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'Help them understand the reason behind why': 2 CT teachers fight hate with Holocaust education

Two Connecticut teachers use books, movies, museum visits, and even Holocaust survivor testimonies to make sure the subject is learned, and not just heard.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s been almost 80 years since the Holocaust came to an end. On that day in 1945, prisoners became survivors.

Since then, the tragic events of that genocide have been taught in schools, many saying education is the key to preventing history from repeating itself. 

In 2018, the Holocaust became a mandatory social studies topic in Connecticut middle and high school classrooms.

Teachers Rachel Torres and Joe Goldman accepted that challenge on day one; instead of giving their students hall passes, giving them a passport to peer into injustice instead

“Our job is to help them understand the reason behind why those things occurred and to really build that empathy and resilience,” Torres said. 

“I throw a lot of difficult questions at my students. Like 'if they were in Germany at the time, do they think they would’ve stood up against Hitler?', the reality is few people did,” Goldman said. 

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Torres has been teaching at Newtown High School for five years and Goldman at E.O. Smith High School for eight. 

The two are being honored by Voices of Hope for their excellence in teaching a subject that carries an emotional burden.

“They went beyond any curricular requirements, they put their heart and soul into teaching about this history. It was an easy decision to nominate the two of them this year,” said Kimberly Ballaro, who is the director of the HERO Center with Voices of Hope.

Ballaro is in charge of choosing this year’s outstanding teachers.

The teachers said they are humbled and shocked by the award. They say everything they do is for their students.

“It’s very real to them, they are able to identify present-day examples of Holocaust denial and hatred when we see the rise of antisemitism,” Torres said. "I always want to make the connection between what’s happened in the past, what we are going through now, and how can we make it a better place.”

When we asked why teaching a difficult class is what they want to keep doing, both teachers quickly answered. 

“Hate is everywhere. It’s in our schools, it’s the swastika I saw etched into the bathroom stall a few years ago, it’s some of the ways students talk about each other. Hate is always there, it’s tempting and part of the human condition, it’s very present, but it’s my goal that students will recognize hate quickly and be prepared to be upstanders in addressing it,” Goldman said. 

Both teachers use books, movies, museum visits, and even Holocaust survivor testimonies to make sure the subject is learned, and not just heard.

"That makes the history we study so much more real,” Goldman said. 

Two of those survivors are Nina Jacobs and Ruth Weiner. Both with different stories, but with shared pain. 

“Our family is just one family, and there as many stories as there are survivors, there are even more stories of the ones who didn’t survive,” Weiner said. 

They tell us they are honored to know that in a world of hatred, there are teachers putting Holocaust education at the forefront. 

“We are blessed to have them, I know they aren’t only good at this but good at everything they do, it’s too bad we can’t recognize all of them,” Jacobs said. 

Recognizing the importance of teaching history, even the painful parts, and the importance of helping these students become part of the “Never Again” movement that sees learning and awareness as the best way to prevent history from repeating itself. 

Both teachers tell us they’ve already been teaching this for several years, but they are just getting started. They say they are inspired every day by the passion of their students and hope to see their programs grow.

Brooke Griffin is a reporter for FOX61 News. She can be reached at bgriffin@fox61.com. Follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


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