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Teaching the Holocaust so students are "safely in and safely out" – Stuff.co.nz

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Last updated10:38, March 13 2017


Timaru Boys’ High School history head teacher Dr Jill Harland says learning about how to teach the Holocaust to students in Israel was “life-changing”.

A “life-changing” trip to Israel has revolutionised the way the Holocaust is taught in a South Canterbury school.

Survivor testimonies and new teaching resources were not all that were brought back to the region by a Timaru Boys’ High School teacher.

The trip, sponsored by The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre Yad Vashem and Wellington-based Holocaust Museum of New Zealand, encouraged teachers to consider different perspectives on how to teach about genocide.


Timaru Boys’ High School history head teacher Doctor Jill Harland shows a photo of Kristallnacht, when violent anti-Jewish attacks took place across Germany.

Instead of leaving students with a sense of dejection, history head teacher Dr Jill Harland said she wanted to leave them with a sense of hope for the future.

She spent three weeks based in Jerusalem, attending lectures and visiting historical sites on the weekends, while also meeting with Holocaust survivors and hearing their testimonies.

“You do come back with a different perspective,” Harland said. “You want to be a better teacher.”

She now taught students about the Holocaust using the concept of “safely in and safely out”.

It introduced students slowly and non-threateningly to the material, which could be used to study other genocides and confronting material, she said.

The information was then presented with context and other interpretations to create a holistic perspective.

“It doesn’t leave them with a sense of discomfort and horror”, but it did not diminish the atrocities that had happened, she said.

The build-up of anti-Semitism was presented, rather than a “cut and paste situation”, and it provided a more comprehensive impression, Harland said.

The Holocaust survivors did not reflect on the past, instead they lived in the present with hope, she said.

“Their ultimate revenge is being alive and having children.”

Many teachers were tempted to teach the Holocaust just after Nazism and the Weimar Republic, Harland said..

Instead, she now took her students into the ancient history of anti-Semitism so they understood the growth of hatred towards Jewish people did not start or end with the Nazis.

“Hitler’s strategies were taken from ancient history.”

Her teaching method incorporated discussions about Holocaust deniers, the role of bystanders as well as what happened in countries, such as Lithuania.

“Sometimes there’s only a focus on a victim and a perpetrator, and we need to also consider bystanders,” she said.

“You learn about the whole event through different people’s eyes.

“It’s not just the Jewish perspective.”

Harland shipped home dozens of resources, including a series of historical photographs with annotations which depicted the rise of Nazism in Germany from 1933.

One of them depicted the Kristallnacht, which loosely translates to the “night of broken glass”, when violent anti-Jewish attacks took place across Germany on November 9 and 10, 1938.

Including context did not justify the actions, but it provided a more holistic way of understanding why they happened, she said.

Harland has considered adding a component of art and literature study to her teaching.

“I want to find out more about it … it’s incredible, some was produced in ghettos and death camps.”

The hope people felt was left behind in their artworks, she said.

Not all New Zealand schools teach students about the Holocaust.

Ministry of Education early learning and student achievement acting group manager Glen Johnson said teaching it was not a requirement for schools.

“New Zealand schools are self-governing. Therefore they determine the content of their teaching and learning programmes and how those subjects will be taught in consultation with their school community,” Johnson said.


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Teaching the Holocaust so students are "safely in and safely out" – Stuff.co.nz

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