EDITOR'S NOTE: This program has the full support of Catholic officials, from the USCCB to the Pope. Auschwitz is supplanting Calvary with their assistance.
Fellowship gives teacher the chance to learn more about the Holocaust
By SARAH BENSON
The Kansas City Star
“I want the kids to think about, ‘How can I make a difference? I can’t just be a bystander.’ ”
Teacher Kimberley Klein
For a seventh-grader, history can be boring.
There are dates to memorize, historical figures to remember and, sometimes, huge numbers to wrap your mind around.
Like this one — 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust.
But Kimberley Klein, a language arts teacher at Curé of Ars Catholic School in Leawood, teaches more than cold, hard facts.
“It’s not just a number,” she said. “It’s a person with a name, a person with a face.”
Klein was recently named an Alfred Lerner Fellow by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that provides financial assistance for elderly or needy people who helped Jews during the Holocaust.
The organization also shows educators how to better teach the Holocaust.
As an Alfred Lerner Fellow, Klein recently went to Columbia University in New York City for an intense academic seminar taught by Holocaust survivors and scholars.
Thirty-four educators from 12 states and two European countries — Croatia and Poland — participated in the program.
Even though she has several degrees, Klein said she’d never prepared so much for a course. Before she even set foot in New York, Klein had pored over 1,300 pages of assigned reading. But the most valuable information Klein gleaned from the program, she said, came from the accounts of Holocaust witnesses.
There was the German Jewish woman who said that as a girl, during the war, she couldn’t go to school because it was too dangerous. But a Catholic nun visited almost every day to continue teaching her, even though she was of a different faith.
And then there was the Holocaust survivor who said a Catholic priest saved her life. She still visits him once a year.
There were also countless farmers who hid Jews in barns or basements to save them from concentration camps.
“It’s very humbling to hear someone say ‘I appreciate what someone did for me,’ ” Klein said.
Klein was the first recipient of the Eduard Sonder Scholarship, which paid the program entrance fee. The scholarship was funded by two women whose grandfather, Eduard Sonder, died in the Holocaust. Sonder’s life insurance policy funds the scholarship.
Stanlee Stahl, JRF executive vice president, said Klein was chosen to receive the scholarship and become an Alfred Lerner Fellow because she was impressive on paper.
But, more than that, Stahl said, “there was a passion there that came through between the lines.”
Stahl said she was also surprised to find a teacher with such a thorough Holocaust unit in a Catholic school in a town with a relatively small Jewish population. She said most Alfred Lerner Fellows come from the East or West coasts, with only a handful of applicants from the Midwest.
Klein was nominated to be an Alfred Lerner Fellow by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. She serves on the center’s teaching cadre.
Klein says her passion isn’t just for history — it’s for using history to better the present and the future.
“I want the kids to think about, ‘How can I make a difference? I can’t just be a bystander,’ ” Klein said.
Klein’s students read the newspaper and do community service projects, and they do their own research into the Holocaust.
Klein also uses her Holocaust lesson to teach basic curriculum. For example, students are supposed to be able to identify persuasive writing in seventh grade. Klein’s students analyze WWII-era German propaganda and how it affected public opinion at the time. Klein said that helps her students to become independent thinkers.
Since events that happened half a century ago can sometimes be difficult for a 13-year-old to relate to, Klein has to sometimes get creative. For example, her students research fashions of the 1930s on the Internet, then they look at photos taken at concentration camps. Often, the children in those photos are wearing contemporary trends, just like students today.
“These kids were just like you and me,” Klein tells her students.
Klein’s methods appear to be working. She said some of her students are inspired to do extra volunteer work. Recently, two of them joined an organization that helps the people of Rwanda, who in 1994 suffered genocide not unlike the Holocaust.
For Klein, there is no better reward than seeing her students use their knowledge of the past to better the present.
“That’s when I get excited,” she said. “When a student teaches me something.”