Monday night I attended the University of Hartford Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies Awards Evening. It was an evening of acknowledgment for hard work, academic rigor, teaching and learning, and appreciation for the donors who made it all possible.
Avi Patt and Matthew Rubin presented the Joseph Zola Memorial Holocaust Educator Award to me for my efforts on my manuscript Scraps of Hope: Surviving the Holocaust.
The organizers of the evening asked me to share a few words about the project, so I thought I would share them here as well. This is what I said:
Before I tell you about my project, I would like to thank Dr. Freund for insisting that I apply for the award when I attended last fall’s Holocaust Educator’s Workshop. I would also like to thank the committee for seeing the potential in this project. However, mostly I would like to thank my mother for answering all my many questions and for inspiring me to write this book in the first place.
I set out to do a relatively simple task. Tell my mom’s story. She is a Holocaust survivor and generously tells her story at local schools. A few years ago she came to my daughter’s class and told the children what she went through as a child during three years of Nazi occupation in The Netherlands and two concentration camps. As I listened, I watched the children listen and it occurred to me that she won’t be able to tell the story forever. Somebody needs to write this story. I looked around the room hoping to find a likely candidate and soon realized that the only one to do it was me.
I never liked history when I was a student. Unlike the students who were just presented so many awards and scholarships, I didn’t see the value in studying what had already happened. I wanted to learn about the future. I wanted to study science.
Now I love history. I became hooked when I was doing some online research. I discovered a letter in the Yad Vashem archives. It was from the Ministry of Armaments to Eichmann’s office asking for my grandfather, by name, to be released from deportations. Eichmann refused this request because he was clearing the Netherlands of all Jews. This letter and its reply were presented as evidence during the Eichmann trial. Now history became personal, very personal.
I am writing a true story about a real family and embedding history lessons within it. It reads like a novel but teaches like a textbook. The story is told from three points of view – mother, father and child. Each of these emphasizes a different perspective – the innocence of childhood, the need for a mother to protect her children, and a father and husband who will use all his business savvy and international relations to save his family.
The book is based on my mother’s memories, my great grandfather’s diary, and the documents I have uncovered in my research. It tells about Amsterdam in the early 1940’s and the increasing Nazi restrictions and my family’s relocations. It tells about their being sent to the camps, life in the camps and their eventual liberation and resettlement.
For example – there is a chapter about my mother’s Uncle Bobby trying to escape to England. This chapter touches on the idea that Jews were expelled from their jobs and had trouble obtaining visas. It tells how there was a bounty paid to ordinary citizens who turned in Jews to the Gestapo.
Each chapter has vocabulary words, highlights key ideas or events of the Holocaust and will have discussion questions. I used primary source materials whenever I could, such as family photos, letters, and documents.
The Shoah Foundation has made survivor testimonies available to teachers on their iWitness site. My mother’s testimony is included, and I plan to link segments of her testimony to chapters in the book. This way students can read a chapter, watch my mother describe the same events and then discuss in class.
A final piece of the project is my blog. The blog includes my personal thoughts about the research and interesting anecdotes about the people I have met and connections I have made while working on the book.
Teaching about the Holocaust is important. We must do it to show today’s children and future generations what happens if prejudice and hatred go unchecked. One bit of evidence that this is important is that this blog has had views from 83 different countries around the world. To the teachers in the room, I want to say keep doing what you are doing. It’s important. Thank you.
I was not the only award winner that night. Several University of Hartford undergrads received scholarships and The Fishman Family (no relation) Fund sponsored an essay contest for lower and middle school students. Many of these youngsters were in attendance and had fun with Professor Avi Patt’s Jewish trivia contest.
Area teachers received professional development awards. These awards were presented as follows: Korzenik Memorial Professional Development Award made possible by The Chase Family Foundation went to Grace Barrett and Garrett Covino of the F.S. Bunnell High School and Kerry Hartley and Erin Kellogg of Canton High School. The Joseph Zola Memorial Professional Development Grant made possible by the Zola and Rubin families was presented to James Loughead of the E.O. Smith High School and Troy Stair of the Classical Magnet School.