Martha Rich Scholarship Fund Furthers Holocaust Education
Each summer, the NJ State Commission on Holocaust Education runs a summer seminar on Holocaust Education in Europe. This summer, 26 educators from around the state (including five from Greater MetroWest) participated in a two-week long intensive program in Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, and the Netherlands.
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s Holocaust Council provides financial assistance to participating teachers thanks to the Martha Rich Scholarship Fund, established in 2005 in support of educators in our community who want to enhance their ability to teach about the Holocaust. The scholarship was established in honor of Martha Gross Rich z”l, a MetroWest Holocaust survivor from Hungary who passed away in 2011, in recognition of her untiring efforts to promote Holocaust education in the state of New Jersey and beyond.
This summer, Lauren Wells, a teacher at Summit High School, attended the trip. Here are excerpts of a letter she wrote about how this trip has truly made an impact on her personally and professionally.
- August 2019
One Million Thank Yous!
To the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest Martha Rich Scholarship Committee,
Words and sentences do not seem to capture the immense and multifaceted spectrum of emotions that this trip has allowed me to experience. But, here I am, going through my pictures, guidebooks of the concentration and death camps, and secondary source material that I bought for my students throughout these 16 days, I find that I am still having a hard time grasping for the language that will help to convey the sites I saw, sounds I heard, and emotions I felt. Most of the time, I had a hard time grappling with the beauty of the country and the horrid history that took place on its countryside and in its cities. Here, I want to express the awe, fear, and hope that I felt every day, throughout the course of this trip.
Awe. I teach Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Summit High School and I came into this trip feeling knowledgeable about the events and excited to put these facts into authentic context. I was prepared to learn, of course, but I was not prepared for how little I actually knew. For 16 straight days I learned something new. For 16 straight days I saw something that I had never seen, even in the 250-plus hours of professional development I have had prior to this trip. For 16 straight days I was confronted by the most horrific of ways in which mankind inflicts pain and despair on one another. Every day I left feeling in awe of the enormity of the Holocaust and overwhelmed by how expansive, systematic, and vast the Holocaust was in actuality. This enormity is something the books, pictures, and textbook passages do not convey.
Fear. Several times during the trip I recognized how the language used before and during the Holocaust is being reflected in the way in which some of today’s world leaders speak about the perceived other. It’s chilling how the video footage and pictures that came out of Charlottesville in 2017 echo the pictures of Jewish boycotts leading up to the final solution and deportations. We say “never again,” but do we as a global society currently mean it? I realize now that I am an eyewitness to this history. I am the doorstop. I am the one who can make the connections between what has already happened and what currently is stoking the flames. I am the one who can and will empower the next generation with the knowledge of what happens when such rhetoric goes unchecked.
Hope. Despite all the fear and sadness I felt on the trip, I left with an overwhelming sense of hope. The fact that I was with so many other like-minded people who wanted to learn this history in order to be able to better teach its lessons gave me hope. The fact that I came back with pictures and sources to show my students what really happened during the Holocaust gave me hope. On the second to last day together, Maud Dahme, the survivor who accompanied us on the trip, took us around her hometown to show us her hiding places. It was there that we met the daughters of her rescuer who told us the story of their father’s immense courage. The altruism of many people at that time, despite the danger, was overwhelming. This is when I felt most inspired to go back and teach and continue to learn this history. I want to show my students that even when faced with the worst that mankind has to offer, we still have the power to make the right choices.
In my Martha Rich Scholarship application, I mentioned that I believed seeing the sites of the Holocaust would allow me to fill in the holes in my curriculum, and that proved to be more than true. We heard the phrase “Do you have any questions?” at least five times a day and I can say that I had nothing but questions. On this trip we were confronted with both the best and worst of mankind, as with our tremendous responsibility to the world and the people around us. Never before have I felt the importance of being a Holocaust and Genocide Studies teacher. I cannot thank you enough for that. It is because of organizations such as yours that we will one day make “never again” truly a reality.
Thank you again for this opportunity. I promise you it will not go wasted.
– Lauren Wells
If you would like to make a donation to the Martha Rich Scholarship Fund to enable the Holocaust Council to continue bringing teachers on these invaluable trips, click here. To find out more about the Holocaust Council click here or contact Jamie Carus at email@example.com or (973) 929-3067.