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  • By Brittany Hager McNeely

Talking to Children about the Holocaust

For students of all backgrounds and ages, the Holocaust is understandably a difficult subject to study and make sense of. Even the most renowned academics are beside themselves when faced with the question of “why” the Holocaust happened. One of the roles of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC), a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, is to provide meaningful and thoughtful opportunities for middle and high school students to engage in discussions about the Holocaust, its origins, and the profound impact that hatred can have upon humanity.

One such program, now in its second year, is a partnership between HERC and the Coalition for Jewish Learning called “Repairing the Glass.” This innovative multi-part program places the middle school students of Bader Hillel Academy and the Milwaukee Jewish Day School working together in exploring Jewish life in Europe before, during, and after Kristallnacht.

On September 13 the students worked in groups where they looked at photographs that captured moments of everyday life of European Jews before the Holocaust and discussed what they saw in the photo and their reactions to it.

On September 26th the students came together once again, this time at the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC, where they spoke via Skype with Rabbi Andrew Steiman from a congregation in Frankfurt, Germany who discussed the presence of Jewish life in his community today. They then heard from local Speakers Bureau member Steve Baruch, who told of his parents’ and grandparents’ experiences during the Holocaust.

The program concluded with the middle school students of MJDS and Bader Hillel Academy walking outside to HERC’s outdoor educational space Pinat Hatikvah: A Corner of Hope where they learned about the families who survived the Holocaust and went on to create new lives in Milwaukee. The site emphasizes the strengths of humanity-the will to survive, the ability to help fellow human beings in the face of adversity, and the capacity for compassion and understanding in order to educate future generations.

Over the course of this multi-part exploration of Kristallnacht, the students at both Bader Hillel Academy and MJDS have been working hard on art projects that capture the students’ reflections on this important moment in Jewish history.

The artwork will be displayed at our community’s annual commemoration of Kristallnacht which will be held on Sunday, November 5th at 2 pm in the Rubenstein Pavilion of the Ovation Jewish Home. Please plan to attend.

Brittany Hager McNeely is the Director of Education & Engagement at the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Center. Learn more about HERC at,

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