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Coordinated Holocaust Education efforts began in New Jersey in 1974. Prior to that date, some teachers, a few Jewish Federations, a small number of college professors, survivors, and others were educating students and the public, in their own area of expertise, and within their scope of responsibility and geographic area. There was no coordination, and this level of activity was similar to much that was happening nationally and internationally. The International Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and the inception of a coordinated effort in New Jersey occurred at about the same time (1973/74).
Individuals from two school districts, one in Northern New Jersey (Teaneck) and one in Southern New Jersey (Vineland) met at a school conference and discovered that each was exploring efforts in the area of Holocaust Education. They approached the State of New Jersey Department of Education and were able to obtain a few thousand dollars of Federal money (Title III, Innovative Grants) to develop a curriculum. Their task, which was to develop curriculum materials and training programs, was completed in about four months and a series of statewide workshops were organized to present the material. The curriculum, which was field tested and ultimately published and distributed nationally in 1983 by the Anti-Defamation League, was entitled The Holocaust and Genocide: A Search for Conscience. It included the following sections:
- The Nature of Human Behavior
- Views of Prejudice and Genocide
- The Rise of Nazism in Germany to 1933
- From Persecution to Mass Murder: 1933 – 1945
- Resistance and Intervention
- Related Issues of Conscience and Moral Responsibility
A number of organizations were approached for the purpose of soliciting their assistance to introduce the idea of Holocaust Education to school district decision makers, and to get these leaders to allow their staffs to attend the meetings. Six statewide meetings were coordinated by the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League and were attended by approximately 1,000 participants, predominantly Jewish and mostly from high schools. The two districts that implemented the curriculum in their systems and the State Department of Education continued to collaborate in the coordination of workshops. This activity lasted for about five years until 1981, when the next major phase of Holocaust Education began in New Jersey.
Thomas Kean was elected Governor and took office in January 1981. His father, a U.S. Congressman, gave early support to Israel and, earlier, had been one of the few Congress people who had protested the ban on Jewish immigration to the U.S. from Nazi Germany. The Governor had a strong interest in studying the Holocaust, a fact he had disclosed in many speeches and articles. A group of educators, survivors, and legislators met, and from those discussions, a Holocaust Council was proposed through Executive Order and passed in 1982. Through the efforts of key legislators, an appropriation from the State was given to the Council ($125,000) for its efforts. It is felt by many that the signing of the Executive Order was a major step toward making New Jersey a leader in Holocaust Education. A staff was assigned by the Department of Education to coordinate the recommendations of the Council. During the next 10 years, executive orders were signed annually and community representatives were appointed by the Governor. The Council's first series of meetings in 1981 set the tone for the coordinated efforts. Four major goals and a core mission were established:
The core mission of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education is to promote Holocaust education in the State of New Jersey. On a continual basis, the Commission shall survey the status of Holocaust Education; design, encourage and promote the implementation of Holocaust and genocide education and awareness; provide programs in New Jersey; and coordinate designated events that will provide appropriate memorialization of the Holocaust on a regular basis throughout the state. The Commission will provide assistance and advice to the public and private schools and will meet with county and local school officials, and other interested public and private organizations, to assist with planning courses of study on the Holocaust. The core mission will be accomplished through implementing and evaluating the following committees:
Past committees of the Commission:
- Curriculum and Education Committee
- Materials and Human Resources Committee
- Government Liaison and Commemoration Committee
- Awareness Committee
- Interfaith Relations
New committees initiated by the Commission have started developing goals and objectives:
- Budget/Fund Raising
- Curriculum Development
- Generations of the Shoah
- PR/Awareness Programs
- Special Events
- Student/Survivor Projects
In January of 2015 the Commission created and sent a survey through Superintendants to Principals requesting that all teachers currently teaching Holocaust/genocide education answer three questions addressing how instruction takes place in their respective classrooms. The first question focused on the structure (not method) in which they present the subject. The second inquired into the materials or programs they used in planning lessons. The third asked about the assessment tools/approaches they utilized to measure their students' knowledge and understanding of Holocaust/genocide studies.
More than 65 school districts responded. Over 100 teachers from each of the public, private and parochial sectors participated with detailed and reasoned answers. One school added a Special Education Department response. One of our middle schools included Guidance Department input. In sum, the comments created an outline as to how the teaching of Holocaust/genocide studies has evolved in New Jersey since the Mandate was enacted.
