Giving Jewish voices credence dramatically changes lesson told
Holocaust education in Dallas is changing.
Traditionally, the Holocaust has been taught through the pictures and propaganda left behind by the Nazi perpetrators, ignoring their unwavering mission to dehumanize the Jews. The Jews in turn are presented as the eternal victims, helpless in the face of the oncoming force of Nazi hatred. The focus is the huge number of people lost: faceless, nameless bodies fed to the fires.
The timeline starts in 1933 and ends in 1945, as if their victims had no existence outside of the barbaric cruelty the Nazis dealt them.
“By allowing the Nazis to tell our story,” says Dr. Deborah Fripp of Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, “we have unwittingly allowed them to continue their agenda of dehumanization and to make us feel eternally victimized.”
Now there is a new narrative, telling the story from the Jewish point of view. This new way of teaching uses the documents, the pictures, the literature, the art, and the music that the Jews left behind, as well as the testimony of the survivors. The story begins before the rise of the Nazis and continues beyond the liberation of the camps.
A narrative based on the Jewish point of view is possible because the Jews in the Holocaust left behind documents to tell what really happened. They knew that if they did not document what was happening, then their story would be left to the perpetrators to manipulate.
“When we tell the story from the Jewish point of view,” says Fripp, “we see a different story than the one we are used to. It is a story of people who held onto their humanity and their Judaism in the face of chaos and terror.”
This new narrative starts before the war, turning the victims into living people with stories to be told. Students see that these were regular people who met the oncoming terror and chaos as best they could. People who strove to hold onto the things that were most important to them. For some that meant underground schools and synagogues; for others, that meant theaters in the ghetto and poetry study groups in the camps.
The old narrative ended in 1945, leaving the survivors as nameless near-corpses in the camps and as terrified children cowering in hiding places or lying about their identities. The new narrative continues after the war, and students come to understand the path their ancestors took from victim to survivor. Students see how the survivors stepped out of the ashes and the bunkers, found a way past the anger and the sorrow, and rebuilt their lives. Students also come to understand that anti-Semitism did not stop at the end of the war. The continued anti-Semitism in Europe after the war drove many survivors back to what had been concentration camps and then on to Israel and America. They come to understand that anti-Semitism continues even today.
Fripp learned about this new narrative while attending a seminar at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, along with Violet Neff-Helms, a teacher at Kol Ami. When they returned, they designed and implemented a comprehensive new Holocaust education program for Kol Ami based on this new narrative. The following year, Kol Ami received a grant from the Center for Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas to bring the program to other Dallas synagogues. So far, Adat Chaverim, Temple Shalom, and Temple Emanu-El are implementing or planning programs, with more to come.
Fripp and Neff-Helms have also developed a new way to commemorate and celebrate Yom HaShoah: a seder ceremony that commemorates the events of the Holocaust, akin to the commemoration of the Exodus in the Passover Seder. “This Holocaust Seder aims to recognize that once again evil people tried to kill us, but they failed.” Fripp says. “We are still here.”
More about the education program can be found at www.TeachTheShoah.org and about the Seder at www.HaShoahHaggadah.org.
Yom HaShoah Seder
Congregation Kol Ami will host a Yom HaShoah Seder at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 23. It is a special ceremony developed by Deborah Fripp and Violet Neff-Helms. Dinner will be provided. Ages 13 and older
Contact Fripp for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-239-0839.