Wiesenthal Education Weekly - For Educators, Parents & Students
July 9, 2020
Calling all Educators!
4 Questions With..
Kellie Grammer | Hon. B.A., M.A., M.T.
I am excited to begin my career as an intermediate and senior teacher of History and English (and any other subjects I have the privilege of teaching!) Prior to my time at OISE I graduated from McMaster with an Honours BA in History and English. I went on to earn a Masters of Arts in the field of History at Queen’s University in which I completed my final cognate focusing on the effects of hunger and starvation on culture during the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. I look forward to becoming a teacher to share my passion for history and learning.
1. How has your Jewish upbringing influenced your teaching and learning throughout the years?
Coming from a family of educators (including my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles to name a few), I have always been encouraged to value education and ask questions. My grandfather narrowly escaped Nazi occupation, leaving Poland in 1939. Learning about the Holocaust throughout my life, as well as the many other instances of oppression and resilience in Jewish history, I was always compelled to investigate the reasons why groups of people were oppressed and the means through which people were able to resist. My personal connection to this history has helped me to expand my scope, to focus on diverse histories of social injustice and to contemplate how these experiences in our past can help us to create more compassion, and critical examination of our present situation.
2. After completing your M.A in history, what inspired you to become a teacher?
I really began my Masters degree knowing that I wanted to be a teacher afterwards. As I have previously mentioned, my mom has been an educator for most of her life. Having grown up around her stories of lesson planning and sharing my family’s interest in history I was definitely inspired by her passion and my own love of teaching. While I was fairly sure that I wanted to be a teacher, I decided that I first wanted to spend a year diving deeper into academia, focusing solely on history before learning how to become a teacher. This ended up being the best decision! During my year at Queen’s I met some of the smartest peers and teachers and was pushed to think more deeply and ask more questions about topics I had a more limited knowledge on. For example, after taking a course on Canada’s racist histories, I became more aware of the importance of looking past accepted narratives that we easily consume, especially in relation to Black and Indigenous peoples. While I have known I wanted to be a teacher for a long time, my time in my Masters helped me hone my skills and broaden my approach to history. I look forward to bringing these skills and resources into my practice.
3. As an academic of history and now a newly trained history educator, what advice can you give to already existing teachers that are looking to better teach history to their students?
Well I think the first thing I would do is ask for some advice from them! I know I come in with a lot of new ideas but most history teachers I have come across are already doing really engaging and interesting lessons. I think something that a lot of young people need to do before we “invent the wheel” so to speak is learn from those that are already confident in their craft. But one of the things I have found to be the most impactful is the importance of finding the pockets of history or stories that are authentic to the students’ lives. History offers some of the best opportunities for students to be creative and explore topics that are of distinct interest to them while introducing them to peoples and experiences they have never heard of. While we have to cover the big topics – WWI, WWII, the constitution, etc. – there are so many ways to guide students to look at the smaller or more dynamic parts of a story and to engage with the parts of history that excite them and make them curious. Whether someone is more interested in the battles in a war or the experiences of women or minorities in that same war, there is room to find ways to let the students explore their interests and teach one another in turn.
Something else I think that is vital to engaging with history is to seek out authors and voices that are authentic to the experiences you are trying to teach and help students find pieces of whatever history that connect to them. No textbook or even a lecture is going to convey an experience better than those who either were there or have personal connections to the past in question. There are so many resources out there from websites, to primary sources that when engaged will help to establish the most nuanced and authentic exploration of history. Many teachers I have had the privilege of being mentored by are already doing this and I am excited to continue their work and build on their open-minded approach.
4. How do you think that COVID-19 is going to impact your pedagogy as a new educator?
I honestly am curious to find out. I am in an interesting position where I will begin teaching and crafting my pedagogy in the wake of COVID-19. While I am a little hesitant about how teaching and education will change in the next few months and years (I am not the biggest fan of online teaching) I am hoping to find ways to still create connections with all my students – whether in a physical or virtual classroom. I think that the heart of good pedagogy or good teaching is just showing your students that you care about them and about what you are trying to teach. While it may be challenging to teach figure out how to transition many of my ideas for lessons online, I hope that I can find a way to make those bonds with my students and to share my passion no matter the medium.
Learning & Teaching the Holocaust
Learning and teaching the Holocaust can be a complex task for many educators. While it is clear that the Holocaust is an important period of history that requires much examination, and certainly a place within our curriculum, it is also clear that teachers need to be equipped with the correct resources to teach the Holocaust to students. While teaching and learning about the Holocaust can be difficult for many educators, strategies can be employed to best teach such sensitive subject matter to school-aged children and youth. FSWC’s education team is here to support your teaching and learning. We urge educators to engage in their own process of Holocaust inquiry to understand its significance and how it can be translated into the classroom best. Holocaust education can be integrated into several subjects including but not limited to, History, Civics and Citizenship, Canadian and World Studies, Canadian and International Law, Social Sciences, Humanities, Law, The Arts, Language, Interdisciplinary Studies, Science, and more.
Our education team is devoted to giving teachers the opportunity to explore how to adequately, effectively, and appropriately integrate the Holocaust into these subjects, debunk several myths associated with the Holocaust and Holocaust education, be provided with fundamental resources for further learning, and have the opportunity to collaborate with other students to turn their knowledge into practice. While it is important to note that simply nobody can know everything about the Holocaust, we hope that our resources will provide the fundamentals for educators to engage students in a meaningful learning process about one of the most horrific periods of human history. In the wake of a new period of social justice, it is clearer now than ever that all educators need to encourage students to thi about the past to better help them make sense of the present and shape the future actions.
