Report from Nazi Germany and the Holocaust: Not Your Average History Class

Jana LaRue

by Jana LaRue

When people hear that you will be teaching or taking a class called Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, their first reaction is typically a sardonic, “Fun!” as their faces twist in discomfort and they try to change the subject. Luckily, VAMPY students are not afraid to tackle such an important and difficult topic.

Carolina Wheeler reads Night during Study Hall.

This is not your average history class — in this course, students take the facts and events from the past and learn to think critically about the present, comparing past wars to contemporary wars, past atrocities to modern atrocities. The students learn to be empathetic and engage in healthy and civil debates, which, in this current climate of divisiveness and polarization, are more crucial now than ever.

As I write, the students are beginning to work on their final projects. Some will write and perform in a play about four teenagers whose lives were cut short by the Holocaust, an exercise in empathy as they step into a role that puts them in the shoes of someone their age who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Some will act in a mock trial to either legally prosecute or defend Hitler, practicing critical thinking and debate skills. Some will design and create an educational mural project which will be shown alongside 21 others in the Murals of the Holocaust exhibit that has toured museums around Kentucky and Indiana for the past two years.

Ja’Kiyah Rutledge paints “Why” on a panel for the mural project.

For this year’s mural, the students have decided on the subject of Identity in the Holocaust in order to emphasize the many kinds of people who were affected and to show that the victims had normal lives before they were victims — lives as doctors, school teachers, shop owners, children, and more. The students have already put a lot of work into designing the mural, and I can’t wait to see their vision come to fruition.

Watching these students tackle this topic gives me hope for the future because they are demonstrating empathy, civility, and wisdom well beyond their years. These are the kinds of young people who can make Never Again a reality. I can’t wait to see them grow from here and continue making the world a better place.

Phoebe Wagoner and Emma Simpson work on the Mural Project