As the survey responses were reviewed and categorized, a few fundamental issues emerged as building blocks upon which the subject matter is taught in all grades. The idea that human beings are all equal even if we have moderate differences and that our differences are meant to be respected prevails in lesson plans created at each scholastic level. Whether in grade school, middle school or high school, the common thread is that bullying cannot be tolerated and must be confronted calmly, and with a courage developed around standing up for the potential victims in our midst. Learning the difference between right and wrong, between good behavior and bad is established early in the educational process as everyone's responsibility and ingrained along the way by lessons that grow more sophisticated but remain a matter of good citizenship enacted by well informed students at every level. Simply summarized, Holocaust & genocide education is an appropriate launching pad for Character Education.
The elementary school responses told us that early lessons about the power of friendship, the concept of respect, and calm communication aimed at problem solving are the threads that create the tapestry of care. They are expanded upon in higher grade levels, but serve the same purpose. The survey noted 16 different classroom organizational/structural approaches to teaching about tolerance, but they all circled back to grade level appropriate study of appreciating others and the reality of human rights being a function of birth that make all the same inside.
Among those elementary schools responding, we found that teachers used 26 different books, 9 short stories and 11 videos to tell the story. Teachers tended to choose among 17 different programs that emphasized caring communities, heroic behavior, honesty and trust, as well as formal anti-bullying programs (like the Bully Busting Program provided by the NJ Bar Association).
Middle schools added to this approach by including testimony from survivors (in person and/or on tape), trips to Holocaust Museums or synagogues, and comparisons of Holocaust oppression to that of more recent genocides. Middle school teachers also introduced the study of art and poetry created by children who were victims of the Holocaust. This idea very likely promotes stronger bonds between today's students and their peers who suffered under the oppression of genocide. Middle school also expands the role of assessment. There were 29 different assessment processes used, with most being writing (letters, journals or essays etc) oriented, and others centered on participation in debates, mock trials, theater and problem solving discussions.
At the high school level, we encounter the literal horror of the Holocaust, but still in somewhat measured doses that expand the original issues to include violence. "Night", by Elie Wiesel, rises as the most popular Holocaust related reading for these more mature students and their discussions go to a deeper level. Students are assessed by unit tests and essays that are supported by research. They are also assessed by their participation in discussions that prove their understanding of the issues behind the Holocaust. They are asked about the U.S. reticence to offer more support to victims of the Holocaust and also to compare the treatment of minorities in the Nazi era to the way the U.S. government treated Native Americans in the 19th & early 20th centuries. High school students are also asked to answer difficult questions, such as "What would you have done in similar situations?" Added to the depth of their journals, participation in mock trials and related writing assignments, assessment at the high school level goes into some revealing detail.
During the spring of 1983, a survey was initiated by the Council to determine the future direction of Holocaust Education in the State. The questionnaire was sent to 589 operating school districts and 625 non-public schools. Based on 47% returns from the public school and 11% from the non-public, the survey indicated the following: 133,856 students were, at any given time, receiving some form of Holocaust/genocide instruction from 1,827 teachers through 1,576 different course offerings, ranging from K to 12 grade levels. The greatest emphasis was in 11th grade American History. The greatest identified needs at both the public and non-public schools were, first, for the curriculum guides at both the elementary and junior high school levels; then, in order of priority, speakers; clearinghouse services from the state; other assistance such as posters, displays, and exhibits; and finally, for in-service assistance.
It was also at that time that all of the groups and individuals participating in Holocaust Education were invited by the Council to coordinate their efforts. The decision was finalized, not to structure a formal organization, but to allow each group to operate independently. This was regarded as a major factor in New Jersey's success. As a result, 14 colleges and 3 federations agreed to participate in the Holocaust Education efforts and many independent groups and individuals became part of the system. It was during these 8 years (1982-1990) that a yearly summer seminar was conducted to train consultants who would be available to train and assist others in the State. Approximately 100 consultants were trained. These educators developed and identified Holocaust teaching materials and curriculums which were placed in appropriate facilities in the state.
