It all started on a cold day in Lincoln in 2009 when my friend Jenny Troester invited me to go to the NeWP Winter Writing Marathon with her. She introduced me to her fellow Nebraska Writing Project friends, we meandered around downtown Lincoln, exploring museums and coffee shops, and met for dinner and a read around. After 4 years of teaching, I felt like I had finally found a professional organization to which I belonged. Shortly thereafter, I applied for the Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institute, and 2 days before its end, an opportunity sort of “fell” into my lap. Erin DeHart, another NeWP member, was looking for teachers to accompany her and her preservice teacher students to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. And so begins my story.
As a young Anthropology student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1999, I was intrigued (some may say obsessed) with the study of genocide. I desperately wanted to understand why something like genocide still existed in this world. I studied the history of genocide and modern case studies of genocide. I read every book and watched every film I could find. Fortunately, I had a few teachers who were just as passionate about human rights as I was, and they challenged me to keep digging, not necessarily for answers, but rather for knowledge, so I could ask better questions. They lit a fire in me, one that still burns steadily.
After graduating and beginning my first years of teaching, I continued to pursue knowledge in the context of social justice. It became a driving force in my classroom. I believed that my students could make more meaningful connections to what they read when they could connect it to the human story. So, when I heard of Erin DeHart’s trip to Washington, I jumped on board. In the fall of 2009, I went to the Nebraska Holocaust Conference in York, then signed up for “Place Conscious Writing” through NeWP. After 7 years of teaching and submitting a proposal, my school added “Literature Of The Holocaust” to the senior English electives. Despite the fact that I had studied the Holocaust and genocide for so long, I felt compelled to continue my own learning journey in order to do justice to the culture and content I was going to be teaching. So, in 2010 I attended an Echoes and Reflections workshop through the Institute for Holocaust Education in Omaha. Then, in 2011, after visiting Dachau Concentration Camp as part of a European excursion with local students and community members, I spent a week in Lincoln attending the Holocaust Memorial Library satellite seminar. By the end of that summer, as I had heard some teachers say, I was “Holocausted Out”. But, school started, and it was my first year teaching Literature Of The Holocaust; I wanted to be ready.
Looking back now, I remember feeling like a new teacher all over again that first semester. Despite all the knowledge I had gathered over the years, I felt inept. I felt like I couldn’t possibly honor what I was teaching about to the extent it deserved. But, we learned together. We read stories, documents, journals, and memoirs. We wrote, and we wrote, and we wrote. Sometimes, we cried as we “opened a vein” in the pages of our reflection journals. It’s hard not to, really. In March, my students had raised enough money to travel to the USHMM over our Spring Break, and in April, we presented at the Nebraska Educational Technology Associate spring conference in Omaha. It was a year of learning, for all of us. Fortunately, because of the fine people I’ve met through NeWP, I have had a lot of support and encouragement. It is that network of collaboration and passion that helps keep that fire burning. Now, I am getting ready to take my third group of “Remembrance Project” students to Washington DC, and even though this will be my 6th visit to USHMM, I still experience excitement, humility, and sorrow each time I go. But, experiencing that WITH my students is what makes it “new” each time, and it is totally worth all of the hard work.
Last winter, I gathered the courage to apply for the 2013 Holocaust Memorial Library Summer Seminar. I received a phone call in April telling me that I was accepted into the seminar, and in July, I packed my bags and headed for Columbia University in Manhattan. It was that moment, when I sat at a table in Holocaust survivor Olga Lengyel’s home with 25 other educators from around the country, that I felt a deep sense of humility, the humility one feels when they once again realize how much more there is yet to learn. In that two weeks, we explored the roots of this work, Holocaust Education. We analyzed, scrutinized, processed, and debated…and, we wrote. It was there, ironically, that I filled up the last pages of my “Holocaust Journal” that I had begun in 2009 when I went to the USHMM with Erin DeHart. Symbolically, it was also there that I began a new one.
This year I was asked to help facilitate the 2014 Holocaust Memorial Library satellite seminar here in Nebraska. In preparing for my role as a new team member, I traveled to Chadron in October for the 2013 Nebraska Holocaust Education Conference, and then I decided to apply for the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teacher’s Program. Excitingly, I found out just last week that I was accepted into that program! So, after teaching the seminar next summer, I will once again pack my bags and fly overseas with teachers from around the country who share my passion for this work. Together, we will travel to many significant touchstones in Holocaust History, learning from survivors and scholars along the way. I can’t wait to fill more pages in my journal. More likely than not, I will need to buy another one.
Last week was Thanksgiving. Though a few days late, I wanted to thank the Nebraska Writing Project for all it has given me over the last 5 years. Every step I’ve taken as a Holocaust instructor has been made possible because of the opportunities and people of the NeWP. I honestly can’t imagine NOT being part of such an amazing organization. So, next summer, I invite you to join us for the 2014 Nebraska Satellite Seminar On Holocaust Education. You will find the brochure attached. Please, consider applying for it. The work that Holocaust Education does in our young people’s lives (and in ours as teachers) is amazing. And, true to the statement on the brochure, “There is No Future Without Memory”.