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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Holocaust Studies

Interesting piece in the NYTimes about a New Jersey playhouse that is running The Story of Anne Frank to sellout crowds of high school students. The playhouse has had to add more and more performances to meet the demand of what will ultimately be 9,000 students viewing the production. Part of the demand, aparently, is due to the fact that New Jersey is one of seven states that requires Holocaust and genocide studies to be taught as part of its students curriculum.

The reporter actually attends the play with a group of high school students, and though the teens seem unfazed by the story's grave subject matter at the start of the performance, by the end, the crowd seemed shocked by the reenactment of Ann Frank and her family's capture by the Nazis.
But despite that — and most revealing about the play's impact on the students — at its end when the Nazi soldiers storm into the Franks' annex without warning, the young audience members let out an audible gasp, and a few even shouted, "Oh, my God!"

That one scene also answered the question of why make a field trip to the theater.
Interestingly, but not very surprisingly, some students revealed in a class discussion after the trip that "they thought Paper Mill was going to do something to end it on a good note". Which is par for the course in most of the canned entertainment of today, and even "reality" TV. it would be interesting to know if these students were jarred by the reality of the story line, and how their backgrounds in the required Holocaust studies affected that.

At least one student, though, was able to see this play as far from a fictionalized retelling. He was asked after the performance if he felt that the Holocaust could happen again:
"Yes," said William Vargas, a student at Lincoln Park Middle School.

When asked why, he thought for a second before giving his answer.

"Why not?" he said plaintively.


Blogger Ger Tzadik said...

I went to public school in NJ. Our holocaust education was very memorable. Besides the obvious reading of Anne Frank and review of some extremely graphic war footage, our teachers also had us watch more recent and identifiable occurances in the US. We watched a movie about the Skokie Nazi incident, and we watched a movie called The Wave (I think) that was about a school teacher who demonstrated how intollerant group think works, after his students didn't believe they could ever be led to act in the same heartless fashion as Germans did.

People may complain about Public Schools, but there are still some good ones out there.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often get frustrated when talking to teens - Jewish and non-Jewish, who are tired of hearing and learning about the Holocaust. I think that this play - which I saw recently at the Papermill - is an excellent way of reaching out to these students who are otherwise so far disconnected from the Holocaust. We need to find more ways like this to reach these kids.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a gentile, quite honestly the most powerful aspect of my public high school education was Holocaust related education. We read Elie Wiesel's Night, Art Spiegalman's Maus, and studied Eichmann's horrible deeds. I couldn't get these horrors out of my mind or heart. As a high school senior I saw Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful and was shocked by one thing- the fact that the horrors of the Holocaust could be perpetuated again. That is something that resonates with teenagers; the tragic reality that "Never Again" has become Again and Again," making Holocaust education all the more essential.

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