Differing Voices: Stories of the Holocaust from Various Perspectives: A Lesson Plan and Personal Memorial

By Seghi, Lauren | The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Differing Voices: Stories of the Holocaust from Various Perspectives: A Lesson Plan and Personal Memorial


Seghi, Lauren, The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences


I cannot remember the first time I read about the Battle of Gettysburg or recited the first 40 Presidents in order, but I know for a fact that I have had a great passion for history ever since I was a child living in Virginia. My fascination with the past grew every chance I was given to visit monuments, memorials and battlefields throughout the south. I still enjoy reading about history and watching historical documentaries and so it was no surprise that I fulfilled my dream to become a history teacher by studying at Illinois State University. I wish that my students would have as much enthusiasm about learning as I do when they leave my classroom. In addition, I hope to help my students gain a greater understanding of the relationship between the past and the present and how much history has shaped our lives today.

My grandfather is a Holocaust survivor. He is 81 years old and not, in fact, Jewish, but Roman Catholic. Although I have always had an interest in history, I never felt comfortable asking him questions about his life in Europe. That is until I took a US History class at ISU in the spring of 2006. That particular semester, I was given the opportunity in an assignment to interview a family member who lived through a major event in history, local or worldwide. Needless to say, my grandfather's name was the first to enter my mind and I was thrilled when he agreed to help me complete the assignment. The interview took place on Easter, March 2006, and I listened for three hours as my grandfather told me about his childhood in Poland and how he felt when the Germans invaded his homeland at the age of 11 in September of 1939. I taped his stories for a family memento and spent another three hours transcribing the interview into written form for use in my paper for history class. In the paper, I compared the plight of immigrants from the early 1900s to those who came to America the same time as my grandfather in the 1950s. Overall, I found both similarities and differences in, among other things, the reasons for leaving, the conditions of their trips across the ocean, and the assimilation process.

In the fall of 2006, I took a Holocaust class where we discussed everything from the origins of the Final Solution to Hitler's suicide at the conclusion of World War II. One day in class, we gave presentations on Holocaust commemoration in countries around the world and my professor shared with the class the debate that arose at Auschwitz in 1998 when Polish nationalists attempted to place crosses outside of the camp in honor of members of the Resistance held there during the war. Jews were unhappy about such a memorial, and as a result, the crosses were removed. At this moment in class, I recalled the interview and stories of my grandfather's suffering and was bothered by the fact there was so often a singular story told of the Holocaust in memoirs, history books and classrooms: the Jewish plight. I shared my frustration with my mentor, a historian, and he was astounded by the information I had learned and how precious my grandfather's story was after listening to the interview himself one afternoon. He inspired me to share my grandfather's story in future classrooms or at a conference. From that moment on, I felt it was my goal to have my grandfather's story heard by those other than on a college campus.

When creating lessons, I always try to tie the main ideas around one or multiple sources, allowing students to see history as an ever-changing discipline. I also continually emphasize historical empathy in my lessons by using a great deal of multimedia, including film, music, speeches, slide shows and images. Although I have never officially used "Differing Voices" in a classroom, I have shared the story of my grandfather on various occasions. In the spring of 2007, I taught a "micro lesson" comparing both the Jewish and Polish suffering during the Holocaust using the interview as a major focus. …

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