21st Century Perspectives on the Holocaust

By: Effie Kleinberg
from Bnei Akiva Schools

Real-World Learning

Subject(s) of entry:
History, Tanach

Blended Learning, Experiential Education, PBL - project based learning

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
11, 12, High school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
9, 10, 11, 12, High school

Through film, poetry, stories, Holocaust writings & Responsa, survivor testimony, dialogues with professors and University students, and presentations from Canadian and European dignitaries, this course engages students in a deep experiential analysis of the Shoah.

Entry Narrative

Course Goal: This course will blend together history, Jewish thought, and contemporary perspectives as we attempt to grasp the enormity of the Shoah and its impact on the Jewish people and the world. Some questions that will be grappled with and presented include: Where was God? Where was man? How does the media and the film industry portray the Holocaust today? How is the concept of “Never Again” being challenged in our day and age? What is our responsibility in the 21st century vis-a-vis memory and dwindling eye witness accounts?

Course Outline:

  1. Hatred Now, Hatred Then- Holocaust in the Media and The History of Hatred- An interdisciplinary study of antisemitism and hatred throughout Tanakh and Jewish History as a prelude to the events of the Holocaust
  2. The Bystander- Through short films, dialogue with University students, and readings, this unit focuses on the role of the bystander in the context of the Holocaust and its implications for modern day crises around the world
  3. Faith- A unit that analyzes the writing of the late Prof. Eli Wiesel and Rabbinic responses to the Theological challenges posed in the aftermath of the Holocaust
  4. Survivor Testimony- The course had 5 Holocaust survivor presentations spread throughout the semester in addition to a number of critical readings which raised some of the challenging questions about memory, reliability of witness testimony, and the charge to the next generation to carry on the stories and history of the Holocaust victims
  5. Holocaust Denial/Post-Holocaust Debates- This unit was naturally intertwined with the charge of Holocaust denial in the modern era and focused on truth, and students explored hot-button questions such as should we/can we forgive the Nazis? Should America have bombed Auschwitz? Would there have been a State of Israel if the Holocaust had been avoided? Did American/Canadian Jewry do enough to pressure their governments to help European Jewry during WWII? Is it appropriate for Jewish youth to visit the murder sites of the Holocaust today?

Course Content:

  1. Films: Triumph of the Will, Architecture of Doom, Pigeon, The Hangman, God on Trial, Denial (Deborah Lipstadt Ted Talk)
  2. Poetry/Short Stories: To Look At Anything, I Met Them(Student Reflection Sample #1, Student Reflection Sample #2),  The Name – What’s in a name? (Accompanying Slide Deck, Sample of Student Reflection #1, Sample of Student Reflection #2), Open Letter to a Bystander Prelude (York University Visit and Sample Student Reflection), Excerpt from NightWiesel- NY Times (Reflections on Faith- Sample #1, Sample #2)
  3. Slide Decks: Holocaust in the Media(List of News Links), The History of Hatred, Grappling with God- Faith and the Shoah, Yom HaShoah Slides
  4. Docs: The History of Hatred: #1- Pharaoh- the development of genocidal-exterminationist policies, #2- Lavan- The facade of the host nation, #3- Eisav/Amalek/Haman- Age-old hatred/antisemitism, #4- Balak & Bila’am- The Jewish Conspiracy Theory, Discussions on Faith: Faith Quotes Activity, Wrestling with God throughout Jewish historySurvivor Eyewitness Testimony: Viewpoint #1- Caroline Schaumann (Emory University), Viewpoint #2- Christopher Browning (Remembering Survival), Viewpoint #3- Meili Steele (University of South Carolina)Student Response Sample #1, Student Response Sample #2Telling the Truth about the HolocaustTelling the Truth Response Page (Sample Student Response), Post-Holocaust DebatesPost-Holocaust Debates Links (Student Sample), Final Presentation/Reflection- Instructions (Student Sample)

Course Experiences:

  1. New Dimensions in Testimony at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Center
  2. 5 Holocaust Survivor Presentations: Pinchas Gutter, Stephania Sitbon (Student Article in School Newsletter), Howard Kleinberg (Video Clip), Joseph Mandel, Gerda Frieberg (Photos from presentation)
  3. Student Led Yom HaShoah Program at Ulpanat Orot (Yom HaShoah Program Script)
  4. Visit to York University to engage in dialogue with non-Jewish University students studying the Holocaust (Photos and Student Reflection)
  5. Skype conversation with Dr. Wolf Kaiser (p. 189) to learn about the state of Holocaust Education in Germany today

Entrant Bio(s)

Rabbi Ephraim Kleinberg is the Director of Educational Technology and Religious Growth at Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto. He teaches Gemara, Tanakh, and Jewish Thought alongside supporting and training teachers in the integration of technology in their classrooms. He is currently completing his EdD in the area of Educational Technology in the Judaic Studies Classroom. Previously, Rabbi Kleinberg held teaching positions at the Ramaz School and at SAR High School.