Have you ever wondered how history itself is made? Though we often talk about individuals and groups “making history” by making certain types of contributions to society, less frequently do we talk about the complex process through which historians construct their accounts of the past. During American Archives Month this October, we have a chance to explore the central role of archives in shaping our perceptions of the past, the various forces that determine the materials and voices included in a given archive, and how this insight can enrich the way we think about historical materials and even produce our own.
This April during Genocide Awareness Month, eminent Holocaust scholar Lawrence L. Langer shared a number of provocative insights from his latest scholarship with Facing History staff. In Dr. Langer’s new book, The Afterdeath of the Holocaust, he raises critical questions about the prevailing narratives and language used to characterize the Holocaust and Holocaust survivorship. In particular, he poses challenging questions about the meaning of survival and urges his readers to face the losses and profound suffering of victims and survivors without the sentimentality that he feels predominates. As scholars throughout the field of Holocaust Studies continue to grapple with these complex questions, Dr. Langer contributes a challenging perspective that ultimately calls for commitment to unvarnished truth telling about the depth of loss and suffering borne by victims and survivors themselves. This April and all year long, we at Facing History are also sitting with these rich questions and commitments.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Julia Mayer, author of Painting Resilience: The Life and Art of Fred Terna—a new biography that explores the life of one Holocaust survivor after liberation and the skills required not just to live, but to thrive. In this interview, Mayer discusses the evolution of her lifelong relationship with Fred; vital lessons that she has learned from him about the power of lifelong learning and enduring in the face of suffering; and the continuing urgency of amplifying the stories of Holocaust survivors today.
Genocide Awareness Month each April is an annual period of remembrance that sheds light on the extremes of human behavior, surfacing the evil, altruism and resilience of which human beings are capable. As we sit with the strong emotions that this reflection elicits, there is also a rich opportunity to think critically about the specific historical and contemporary conditions under which genocide has occurred. Below are 10 classroom resources that educators can use to unite heart and head in their instruction on genocides past and present:
Genocide Awareness Month every April is an important time to draw our attention to the victims of genocides that are ongoing in the contemporary world, that may yet happen, and that have already taken place, leaving an indelible mark on individuals, communities, and nations. However, Genocide Awareness Month is also an opportunity to recover and amplify the stories of people who, despite being targeted by perpetrators, have refused to be victims and resisted against all odds.
During Genocide Awareness Month this April, we would like to draw educators' and parents' attention to Facing History’s rich array of teaching resources on genocide. But we also invite you to deepen your own learning with these 7 brand new titles written by scholars and memoirists grappling with the nature of genocide, its impacts on people around the world, and the acts of resistance and humanity that persist amid horrific circumstances. These books range in format from survivor testimony and multigenerational biography, to accounts of historical upstanders and scholarly analysis of how we represent and teach about genocide itself.
Language can be alienating. Words with strong associations often force us to take positions of opposition, rather than seek understanding. This has happened recently, when detention centers along the U.S.–Mexico border were termed “concentration camps.” The response was foreseeable: the term has become so strongly associated with Nazi deportations and killing centers that any other use of these words can feel insulting. Used in a contemporary context, the words themselves have the power to cause pain, seeming to diminish the suffering of those who experienced or survived the Holocaust.
In a recent interview, I spoke with acclaimed writer, educator, rabbi, and scholar Ariel Burger about the task of the educator on Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—and every day. A devoted protégé and friend of Elie Wiesel, Burger is the author of Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom.
KS: In your bio, you note that a major personal transformation that you underwent in your young adulthood has had a defining impact on your work and that this moment was meeting Professor Elie Wiesel. What did that meeting and relationship teach you?
AB: I think there are things we all go through at certain ages and for many of us, during our teenage years, we start asking very important and fundamental questions about who we are, what’s our role in the world, how can we make a difference, and also why does the world not make any sense, morally, ethically. Our deepest intuitions about the world don’t match up with the reality of how people treat one another.
Commemorated with rituals and traditions, Yom HaShoah—or Holocaust Remembrance Day—helps us pause to focus on the lessons of history—painful, brutal history. In most communities, observations will feature presentations from Holocaust survivors or their children, remembrances in the flesh and—through their stories—living reminders of the exclamation, “Never again!”
As we celebrate Earth Week, it might seem obvious that ecological thinking and aims are always aligned with moral behavior and compassion. But that isn’t always the case, and it certainly wasn’t the case in Weimar and Nazi Germany where the field of modern ecology emerged.