Echoes and Reflections: Workshop on Teaching About the Holocaust

No matter how little you are, you always have the ability to make a choice and be the difference.

Those words resonated with Mrs. Timpe and Mr. McLaughlin on Friday afternoon at the conclusion of a workshop on Echoes and Reflections at Framingham State University. The day-long workshop on Holocaust education ended with the testimony of Holocaust survivor Rena Finder, an incredible woman who survived the atrocities of the Holocaust thanks, in part, to Oskar Schindler.

In the morning, the workshop focused on social studies lessons designed for students to engage in collaborative discussion, evaluate points of view with reason and rhetoric, and integrate multiple primary and secondary sources about the Holocaust. McLaughlin and Timpe then experienced a class that focused on the theme of Resistance in the Holocaust. The class emphasized the risks of resisting Nazi domination and the means, scope, and intensity of resistance efforts – with a special focus on cultural and spiritual resistance. The morning session concluded with an exploration of the rest of the teachers’ guide – allowing Mrs. Timpe to dive into resources on survivors and liberators. In line with his recent vein of research, Mr. McLaughlin explored the theme of perpetrators, collaborators, and bystanders.

Mr. McLaughlin & Rena Finder
Mr. McLaughlin & Rena Finder

Meeting Rena Finder was the highlight of the day for Mr. McLaughlin and Mrs. Timpe. Rena was born in Krakow, Poland in 1929. She was 10 years old when WWII broke out. Her family was forced into the Krakow ghetto. Shortly afterwards, the Gestapo came for her father – Rena never saw him again.

Finder recounted a time when she and her grandparents lay hidden under a pile of dirt and leaves during a round-up in the ghetto. After hiding from soldiers all day, Rena and her grandparents came out from hiding and were cleaning themselves up when, suddenly, a soldier came into the courtyard and took her grandparents away. She shared that her last memory of them was walking hand in hand to a most certain end. Rena and her mother were then sent to Plaszow Concentration Camp under the watch of the sadistic Amon Goeth.

Rena’s new hope came in the form of Emalia, an enamel kitchenware and ammunition factory owned by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler. When the decision was later made to close down Plaszow and move all of the Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz as the Nazi regime accelerated its “Final Solution,” Schindler created a list and was able to save a number of Jews. Rena Finder and her mother were among those numbered few.

After World War II, Rena and her mother lived in a displaced person’s camp. After marrying her husband Mark, Rena moved to the United States in 1948. Since the establishment of Facing History and Ourselves in the 1970s and the continued work of the Anti-Defamation League, Rena has shared her testimony with countless educators and students. She noted that Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film “Schindler’s List” was the “story of my life.”

Mr. McLaughlin is working with the Anti-Defamation League, Saint Anselm College, and the Catholic Schools Office to bring an Echoes and Reflections training to the Diocese of Manchester this spring. Mrs. Timpe is energized to take the resources she gained today to structure her lessons on World War II and the Holocaust this spring.