subject and give them the tools and confidence they need to do that," said Peter Fredlake, the director of teacher education and special programs at the museum. "We believe a deep study of the Holocaust invites us to ask better questions about ourselves and our own history."

The program is part of the museum’s ongoing effort to equip educators throughout the country with the knowledge and skills to effectively bring Holocaust education in their classrooms.

Amy Boehl, a seventh grade U.S. history teacher at Seneca Ridge Middle School, signed up because she wanted to fill her own knowledge of what happened so that when kids ask questions she would have more to give them. She said she wanted to do it justice, because it’s not something that can be glossed over.

"It’s such a hard topic to teach seventh graders, it’s even difficult to talk about with adults,” Boehl said. “The conference really gave us tools and information on how to talk about these sensitive subjects and how to make it impactful, but not traumatizing.”

Boehl recommended the training to teachers who have the Holocaust in their curriculum to enhance their own understanding and stay on top of what they’re teaching.

“The more gaps you can fill for your students, the better off they're going to be,” she said. “They ask really good questions and there’s only so many times you can say 'I don’t know.'”

One of the biggest takeaways for Boehl was the collaboration that was involved and how neighbors and friends of victims made the wrong decision to work with the Nazi movement.

“It didn’t just happen overnight and these people weren't brainwashed, they made choices,” Boehl said. “We can do a lot more than what we think that we can.”

After going to the workshop, aside from having deeper knowledge of the Holocaust, Boehl wants to emphasize that people did make a difference through making the right choice to help the resistance movement.

“When you see something, say something,” Boehl said. “It may not always be comfortable, but if more people would’ve stood up for what’s right, maybe we wouldn’t have seen such devastation.”

According to Fredlake, the Holocaust happened in part because individuals who are sworn to protect citizens, such as law enforcement and educational institutes, failed to do so.

"We expect people to reflect on the history, especially about their own place and responsibility in society," Fredlake said.

Boehl plans to bring the idea of personal choice and its impact into her classroom.

"So that students can see that despite these horrible things there was still people doing good things, risking their lives and making better choices.”

Students today are still faced with hardships like bullying, especially in middle school, and Boehl believes bringing these lessons will make a difference.

“This can teach them that even though that’s happening they can still make positive change, even if it’s just something small.”

Shauna Dickson, a home-bound instructor in Ashburn, and Jetta Walls, a U.S. history teacher at Smart’s Mill Middle School, also participated in the training.

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