VHS Visits Holocaust Museum

By on December 20, 2018

New Jersey mandates that students are taught about the Holocaust every year. For most students, that learning happens in a classroom. But a large group of Verona High School students recently had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust through a free field trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City that happened thanks to a graduate of VHS.

Amanda Lanceter, a VHS ‘05 graduate, has worked at the museum since 2012, and was promoted to the position of director of curriculum and instruction this fall. The museum is both a memorial to those who died in the Holocaust and a place to teach the dangers of intolerance. It reached out to Jessica Schram, a VHS history teacher and, as a result, VHS was able to take 180 juniors and seniors to the museum on December 3 and then 155 freshmen a few days later.

At the museum, students were able to simulate an interview of a Holocaust survivor thanks to the technology in a new exhibit called “New Dimensions in Testimony“. Students could use a special microphone ask questions of Pinchas Gutter, who had been in five Nazi concentration camps. The technology picks up on the key words in a question and the large screen then displays one of the more than 1,500 answers that Gutter has recorded. When one Verona student asked if he had a family, and Gutter responded that his mother, his stepfather, and his sister all died on the first day they arrived at the concentration camp. He survived that first day only because his father insisted that he lie and say he was 18, rather than 11. (You can watch the technology in the video clip below.)

“Hearing survivors’ stories through the interactive ‘Dimensions in Testimony’ made the impact of the experience come to life rather than reading about the Holocaust through a book,” says Jenika Ying, a VHS junior. The students also interacted directly with a survivor: One of the tour guides, Sami Steigmann, is a Holocaust survivor from Ukraine. Mr. Steigmann endured Nazi medical testing and has since become a motivational speaker.

There was one exhibit that had five pillars covered in pictures of children and families. The museum wanted to focus on the honoring some of the unique stories of survival and peril. Below the exhibit, a visitor could access a book with biographies of some of the individuals in the pictures.

Gigi Petti, a VHS junior, says that she enjoyed the trip over a traditional lesson on the Holocaust because of “the live testimonials and interactive exhibits.”

Ms. Schram hopes that this trip will spark a more dynamic conversation in classes during discussion about the Holocaust and broaden students’ perspectives. She also teaches a Holocaust and Genocide class. She believes her class is important as she feels obligated to teach students that when we act as bystanders during events like the Holocaust, there are serious consequences.

“The experience was very enlightening,” says Michael Sluck, another VHS junior. Like his classmates, he found it, “really interesting to see these things we had been learning about in class come to life in the museum, and the sheer tragedy of it all.”

Through December 31, the Museum of Jewish History is also presenting the Yiddish-language version of “Fiddler On The Roof” starring another VHS graduate, Ben Liebert. The show will move to an Off Broadway theater in 2019.

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