A grant program was established in 1985 whereby classroom demonstration sites could be funded wherever successful classroom instruction on the Holocaust was occurring, and where others could visit and observe. As of this date, there were approximately 14 sites including the original two districts, Vineland and Teaneck. The teaching strategies include infusion program, full courses, special programs, and other forms of education about the Holocaust through art, music, literature, as well as social studies and history. Grants were made available also to Holocaust Centers, located in institutions of higher learning. The purpose of these Centers was to provide materials, consultations, resources, and training to the educators. In 1985 fourteen colleges participated and well over 15,000 persons received a half day to five day training programs.
It is interesting to note at this time that, in contract to the early programs, the participants represented all races and religious denominations, and many came from elementary as well as secondary levels and from areas as diverse as art and psychology.
The original curriculum developed in the '70's was updated and the Council sponsored an elementary curriculum be written. New Jersey made a major decision not to rely on one approach or one set of materials; rather, the direction has been an eclectic one, with outreach activities constantly being offered. A series of workshops were conducted for faculty at institutions of higher learning.
In 1990 the Council initiated efforts to make the Council a permanent State entity. The effort took one year, and in June 1991, Governor Florio signed legislation establishing under New Jersey law a Commission on Holocaust Education.
Beginning in 1980 the Council, and now the Commission, sent one or two individuals to study each year at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Center. A number of colleges have also sent individuals. The participants became part of the consultant team to assist districts.
Between 1991 and the present, the goals were re-established, and the primary efforts continued. The major change occurring within the Commission was the in-depth discussion regarding the questions of mandating Holocaust Education in the public schools, and the need to provide updated curriculum for the teaching of the subject. The curriculum efforts began early in 1993, and the mandate questions, which was discussed and debated by the Commission for over a year, moved forward. In the spring of 1993, the Commission voted to carry out all efforts necessary to mandate the teaching of the Holocaust in the schools. The decision was made to take the legislative route, and in the spring of 1994, a Holocaust/genocide mandate bill was signed into law by Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
During the 1994-1995 school year, proficiencies for grades K-12 related to the teaching of the Holocaust were developed and curriculum to meet the proficiencies was completed during the summer of 1995.
A series of workshops in the spring of 1995 were conducted in all areas of the State to introduce educators to, and to assist them in developing strategies to meet the mandated legislation.
Activities in the 1995-1996 school year included assisting local school districts in their implementation plan. These activities consisted of teacher training programs, direct consultation, and the development of a guide to agencies and resources to assist the educators.
During the summer of 1996, the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education sponsored a special seminar for educators that took the participants to some of the most important sites of the Holocaust in Europe and to Israel's leading institutions on the study of the Holocaust. The group began its tour at Wannsee, the site of the planning of the "Final Solution". They went on to visit Poland where the largest and most infamous of the death camps were located. The trip concluded in Israel, with studies at Yad Vashem. This proved to be a moving and enlightening experience for the teachers and others attending and it was decided to make it an annual event. To date, over 120 educators have attended.
In the Fall of 1996, the Commission endorsed other curricula which could be used in the study of genocide (which was part of the mandate), including the Great Irish Famine, the Armenian Experience, the Cambodian and Native American Genocide, along with the Ukrainian atrocity by the Russians.
In October 1995, an Association of New Jersey Holocaust Centers was formed to coordinate activities among the many Holocaust Centers and Sites throughout the State, and to create on-going communication between the Centers and Sites and the Commission. To date, there are 21 such centers.
Over the years a number of major statewide programs have been held, such as the presentation of the children's opera "Brundibar" (originally stages and performed in Terezin Concentration Camp), and a new play, "Wallenberg". An activity which has given the Council, and now the Commission, great pride and much visibility is the coordination of the annual New Jersey Kristallnacht and Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) programs. During 1994, a major trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington was implemented and is now an annual event as is the summer trip to Germany, Poland and Israel.
Reporting school districts have implemented Holocaust and genocides curricula at the elementary (K-8), and high school (9-12) levels, in accordance with the mandate. More time is devoted to this subject at the high school levels, where the subject was more likely to have been included in the curriculum before the mandate. However, the mandate had the greatest impact at the elementary/middle school level (grades K-8), where strong support was reported at every grade level.
The subject is taught most frequently at the elementary and middle school level as a part of social studies courses that are required of all students. At the high school level, the subject is taught as units within required world history and United States history and English courses, and as an elective in some instances. (It is assumed that schools offering the Holocaust as an elective must also include it in required courses in order to meet the mandate).
