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An open trunk.

One of six Holocaust teaching trunks available for loan to middle and high school teachers at the U's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Trunk tales: U center offers Holocaust teaching tools

U center offers Holocaust teaching tools

By Pauline Oo

Published on April 16, 2004

With a title like Tunes for Bears to Dance to you'd be forgiven for thinking this children's book carried a delightful tale of forest animals doing the polka. However, you'd make no such assumption if your eyes fell on its cover. A shadowy figure towering over dead bodies with a sledgehammer can only foretell a story of evil. Tunes for Bears to Dance to is one of 33 books in the University's Holocaust Middle School Trunk, which carries the theme "Investigating Human Behavior." The trunk also holds laminated posters and videos with the same focus--choices a person or a group made during the Holocaust and how their choices affected their lives and the lives of people around them. The U's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies bought this trunk along with five others from the Florida Holocaust Museum last summer. "Our center was able to buy these teaching trunks with a $24,000 grant we got from the Claims Conference [or the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany]," says Vicky Knickerbocker, outreach coordinator. "Each trunk is the size of a locker trunk and weighs 70 pounds. And we bought them with the intent that they would be loaned out at no cost to middle and high school teachers in Minnesota so they could teach about the Holocaust, and genocide in general, more effectively."

April 18 is Holocaust Remembrance Day

The day commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and serves as a reminder to all of us of what can happen when bigotry, hatred, and indifference reign.

"While there are obvious religious aspects to such a day, it is not a religious observance as such," states the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Web site. The date, recognized internationally, comes from the Hebrew calendar and corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on that calendar-the date on which Israel commemorates the victims of the Holocaust.

The six trunks carry classroom sets of two or three major pieces of literature--for example, 30 copies of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl or Friedrich--in addition to just a few copies of other books. Knickerbocker says the quantity is varied based on the book and to give teachers the flexibility to use material as they wish. But just in case they are overwhelmed by the contents of the trunk--all $4,000 worth in each trunk--the U's Holocaust center provides curriculum guides and offers trunk training classes to give the teachers an idea of how they can use the materials. Teachers can borrow a trunk for up to a month. For Mark Lagergren, who teaches Holocaust studies to all seniors at Central High School in Norwood, many of the items in the high school trunk complement the selection of readings, movies, and plays he uses over the nine-week course. This quarter, his students are required to choose a book, video, or document from the trunk and prepare a "response essay," a PowerPoint visual presentation, or an oral presentation.

Genocide: book reading and discussion

Eric Weitz, University associate professor of history, will discuss his book, A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation, on Wednesday, April 28, at 2 p.m. in the U of M Bookstore at Coffman Memorial Union on the Twin Cities in Minneapolis.

In his book, Weitz examines four cases of genocide--Soviet Union under Stalin, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, Cambodia under Kymer Rouge, and Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic. Using trial records, memoirs, and other sources, Weitz uncovers the similarities and differences of each genocide and addresses why they occurred and how we can prevent genocide in the future.

The event is free. For more information, see U of M Bookstores.

"My hope [by borrowing the trunk] is that the students will have a better understanding of the Holocaust," he says. "[And that] by seeing all the different sources, they will be enlightened." In addition to Lagergren's classroom, the trunks have traveled to schools in New Ulm, Buffalo, and Rochester, to name a few. "They're so popular," exclaims Knickerbocker. "All six of them have more or less been out since January 1." The popularity of the trunks has spurred Knickerbocker and her colleagues to start a teaching trunk with homegrown elements. "Minnesotans and the Holocaust" will feature books and artifacts related to Holocaust survivors and camp liberators from the U.S. Army living in Minnesota. "We have a philosophy in Holocaust education: it's inconceivable to teach about 6 million [but] it's much more conceivable to teach about one or two," says Knickerbocker. "If you learn to identify with or relate to one of the victims you make that personal connection." To learn more about the U's Holocaust Teaching Trunks, visit the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

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