K-12 News

When teaching about the Holocaust, ‘the arts express what words cannot’

KET has new educational resources for teaching students about the Holocaust. The new Juliek’s Violin collection, available in PBS LearningMedia, features three videos from a Louisville concert on Holocaust remembrance.

In the videos, pianist Jeffrey Jamner, the son of Holocaust survivors, helps students explore the history of the Holocaust through music—including the moving scene in Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night where the violinist named Juliek plays one last time in an overcrowded barracks.

“There is no Hebrew word for history, and the closest word in the Hebrew language translates to ‘remembering.’ Throughout the videos I share stories of my parents’ survival, and through storytelling, we remember,” he said. “Music coupled with stories can make the remembering more meaningful and last a lifetime.”

The three videos feature excerpts from a Chopin Nocturne with special meaning for Jamner and his mother; Verdi’s Requiem, which was performed by Jewish prisoners in an act of resistance at a concentration camp; and the Beethoven Concerto played by Juliek.

In the video, the Beethoven piece is played on a restored violin once owned and played by a Jewish musician during the Holocaust, part of the Violins of Hope collection. In a memorable duet, Sara Callaway plays the violin and Jamner reads from Night.

“I hope that students will open their hearts to this history and discover that something so basic as music in our lives played an important role in this history,” said Jamner. “I hope that they will see the arts as something more than beautifying our world, that it can also be a form of resistance, and a path toward healing from trauma–even intergenerational trauma.”

The suggested learning activities in Juliek’s Violin give students a chance to process emotions by analyzing music, art, and poetry. “Many times, the arts express what words cannot.,” said Jamner.

The educational materials in Juliek’s Violin were co-created by Jamner and teaching artist Judy Sizemore. Jamner, the arts education administrator at Kentucky Performing Arts, said it’s empowering for students if educators tap into their energy for social justice. “They believe they can make a difference and help to change the world, and they can.  This can mean the difference between feeling helpless and empowered when encountering the Holocaust.” 

The materials come with facilitator guides with best practices for teaching this sensitive subject. “Whether you are teaching online, in-person, or in a hybrid setting, a good rule of thumb is to always teach in a way that honors the victims and survivors,” said Jamner.

Jamner said students who are struggling to process the history emotionally should be offered a chance to talk about it separately. Bringing in a school counselor is an important option. “Students need to know that they are not alone in this journey and that we will take this journey together and come out stronger because of it.”