Arizona teachers take unique trip to bolster Holocaust education
PHOENIX – In 2021, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law requiring all Arizona students to learn about the Holocaust and other genocides at least twice between 7th and 12th grade.
It can be a difficult subject to teach, so Professor Björn Krondorfer – director of Northern Arizona University’s Martin-Springer Institute dedicated to Holocaust education – started planning a way to better prepare teachers: a trip to experience some of that history themselves.
“I was able to actually line up 22 experts who are Polish and German,” he explained. “Museum directors, archivists, memory activists, curators.”
In June, Krondorfer took 20 Arizona teachers to see the neighborhoods in Germany and Poland where Jews were imprisoned.
“It took us 15 days,” he recounted. “Every day was intensive walking tours to soak in what it feels like to be in a space that seems so abstract and far away in Arizona.”
To add more context, they followed in the footsteps of two memoirs written by Holocaust survivors.
One of those survivors was Doris Martin – the namesake of the institute Krondorfer heads up.
“We wanted these Arizona teachers to really learn by being actually in the cities, in the ghettos, in the former camps, where those two people survived,” he explained.
It was an intense trip, and in the following months teachers had to figure out the best way to convey what they learned and saw back to their students.
“[Several months after] we had a reunion,” Krondorfer said. “We all came back together here on the campus of Northern Arizona University to spend a full day not only thinking back and reflecting on what we experienced, but they trying to translate it into curriculum units.”
There was also some sad news: not long after the trip, Doris Martin, whose words had guided their travels, died at age 95.
“She passed away on Aug. 3 of this summer, yet another survivor who is no longer with us,” Krondorfer said. “That had kind of a symbolic significance for our teachers.”
Krondorfer would like to organize another similar trip – although he said raising the funding may take a while. Still, he says the effort was worth it, and Arizona teachers will reap the benefits.
“I think everything became real and tangible. … That’s what teachers are taking away from it,” he explained. “I think it will help them to bring alive to their own students that this is not far away in a distant land, but something that can resonate today.”