The Future of Holocaust Testimony
“How many of you have ever seen 6 million of anything at one time?” This is a question we regularly pose to grade 3-5 students in our Simon’s Story workshop. The answer is always the same; they cannot comprehend what a number that large looks like. I tell the students that the population of the whole province of Ontario is about 14 million people. I then ask them to consider what it would look like to take away roughly half of those people. That is how many Jewish people died in the Holocaust.
Here at FSWC we understand first-hand how daunting it can be to approach a topic like the Holocaust in a classroom, particularly with younger students. The anecdote above lists just one of the many teaching practices we employ in our workshops. The most effective teaching practice by far is personal testimony. As Educators, we provide dates, places, times and numbers. Someone who was there and who experienced it can fill in the emotional content – what it felt like; what the experience was like.
Right now our students are fortunate that they still have the opportunity to hear a Holocaust survivor tell their story. The day will eventually come when that is no longer the case, at which time taped video testimony will need to step up and fill in. FSWC’s Never Forget Me website features a collection of Holocaust survivors sharing their stories. These 10-15 minute videos are free to use in the classroom or at home. Each survivor story is unique in their own way, whether in Auschwitz, the Kovno Ghetto or a hidden child, each story shows both the horrors of the Holocaust and the strength of the human spirit to survive unspeakable circumstances.
Check out NeverForgetMe.ca here.
The Real History behind Hunter’s “Operation Paperclip”
There has been a surge of interest in the post-war history of Nazi hunters like our namesake, Simon Wiesenthal since the release of Amazon Prime’s popular series Hunters. While increasing public engagement with this history is important and, of course, integral to what we as educators do every day, we also recognize the need to differentiate fact from fiction. One of the major plot-lines of the series is an FBI agent’s discovery of Operation Paperclip. As the series continues, viewers are given an intimate look into this secret operation planned and executed by American Intelligence officials to bring Nazi scientists to America in the years following the Second World War and the Holocaust. While the TV show does play with and frequently overstep the boundaries of historical accuracy, the basis of their depiction of Operation Paperclip is absolutely based in historical fact.
Originally termed Operation Overcast, the name was later changed to Operation Paperclip after an internal leak. This operation began in the fall of 1944, a few months after the landing at Normandy, yet still months away from VE Day on May 8th, 1945. The operation began when Allied troops began uncovering secret caches of documents and weapons exposing the vast network of Nazi research, experimentation, and scientific production. These discoveries included underground stores nerve agents and bio-weapons, detailed plans in rocket engineering and nuclear bombs, as well as preliminary studies into space exploration. As they uncovered more and more examples, secret US intelligence agents who worked within the troops started to realize how useful this arsenal could be in the hands of the Americans.
However, the physical documents and laboratory results were not enough. In order to understand and build on this science in American labs, they needed the Nazi scientists who led the programs themselves. There was the ever-present tension and fear that if the Americans did not recruit these scientists, the Soviets certainly would. In the impending shadow of the Cold War, top officials in the US found that eventuality unacceptable. It is worth noting that the race to “collect” Nazi scientists was not only between the Soviet Union and the US—French and British were also participating in this morally corrupted arms race for these “rare, chosen minds.” For at least a century prior to the Second World War, Germany had built a reputation as the world leader in innovation, engineering, and science. In the aftermath of the war, this long-standing status of perceived German intellectual superiority certainly influenced the Allied response of acquisition rather than arrest. However, it is worth noting that in some cases, American companies who brought in these supposed “vital” Nazi experts were actually disappointed with their inferior levels of technical design and industrialization.
In order to make it socially and morally acceptable to bring these criminals back to America, top officials began rewriting the history and personnel files of these incoming Nazi scientists. One of the most prominent individuals was Werner von Braun. In American history, he was credited with a key figure in bringing Neil Armstrong to the moon in the Apollo missions. However, a deeper dive into his past clearly shows how this man’s past was intentionally sanitized. Not only was he an ardent Nazi back in Germany, but was even a member of the SS. Von Braun was in charge of a facility that used slave labour to build V2 rockets in his underground facility. It is documented that he personally hand picked incarcerated prisoners from nearby concentration camps to work at his facility, which means he was intimately familiar with the horrific conditions in which victims lived.
Another prominent figure was the Nazi chemist Dr. Walter Schreiber. He was the Surgeon General of the Third Reich and considered to be Heinrich Himmler’s right hand man on his personal staff. His work in advanced chemistry helped with the development and production Sarin gas, a chemical that continues to wreak havoc and misery in conflict zones today, most notably Syria.
Other recruits were scientists, doctors, and engineers involved in medical experimentation on concentration camp prisoners as well as in building bombs used on civilian populations in London and Antwerp. Ultimately, this program brought around 1,600 Nazi scientists to work in some of the most prestigious fields of innovation, science, and defense in the United States of America. For Allied leaders, they saw this “retrieval” of German and Austrian scientists as a form of “intellectual reparations” for the losses they suffered in the war itself.
There were those who protested against this program, which was reported publicly as early as 1946. Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein both openly opposed this program. However, it was not until 1979 that an official “Nazi hunting” program was initiated by the Department of Justice to “identify, de-naturalize, and deport individuals who participated in Nazi- and other Axis-sponsored acts of persecution.” However, many of these men, some of whom were even listed as war criminals in the original Nuremberg Trial proceedings, worked and lived in the US as free men until their natural deaths.
Human Rights @ Home
FSWC educators will facilitate one-hour programs via Zoom. Public workshops take place from 3:00pm - 4:00pm EST Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Contact email@example.com to register today. Zoom invitations will be sent out prior to each workshop.
What Our Education Team is Reading & Watching
FSWC's Education Team is constantly working to broaden their collective knowledge. Here's what we've recently been reading and watching:
Stay in Touch
Although FSWC's Education Team is practicing social distancing for the health and safety of themselves and those around them, you can reach us remotely at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org