It is perceived that the mandate resulted in a more effective treatment of the subject.
The response of students, teachers, parents and communities to the implementation of the mandate has been positive.
The overwhelming majority of reporting districts indicated that teachers are using the curriculum materials that were created and recommended by the Commission, and have found them to be helpful. Specifically, districts gave very positive evaluations to the rationale; organization of unites; variety of activities that enable teachers to meet a diversity of learning styles and multiple intelligences of students; clarity of the unit introductions; and the variety of teaching strategies.
Library and media specialists have enhanced their collections on topics related to the Holocaust and genocides. This was reported to be the case by 88% of the reporting districts.
Districts reported the inclusion of the following genocides in their curricula: African-American (slavery); Native-American; Great Irish Famine; Cambodia; Armenia; and Ukraine. Thus, a range of genocides is included by a significant number of districts.
A significant percentage of districts reported the inadequacy of teacher background in the content of the Holocaust and genocides, and of the related teaching strategies. A majority of districts indicated a need for staff development in both the content and teaching strategies, and a willingness to send teachers to workshops sponsored by the Commission. We also learned that one third of the reporting districts have teachers who are available to provide training to teachers in other districts on the subject.
Districts favor workshops that provide teachers with the rationale, goals, and objectives for Holocaust and genocide education, but that focus upon, and demonstrate, specific teaching strategies and concrete materials that can be easily used in the classroom.
Thus, the survey accomplished its purposes: it provided information that indicates that excellent progress has been made in implementing the mandate to include instruction on the Holocaust and genocides in the elementary and high school curriculum; and has reveled areas in which additional assistance is needed to further improve the quality of instruction on this subject.
As a result of the findings regarding the fact that more effort needs to go into parent and community awareness a major art exhibition was exhibited in five galleries in New Jersey featuring contemporary artists of the Holocaust during the 1998/1999 school year.
During the past years, the following curriculums have been developed and disseminated to the schools:
- K – 4 Caring Makes a Difference
- 5 – 8 To Honor All Children
- 9 – 12 The Betrayal of Humanity
- The Hitler Legacy
- Italian Rescuers During the Holocaust
- The North American Genocide
- Nanking Massacre
- The Genocide of the Armenians
- Genocide in Darfur, Sudan
- The Great Irish Famine
- Forced Famine in Ukraine
- The Killing of Cambodia
- Stalin and His Repressive Regime – 1922- 1953
- Rwandan Genocide
- Greece Prior to, During and After the Holoaust
- Learning from the Challenges of our Times: Global Security, Terrorism, & 9/11 in the Classroom
The elementary and secondary Holocaust curriculums have been revised. The other major study and development area is in the area of assessment. It is projected that during the 2012/2013 school year material will be provided to teachers to assist them in assessing the level of achievement and growth of their students in the Holocaust/genocide education.
The major strategy which assisted New Jersey in becoming a leader in Holocaust Education was that of coordination. Some other keys to success included the identification of grass roots individuals currently involved in Holocaust Education, and the support of persons in decision making areas to support the effort. The major obstacles to success would be the stripping away of power and responsibility from the many groups and organizations that wish to become partners in the effort.
Over the past six (6) years, including the 2013/14 school year, the Holocaust Commission and the network of 29 Holocaust Centers have trained over 56,000 teachers, conducted 1,992 programs and directly impacted 323,357 students.
For further information regarding Holocaust/genocide Education in New Jersey, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 292-9274.
The core mission of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education is to promote Holocaust education in the State of New Jersey. On a continual basis, the Commission shall survey the status of Holocaust/Genocide Education; design, encourage and promote the implementation of Holocaust and genocide education and awareness; provide programs in New Jersey; and coordinate designated events that will provide appropriate memorialization of the Holocaust on a regular basis throughout the state. The Commission will provide assistance and advice to the public and private schools and will meet with county and local school officials, and other interested public and private organizations, to assist with the study of the Holocaust and genocide.
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Phil Kirschner, Esq.
Dr. Paul B. Winkler
(609) 292-9274 phone
Lawrence M. Glaser
Assistant Executive Director
(609) 984-4927 phone
State of New Jersey
Commission on Holocaust Education
P.O. Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625
(609) 633-8599 fax