Holocaust Studies

A USF instructor attended a fellowship in New York to learn about how to teach the Holocaust responsibly and effectively.


By Daylina Miller

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 3, 2011) –  For one University of South Florida professor, responsible teaching of the Holocaust is the kind of education students need to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.


To help her broaden her teaching horizons, Tara Payor, a graduate teaching associate at USF, participated in an intensive two-week fellowship in New York at the Memorial Library with other educators from around the country to share promising practices of how to approach Holocaust and genocide studies.


Holocaust survivors, rescuers and surviving family members served as speakers during the July event. The group also toured the Jewish Heritage Museum and United Nations and attended a Shabbat dinner and witnessed the rituals and reading of the Torah scrolls.


Payor said it’s important for educators to understand the history and context of the Holocaust, as well as Jewish traditions and culture before, during, and after to help students connect with the victims on a more personal level.


“When we teach Holocaust literature, we want our students, as much as possible, to get inside the narrator more than just ‘Oh, Anne Frank was close in age to me’,” Payor said. “We want them to really get inside the mind and soul of that person.”


There are a number of programs, courses and research initiatives at USF that focus on the Holocaust and genocide. In fact, USF Libraries houses the Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center, which features impressive historical collections and databases, research, teaching tools and community outreach. The library is affiliated with the Florida Holocaust Museum.


Also, social sciences professor Michael J. Berson is hosting a Sept. 1 workshop that will focus on teaching the Holocaust. Yad Vashem and the Anti-Defamation League will present “Echoes and Reflections: A Multimedia Curriculum on the Holocaust,” as well as provide training on how to use the program in the classroom. The presenter will be Ephraim Kaye, director of international seminars for educations in the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. To register for the event, which is limited to 40 attendees, contact Berson at berson@usf.edu.


Coming off her fellowship in New York, Payor said her aim is to equip current and future educators with the confidence to responsibly teach the Holocaust and other genocides.


“I want to have a curriculum to present to them so they don’t go to these classrooms not teaching the Holocaust just because they’re scared,” Payor said. “I feel responsible to help them thoroughly understand the history. But I still get nervous sometimes. Am I going to do this justice? I have great respect for this work and I want to help other people feel as confident in teaching it as possible.”


Plus, Payor said, Florida legislature mandates that the Holocaust be taught on some level of education, though most educators, she said, don’t know that. Those who do teach it often resort to materials they find on the Internet, many of which aren’t accurate or thorough.


“There’s a lot of stuff on the Internet and it’s easy for any of us to fall into the trap of going to Google and printing out the first lesson plan that you see,” Payor said.


Payor is not Jewish herself, she was actually raised Catholic, but says she felt drawn to Jewish traditions because of a Jewish uncle who married into the family. She had so many questions about the Holocaust and so few answers.


“I didn’t gravitate to [teaching the Holocaust] of the grim and gore that we tend to saturate our students with but I’m a very inquisitive person,” Payor said. “There are so many things about the Holocaust I won’t understand but as a child it was that desire to understand why and how this could of happened. And the more I’ve learned about it, the more I’ve wanted to know.”


The fellowship was made possible through The National Writing Project and Holocaust Educators Network, which is supported by the Memorial Library where they spent a large part of their time in New York.


Her time spent there involved a lot of writing activities. At the Jewish Heritage Museum, the group broke out to study photographs, artwork and artifacts and write poems, stories from the victim’s point of view and other forms of creative writing.


“Writing can help us make meaning, it can help us cope, help us articulate all the things we are feeling inside that we are not ready to verbalize yet,” Payor said. Writing is also a good way to share information since people think and speak in stories, she said.


Another highlight of Payor’s trip, a visit to the UN, allowed Payor and other fellowship participants to meet with the organization’s special advisor on the prevention of genocide. She said the best part about this department is that they’re not focused on what happened in the past but how to prevent it from happening again.


“You can get weighed down in only studying the history,” Payor said. “We have to understand the history and it’s important to memorialize and commemorate but we also have to use that understanding to move forward.”


Though USF offers no specific courses in the College of Education instructing students on how to teach the Holocaust to their own students one day, Payor said that in the fall, a seminar called Echoes and Reflections will be offered to students in the college to share her experiences from her fellowship.


“I know I have a very solid opportunity to share Echoes and Reflections with our future teachers,” Payor said. “I want to share my own personal experience and things educators from around the country have found promising and effective.”


Check out the video of the visual narrative of the 24 educators from across the country that participated in the fellowship.


Daylina Miller can be reached at 813-500-8754.