Creating Continental Links to Preserve Holocaust Testimonies
During the last week of June, Dr. Karen Shawn, associate professor of Jewish education at Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, welcomed 18 students to her intensive, four-day graduate-level course, “Teaching the Holocaust Through Literature and Film.”
Among the 18 was one last-minute arrival, Alejandra Nudman, who had traveled more than 5,000 miles from Santiago, Chile, to Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus in Washington Heights to fulfill both a professional and personal goal. As Project Director for Fundación Memoria Viva, a Chilean-based non-profit, Nudman is committed to preserving the memories of the 10,000 to 13,000 Holocaust survivors who, according to The Claims Conference, fled to Chile to escape Nazi persecution from 1933 to 1940.
Nudman met Dr. Shawn in May 2018, when the latter visited Santiago for a series of lectures delivered to Holocaust educators. “We fell in love with Dr. Shawn when we met her,” said Nudman. “The clarity of perspective she brought to the topic of Holocaust education was what we needed. I knew then I had to get to New York for her course.”
The sense of urgency and passion that brought Nudman to New York City underlies the mission of Fundación Memoria Viva. Established in 2010, the organization’s small staff of trained interviewers and archivists have been racing against time to recover, document and disseminate survivors’ testimonies. (The only other attempt to collect and catalogue survivors’ accounts was made in the late 1990’s by the Shoah Foundation.) To date, Nudman’s organization has collected more than 130 testimonies, which form the core of Living Memory, a 600-page volume published in 2016 that consists of selected testimonies illustrated with photos, personal artwork, poetry and archival material.
Nudman’s latest project is developing educational course material for distribution to both religious and secular schools in her home country, and this is what inspired her to make the long journey to Dr. Shawn’s class. There, among like-minded educators, she hoped to find ways for her organization to better prepare their efforts to raise Holocaust awareness.
As Dr. Shawn has pointed out, Holocaust educators face two distinct challenges: How can they impart historical information about a past event while at the same time ensuring that the event has continued emotional relevance to generations removed from it. These challenges are addressed by Dr. Shawn’s pedagogical approach in which she seeks to “humanize history.”
“Teaching the Holocaust Through Literature and Film” is designed to help Holocaust educators choose age-appropriate literature and testimonies, as well as other materials, to engage middle- and high-school students in an introductory study of the Holocaust. We analyze methodologies and materials so that students can understand the Holocaust through the thoughts, words, actions and reactions of those who were there and of those who live in its shadow,” remarked Dr. Shawn.
Dr. Shawn added that “Alejandra was a gift to our class, because her fresh perspective challenged our assumptions. She shared with us the experiences of survivors living in Chile and how different those experiences are from American and Israeli survivors.”
Nudman noted that the four intense days she spent time with Dr. Shawn and fellow Jewish educators will help further Fundación Memoria Viva’s mission in Chile “by enhancing the quality of educational material we are developing and giving us new insight into how to raise awareness and understanding of the Holocaust through the power of individual stories within an historical context.”