|Photo taken at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, IL, by Amy Svob, one of my students.|
I read last night a post that really struck a chord with me. Let me just say that when I uttered some words after reading it, I sounded as if I had a cold. It is about teaching the Holocaust, and you can read it here.
The post touched me so much because the feeling expressed there is very familiar. I teach a class on suffering and forgiveness. We spend seven weeks on the Holocaust, and seven weeks on communist persecution. The first time I taught it, I was a mess. I don’t think that I had a day without tears. Not in class, but preparing for it. I have taught it again several times, but the crying diminished–perhaps a defense mechanism, as my good friend and colleague Monica suggests, or perhaps an acceptance of that painful presence, an assimilation of it, as another friend calls it. Nevertheless, every semester that I begin a new section of this course, I do it with fear. To me, it is a trip that someone takes into hell, and there is no way to know how you come out of there. To make things even more complicated, I do not do it alone, but with my students.
I remember every single student who has taken these courses. I remember their papers in a detailed way. This is because we enter together into a different world: the world of the living dead. There is a certain atmosphere that takes birth in these classes, and I always think it is because of a presence that comes from beyond the encounter between students and teacher. The millions of voices that need to be heard are there with you. And they have a life that is palpable, even if they are no longer physically present. The millions that perished in the Holocaust. The millions that perished in the Siberian Gulag and in the communist dungeons. Their pain and their suffering are somehow very alive. Even more, they require your presence; they need to be heard. If you truly offer your presence, you discover that they were already in your heart and they cry from there to be heard.
Suffering and Forgiveness. I truly think that teaching on the Holocaust and the communist persecution is a journey within one’s soul.
P.S. A video with Mrs. Magda Brown, a Holocaust survivor, who visited my class the first time I taught it.