The Holocaust: the power of personal stories
Conveying the depth and detail needed by our students to fully understand the terrible events of the Holocaust is a complex task, and one our History Department approaches carefully and respectfully.
In order to approach issues surrounding the Holocaust sensitively and effectively in his classroom teaching, History and Legal Studies Teacher Mr Gooley travelled to Jerusalem in January to undertake the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program. Organised by the World Holocaust Center, Yad Vashem, the program is run by leading historians, expert educators and Holocaust survivors. It helps teachers to develop students’ critical thinking and emotional literacy, and to ensure that Jewish victims are given a voice in any teaching of the Holocaust.
In May, Mr Gooley invited Mr Ephraim Kaye – the Director of International Seminars for Educators at Yad Vashem who has over 30 years’ experience of teaching the Shoah - to come to Wenona to talk to our Year 10 History students.
“Mr. Kaye spoke to the students about the need to give the Jewish victims a human face and to appreciate that before the Holocaust they were people with ordinary lives and families, just like us,” said Mr Gooley. “He also emphasised the moral choices made by ordinary people to be bystanders, collaborators or to take a stand and help the Jews, The Righteous Amongst the Nations.
In particular, Mr. Kaye focused on the story of Sir Nicholas George Winton, a British humanitarian who organised the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War. The operation became known as the Czech Kindertransport, which is German for ‘children's transport’. Winton found homes for the children and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. An intensely humble man, Winton never told anyone about what he had done and the world only found out about his work over 50 years later, in 1988. The British press dubbed him the "British Schindler". In 2003, Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for "services to humanity, in saving Jewish children from Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia".
Mr. Kaye’s overall message to the girls was the importance of continuing the memory of events like the Holocaust into the future. Through understanding how such events may have occurred, they can help to promote tolerance and understanding between all religious faiths and nationalities. He also emphasised the duty of the current generation to take a stand against unjust and discriminatory behaviour when they encounter it.
Mr. Kaye was highly impressed by the engagement and knowledge displayed by the Wenona students during the talk, and the insightful nature of the questions they asked. The girls thoroughly enjoyed the visit and made the most of the opportunity to draw on Mr. Kay’s expertise.”
A week later, our Year 10 History students headed to The Jewish Museum in Darlinghurst to learn more about the Holocaust. For Greta, meeting Mrs Jacqueline Dale (nee Feldman), a survivor of the Holocaust was something she will never forget.
“She told us the story of her life as a young girl, fleeing from Poland to France; living in orphanages; taken away from her mother and brother; and about her father who was sent to Auschwitz. She caught a boat to Australia and has lived in Bondi ever since. It is hard to believe that this woman with a big smile and thick French accent had gone through such hardship. She was extremely lucky not to have been sent to any of the labour and extermination camps around Europe!
Standing in the foyer, we looked up at the Star of David, with its beams of light shining above us. On the walls, we could see names of some of those killed in the Holocaust. On the second staircase carved into the stone, I found my name, Greta. I also saw the names of girls at school, at drama club, at swimming squad. Names of girls who perhaps enjoyed the same activities as I do. Instead, their names are listed among the millions killed in the Holocaust. As we went up the stairs, helpful guides took us through the history of the more than 40,000 camps established by Nazi Germany and its allies. The conditions of the camps were horrifying. The prisoners were deliberately fed little portions of food and worked excessively. They were not allowed to practice their religion and were denied basic forms of health care and hygiene. We saw many primary sources, such as the uniforms prisoners had to wear at the work camps, pictures of Jewish people arriving and living in the camps, and belts with multiple holes to accommodate their weight loss. We finished off the day with a seminar given by a historian at the Jewish Museum. She talked about how the Holocaust happened, how Hitler came to power and the politics behind World War Two.
On the bus home, I thought about all the privileges I have in my life. We are born at a fraction in time, in a city of millions, into a family and community that allows us to visit these museums, instead of being a part of the display. It’s important! We need to be aware of our place in society and pay our respects to those that were not as lucky as we are by learning and telling their stories. I know how privileged I am, but I’m also aware of my responsibility to ensure that terrible events of this nature never happen again.”