Teaching Jewish History to New Generations

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 10:00am

When Casey McClellan ’14 was four years old, she saw The Sound of Music and was horrified at even the sanitized version of Nazi cruelty shown in the film. Now she’s spending part of her senior year educating younger students about Nazi genocide and the resilience of the Jewish people.

The Concord, Massachusetts, native is one of 16 interns working with New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage this semester. After extensive training at the museum, McClellan and a partner make three visits to several middle and high schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “We’re exposing the Holocaust to a population who might not otherwise have heard of it,” McClellan says. “One girl even asked, ‘It started in Germany, right?’ “

Having given an overview of European Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust in the first visit, the team then takes students on a field trip to tour the museum. That is followed by a chance to discuss the experience and how they might help prevent future genocide. 

Neither McClellan nor the museum shies away from the difficult and upsetting content inherent in Holocaust education, but both emphasize the personal stories of Holocaust victims and survivors. “The museum’s message is to remember the Jewish people of that time as they lived, not as they died,” she says.

Since Holocaust survivors are aging and dying, McClellan—a history major—sees the need for young people to step up. “Teaching the next generation of students about the Holocaust will keep the memory of its victims alive and hopefully impart its lessons,” she says.  “Most students have had limited exposure at best to this history, so it’s important work to pass it on.”

No doubt McClellan will advocate that the Holocaust be part of the curriculum in the Little Rock, Arkansas, school at which she’ll work next year through City Year.

—By Emily Harrison Weir