A class titled Nazi Germany and the Holocaust can accurately be assumed to involve a great deal of violence and hate. In the past week its students have learned about the history of anti-Semitism, explored the political maneuverings of Hitler’s rise to power, and begun to bear retrospective witness to the atrocities committed against millions on account of their race, religion, ideological sympathies, and sexual orientation. Through class discussions, we look at issues at the center of the national discourse of tolerance and peace in contemporary society—gun control, racism, marriage equality, and the death penalty.
However, the manner in which the students have conducted these discussions is itself reason for hope rather than despair. Drawing upon a wealth of individual experiences and attitudes, the class engaged in a thoughtful and respectful discussion. Where some adults might resort to name-calling, vitriol, or ironic dismissal, this group of middle and high school students spoke with compassion and understanding. Day by day, I see their bonds strengthen during class breaks and before instruction. They talk and goof around in ever-new combinations of peers. Lingering laughter and conversation is the only disciplinary issue we’ve had to address—an infraction that is as much a sign of health as it is a minor nuisance.
Recently, the class collectively stretched the canvas that will soon display the art of Rhianon, Maria, Allison W., Mouse, Elias, and Julia. A brief theatrical piece about the life of Anne Frank is waiting for Frances, Allison D., Emily, and Lora to bring it to life. The prosecutorial team of Jack, Carter, Wendy, Tyler, and Anna Beth will soon begin amassing evidence to present in a trial of Adolf Hitler. With the help of defense team Katarina, Dillon, Scott, and Claudia, Lana (VAMPY’s very first black, female Hitler) will attempt to fend off accusations with rhetorical trickery and denial. Mr. Skillern and I look forward to the realization of these projects. We have no doubt that they will be expressions of the diligence, love, and respect each student has already demonstrated in the past week.
Today we’re off to Washington D.C. for a day-trip with a tour of the Holocaust Museum at its heart. Although it’ll be early to rise and late to bed for all involved, it’s sure to be an experience that will make hearts healthier, camp experiences wealthier, and an already wise group of young minds that much wiser.