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Holocaust, India Workshops Aid Teachers

Published: August 17, 2015

Workshops on India and the Holocaust drew dozens of teachers from all over Southern California to CSULB this summer.

The Eva and Eugene Schlesinger Endowed Teacher Workshop on the Holocaust was led by History’s Jeff Blutinger, the Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair for Jewish Studies, and Dave Neumann, director of The History Project, while the Teach India workshop was led by Neumann and Tim Keirn, director of the Yadunandan Center for India Studies.

This year’s Holocaust workshop brought to campus 30 primarily high school teachers from across the Los Angeles Basin. Workshop participants received lectures from CSULB scholars like Blutinger, as well as leading international experts, such as Samuel Totten, the author and editor of numerous monographs, textbooks and articles related to genocide pedagogy.

The teachers also received teaching resources. The Anti-Defamation League provided its curriculum handbook, Echoes and Reflections, which contains lesson plans for teaching the Holocaust, and includes video excerpts of survivor testimony. USC’s Shoah Foundation introduced teachers to its interactive database of Holocaust testimonies from thousands of Holocaust survivors. The workshop participants had a docent-led tour of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, the oldest Holocaust museum in the United States. Neumann introduced teaching guidelines from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“One challenge of teaching the Holocaust and genocides in general is how to do so appropriately, which includes thinking about how not to do it,” said Neumann, a member of the university since 2005.

Participant response has been positive.

“We always get outstanding feedback from this,” he said. “That’s a tribute to the quality of the presenters. Jeff does an outstanding job with the talks. We have at least two Holocaust survivors speak, including Gerda Seifer. This is always a powerful experience for teachers.”

Neumann feels the Holocaust workshop underlines the topic’s continued importance.

“It is crucial to learn about and ‘bear witness’ to important historical events like the Holocaust,” he said. “But participants also develop an awareness of the ongoing relevance of the subject. The Holocaust and other genocides have followed broadly similar patterns. Other genocides, besides being historically significant, have dramatically shaped communities in Southern California, including the Armenian and Cambodian communities. And human rights scholars use historical patterns of genocide to track ongoing areas of concern around the world.”

Because this workshop is endowed, it will continue in perpetuity.

“The legacy of the family of Eva and Eugene Schlesinger has largely made that possible,” he said. Each year, while the core focus on Holocaust history remains consistent, the specific themes change and the workshop adapts from year-to-year so it continues to meet the needs of teachers and generate interest.

The Teach India workshop demonstrated another History Project partnership, this one with the CSULB Yadunandan Center for India Studies.

“The history and culture of India are unfamiliar to many teachers,” Neumann explained, and this workshop gives them the tools to teach this topic well.”

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Gerda Seifer, a Holocaust survivor, participated in the workshop.

Participants heard scholarly talks, discussed special readings and had the opportunity to develop curriculum materials. This year, participants heard a series of scholars on ancient and medieval India, including Phyllis Herman from Cal State Northridge, Mughda Yeolekar from Loyola Marymount and Nile Green of UCLA. They were also assigned to read the entire Bhagavad Gita and teachers visited the Jain Center in Buena Park. Jainism is an Indian religion founded in the 6th century BCE by Mahavira, best known for its ethic of non-violence.

Neumann believes workshops like Teach India respond to a changing America.

“The fact that there is a Jain temple in California—when there are fewer than a million Jains in the world outside of India—testifies to the region’s growing South Asian community,” he said. The relevance of the workshop also stems from the increasing role of South Asia in the world at large. “India is growing, not only in terms of population, but in terms of power and global influence.”

The Teach India workshop reflects the efforts of CSULB’s History Project to provide diverse programming.

“We do a lot with U.S. history, but world history offerings are also important. Teachers have fewer resources to teach about world history, so workshops like Teach India help equip them with valuable knowledge and resources,” said Neumann. In August, the Teach India workshop expanded to Maryland with classes taught by Keirn and Neumann.

One goal of both the Holocaust and Teach India workshops, Neumann believes, is to demolish stereotypes.

“Stereotypes come from superficial knowledge,” Neumann said. “When you come to learn the rich, deep experiences of other people, you learn about coherent worldviews that different from your own. You learn how to respect and appreciate differences. This is a very important part of any workshop.”