November 15, 2019

Digitizing the Shoah

A conference on the importance of Holocaust education focused on training teachers to make better use of the Internet revolution. “A lot of information has been made available with the advances in technology,” said Stephen Feinberg, director of national outreach for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, co-host of the conference held at Chapman University in Orange.

“Because of this, we felt that it was essential to teach teachers about how to best utilize it. Teachers who are passionate about what they teach make better teachers. It’s that simple.”

The three-day symposium, “Technology and the Teaching of the Holocaust,” served as an intellectual gathering point for 120 Southern Californian teachers and school administrators, who participated in the March event.

This was the second such teacher forum on Holocaust education; the first was held last year at UCLA. It was started at the request of area teachers, who wanted to improve their teaching methods and their own understanding of the subject, and learn about available local resources.

“It’s important to show these teachers that there are support systems around them to help them instruct students,” said Feinberg, who even while being interviewed would go and offer his organization’s support to other teachers. “Teachers are being asked to teach about the Holocaust, and you have to prepare them.”

Although many of the events offered at the forum were tried-and-true presentations such as films, lectures and testimonials from Holocaust survivors themselves, the focus of the conference was on the emergence of technology in teaching about the Holocaust. All of the lectures incorporated high-powered PowerPoint presentations, while individual workshops focused on how best to use computers and online archives to make Holocaust education a more interactive learning experience.

There was also a direct satellite link-up to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, where the museum staff taught participants how to test the validity of the abundant information available online.

The event was greatly assisted by its location. Workshops were concentrated at Chapman’s Beckman Hall and Argyros Forum, buildings fully equipped to make the organizer’s digital dreams a reality. Marilyn Harran, director of Chapman’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education, enlisted the school’s education department to make the event truly teacher-friendly. “Teachers model lives, and every teacher connects to about 40 students, who connect to even more students,” she said. “True education happens to one person at a time, and it becomes like a stream that turns to a river that turns into an ocean. Conferences like this help start the process.”

Nearly every participant stayed the length of the conference, bonding in workshops and taking home with them an array of resources ranging from lesson guides to nine full-length posters highlighting artifacts on display at the museum. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., underwrote the cost of the substitutes who filled in for the participants.

In the end, teachers emerged with a renewed understanding of both the issue they seek to teach, and their importance in contributing to its remembrance.

“As time goes on, it’s almost inevitable that the Holocaust will be relegated to a footnote in history,” said George Martí­nez, a 25-year-old history teacher at Pecks High School in Long Beach. “It’s our job as teachers not to let it become that.”