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November 07, 1986 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-11-07

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Dr. Sidney Lutz, Dr. Sidney
Bolkosky and Betty Ellias: extra

High School Outreach

Non-HMC volunteers are preparing
a curriculum for Oakland County


Special to The Jewish News

very single stu-
dent ought to
study the Holo-
caust — in depth,"
asserts Rev. Jim
Lyons, one of the many commu-
nity leaders who have taken their
hats off to Oakland County In-
termediate Schools for their deci-
sion to make a ten-lesson unit on
the Holocaust an integral part of
the world history course in the
county's 43 public high schools in
The Holocaust curriculum is
new in more ways than one. Its
unique format and untraditional
approach have already won an
enthusiastic response from several
leading Holocaust scholars, and
may well make be, says Dr. De-
nnis Klein, of the Anti-
Defamation League in New York,
a prototype for future curricula.
Klein calls it "a step in precisely
thp right direction" — away from
the "inadequate and wrongly fo-
cused" education which has pre-
dominated the past.

"There has been virtually no
effective teaching of the Holocaust
in American secondary schools,"
agrees Dr. Sidney Bolkosky, pro-
fessor of history at University of
Michigan-Dearborn, who is co-
author with Southfield teacher
Betty Ellias of the new cur-
riculum. Often schools and
teachers have shied away from
teaching the Holocaust at all, be-
yond a passing reference to it as
part of World War II. They have
been reluctant to tackle such a
sensitive and difficult subject and
afraid of giving offense, Bolkosky
explains. When the Holocaust has
been taught, it has usually been
presented, he says, in a way
"which tends to shock and numb,
not cause students to approach
the subject critically and self-
Lists of atrocities, films of
mass graves and naked bodies
shown without sensitive discus-
sion or the necessary, comprehen-
sive historical background, and
concentration only on the victims
and chief perpetrators have often
left students feeling assaulted,
confused and even bored, he as-

serts, expressing a view shared by
many educators.
Teachers and survivors visit-
ing schools, have noted that even
Jewish children don't want to
hear about it any more. "They
don't want to hear that to be a
Jew is to be a victim," says Bol-
kosky. And the frequently heard
responses — "It's terrible but it
could never happen again" and "I
would never have behaved like
that" — show that the crucial les-
sons of the Holocaust have not
gone home.
Over-simplification has led to
some basic misconceptions, says
Bolkosky, leaving students with
the impression that the Holocaust
was the work of a comparitively
few insane racists, monsters de-
voted to Hitlerism, and with "no
real understanding that 12 mil-
lion people, ordinary people —
builders, engineers, architects,
lawyers, doctors, teachers, rail-
road workers — were actively in-
Many subtleties and com-
plexities have barely been touched
on, he adds. People did not behave
in the stereotypical way which

has been presented. There were
"anti-Semites who hid Jews be-
cause they hated the Germans
(one poster in Holland said, 'Stay
away from our damn Jews'); Nazis
who hid Jews because they could
not accept the extent of the brut-
ality; and millions, who in apathy
and indifference, perpetrated per-
secution because it was 'just a
"When you see the bodies, the
horror, you think 'Monsters did
this!' And there were monsters,"
says Bolkosky. "But there were
also normal, everyday people. One
survivor described Auschwitz
guards as 90 percent normal and
10 percent monsters. We have to
look at the 90 percent."
Accordingly, the curriculum
focusses equally on victims and
perpetrators. It is also unusual in
that it draws some conclusions,
"not usually an educationally
sound procedure," says Bolkosky,
"but in this case it seemed the
best instrument to prevent it hap-
pening again."
"We progressed to Au-
schwitz," he declares. Examining
how "objectifying, neutral lan-
guage" on the one hand and "glib,
emotive propaganda" on the other
obscured the real purpose and
virulent progress of prejudice, will
make students aware that "the
real threat is not the overt acts of
terrorism and violence, but the
insidious, bureaucratic, euphemis-
tic • legislation," which conceals as
it achieves "the erosion of lib-
Bolkosky's own scholarship
and his "wonderful ability to
make the subject vital and alive"
is remembered vividly by those
HMC docents whom he trained.
He is seen by fellow scholars and
associates as one guarantee of the
curriculum's effectiveness.
Another guarantee, col-
leagues say, is Betty Ellias' sense
of what will work in the
classroom, derived from many
years of interest in Holocaust
education and of practical experi-
ence as an English teacher at
Southfield-Lathrup High School.
"One major concern has been
to keep it as simple and as clear
as possible, to build step by step
in a definite sequential order
which will make it easier to
teach." The language has been

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