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A Symphony of Voices: Exploring Holocaust Education in the Second Language Classroom

Sun, December 17, 4:30 to 6:00pm PST (4:30 to 6:00pm PST), San Francisco Marriott Marquis, B2 (04) Golden Gate C2 (AV)


While teaching the Holocaust can be challenging enough in a traditional classroom, a new level of complexity is added when students learn about the Shoah in a language which is not their own. As the field of Holocaust Studies grows increasingly interdisciplinary and diverse, a growing cohort of educator-scholars are incorporating Holocaust themes and units into their second language classrooms. These unique learning experiences are deeply rewarding for students and faculty alike. Not only do students discover perspectives which might have otherwise been inaccessible through language barriers, but the experience enables students to learn about the Holocaust in the languages in which it occurred, hearing the voices of survivors resound forcefully in their own words. However, such an endeavor is not without challenges. Recent Claims Conference data highlights an alarming lack of basic Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Gen Z: many American students have barely encountered the Holocaust in an English-language classroom, never mind a second language classroom.

Despite this urgent need for quality Holocaust education and the growing number of Holocaust Second Language Educators (HSLE), second language education remains a relatively neglected field in Holocaust pedagogy. While any number of studies present compelling strategies for teaching the Holocaust in history, literature, and even visual culture frameworks, little support exists to address the unique concerns of the Holocaust second language classroom. This lacuna is troubling, especially in smaller institutions which may not employ Holocaust specialists in traditional fields such as history or Jewish Studies. In such cases, HSLE occupy a particularly vital role on campus, often serving as students’ first—or only— point of contact in Holocaust Studies.

In this presentation, I explore the stakes, challenges, and rewards of teaching the Holocaust in a second language classroom. By drawing on my own diverse experiences as a HSLE, I outline strategies that HSLE can employ to fuse the best of contemporary language learning and Holocaust pedagogy practices. I end by looking to the future, suggesting how HSLE and faculty in traditional Holocaust teaching disciplines can work together on campuses to provide student-centered Holocaust instruction which is both meaningful and multidimensional.