CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
The Last Day of the 2014 Holocaust Awareness Month - Guest Blogger Kim Klett "BITTERSWEET"
It took me fifty years
to deal with the Holocaust at all. And I did it in a literary way.
is a bittersweet month. While the
weather warms and the flowers bloom, it is also a time of reflection, for April
is Genocide Awareness month. It is a
time to remember, a time to mourn, and a time to make a pledge or take a
high school teacher of a course called “Holocaust Literature,” it is sometimes
difficult to get my students interested in events occurring halfway around the
world, when their attention is directed to the senior prom and their upcoming
Yet it is imperative that my
students learn what is happening, especially after learning of the atrocities
of the Holocaust. It is a common
reaction, especially at the beginning of the course, for students to ask, “But
why didn’t anyone do anything?” I
sometimes ask, “What are we doing today for the people of Darfur or the
Congo?” I am usually the recipient of a
blank stare at this point.
students spend about three months studying the Holocaust before we delve into
the topic of other genocides.They learn
about Hitler’s rise to power, a little about the history of anti-Semitism, and
read many firsthand accounts by people who experienced this horrible time in
read about people in the United States, who saw the headlines and probably
shook their heads and then moved on with their days. They read about people who went into hiding,
including one family that hid in a sewer in Lvov, Poland, for fourteen
months. They read about the ghettos and
the atrocious conditions in which people were forced to live.
read about the camps—labor camps, transit camps, and the six death camps in
hear a survivors speak; In 2011, my students had the privilege to hear Otto
Schimmel, who survived Auschwitz and other camps; Harold Minuskin, who was a child of
partisans; and Stephen Nasser, who survived the camps and held a secret for
many years. Three completely different
experiences, and three incredible men who lived to bear witness.
lessons my students learn from survivors—whether written or in person—are
priceless. They understand why people
said “Never again” after the horrors of the Holocaust were brought to the
world’s attention—horrors that had been there all the time, but that people
chose to ignore.
would be remiss if I were to stop there in my class. For “Never again” did not become a
reality. Genocides continued. Cambodia.
Bosnia. Rwanda. Darfur.
The Congo. And those are just a
few. We haven’t always called them
“genocide,” but they exist, nonetheless.
the unit each semester with hope, hope that maybe a few of the students will
realize that their voices do count. Hope
that they will share the information with others. Hope that maybe they will make a difference,
somehow, some day.
I have seen this happen. Nine years ago,
when I started following Darfur in the news, I realized this was
important. When Colin Powell called it a
genocide, I was happy—somebody finally used the word; now we would have to do
something about it.
attended a rally in Washington, DC, along with about ten thousand others, in
2005. It was there that I received a
green rubber bracelet reading “Not on our watch,” George Bush’s words scrawled
on a memo he received about the situation in Darfur. I vowed that I would not remove the bracelet
until this genocide ended.
passion carried over to my students. I
took a group of students to NAU to hear Paul Rususabagina speak. He said six words that resonated with me: “We
have been bystanders too long.”
bus ride back, a plan hatched. We would
sponsor an event at our school, a concert with local bands and
entertainment. We started planning, and
had a very successful event, attracting over 500 people on a Friday night in
our school’s cafeteria. It has become an
annual event, evolving and changing each year, but one that people
we earn some money to donate to a related cause, such as the Sister Schools
or Doctors Without Borders
(www.doctorswithoutborders.org). But more importantly, we spread
awareness. Students bring their parents
and friends. Those friends bring a
neighbor. That neighbor tells his
co-workers. Just as propaganda about the
Jews spread quickly during the Holocaust, so does information about these
atrocities, when people get involved.
had the roadies from Invisible Children (www.invisiblechildren.com)
do a presentation at our school. I
watched one segment, as 1,100 students and teachers watched intently, and was
so proud afterwards to see them brushing paint on their hands and leaving their
handprint on our pledge wall, promising to make a difference.
still wearing that green bracelet. I
never thought I would have it this long—I really believed that once the U.S.
knew what was occurring, it would be over in a matter of months. I was wrong.
But I am still hopeful. I send
e-mails to my congressman and make visits to his office. I write letters to other political leaders,
and ask my students to do the same. And
I continue to teach.
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Holocaust museum logo for genocide awareness