Grasping horror

BOULDER — Today, the word “ghettoâ€? evokes an inner-city scene of living in the projects or is used as a fashionable slang term.The origin of the word, first used in Venice in 1516 to mean the section of the city where only Jews lived, comes secondary — something teachers must think about when talking to students about the Holocaust.

Tara Raju, an assistant director of education for the Mountain States Region of the Anti- Defamation League, spoke to a dozen participants in a workshop Sunday at the Boulder Jewish Community Center in Boulder.

Raju’s task was not to tell teachers how to teach the Holocaust, but to present a fairly new multimedia curriculum designed by three world organizations in an effort to connect the dots of cultural diversity, intolerance and genocide in both historical and contemporary contexts.

“Echoes and Reflectionsâ€? was a collaborative effort launched in 2005 by the ADL with Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and Yad Vashem, authorities on the documentation and history of the Holocaust.

In 2004, the three organizations began to build a multimedia curriculum with video testimonies, maps, photographs, timelines and a glossary. The curriculum costs about $100 and is available through the ADL Web site, Raju said, but right now the ADL is concentrating on getting it into the hands of educators.

“We’ve definitely let people know we have it,â€? she said. “Our goal is really to get it out there and get people to use it.â€?

This was the third time she presented the material locally; the other two times were in Denver Public Schools, Raju said.

“This is our very first educational conference at the Boulder JCC,â€? director of libraries Froma Fallik said.

Sunday’s attendees included a math teacher from Aurora, a substitute teacher, and a handful of administrators and teachers from Boulder’s Hebrew schools.

“These are lessons that transfer to today,â€? Raju said. “There’s so much information on the Holocaust; it’s so well documented. What this has done is to try to put it in primary source documents, visual history and testimonies.â€?

The curriculum, she said, was designed for middle and high school students, but its approach was up to the individual teacher’s discretion, as he or she knows the students the best and what they can grasp at the age-appropriate level.

Shoshi Krongold Bilavsky, head of the Boulder Jewish Day School, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

“But I don’t know much about it. My mother fled (during the Holocaust), and my father never talked about it,â€? she said. “He died when I was 12. I have pieces, and that is the tragedy.â€?

Bilavsky, an Israeli native, said the culture around the Holocaust was vastly different in the United States, a sentiment echoed by other descendants of survivors Sunday. One man said he was surprised to be asked to speak to a classroom about being the child of Holocaust survivors.

Bilavsky said Israeli children grow up with age-appropriate activities and materials to teach them about the Holocaust.

“I’ve had to readjust to the United States,â€? she said. “But we are making progress, especially after 9/11. There is more awareness (about genocide). It’s OK to talk about it.â€?

That’s the ADL intention — to use the documentation and video testimonies of survivors, rescuers and liberators as teaching tools for the conflicts of today, to show that genocide and mass violence don’t happen overnight.

The Shoah Foundation collected nearly 52,000 videotaped oral histories from Holocaust survivors in the late 1990s to use as teaching tools to overcome prejudice, bigotry and intolerance.

The average length of each video testimony is 90 minutes, Raju said.

The curriculum uses snippets from these videos, each a few minutes long.

“This makes it easy to use, rather than trying to show a movie about the Holocaust that’s an hour and a half long or assigning a book through a week,â€? Raju said. “Most public school teachers have just two or three days to cover World War II, and the Holocaust is a part of that.â€?

She added: “Hearing someone’s story can make the student think of their own story. The reality is this is very personal history for some people.â€?

Said Francine Weaver, a retired Jewish family educator: “You need to try to make (students) own this somehow.â€?

She said students often wonder how personal anecdotes and official documentation, like those from World War II Germany, connect to them now.

“There are other genocides going on today,â€? Weaver said, mentioning Darfur, Sudan and Sarajevo. “It’s still happening.â€?

Participants brainstormed about how to make the curriculum resonate with students, such as asking, “How do you handle stressful situations?â€? or picking up details in the visual histories, given by survivors who at the start of the war were children and teenagers.

“We have to make this relevant,â€? Bilavsky said. “History repeats itself, unfortunately, which is why we study it.â€?

Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at