Through IWitness, Justin Loeber helps inspire in his students a personal connection to the Holocaust as well as the knowledge that they have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of the people around them.
Loeber teaches 10th grade world history and a senior elective on war and the Holocaust at Pembroke High School in rural New York. While Loeber attended the Belfer National Conference for Educators at USHMM last summer, his instructors Jen Goss and Mark Gudgel spoke about USC Shoah Foundation and IWitness, as well as Echoes and Reflections which incorporates IWitness, and said it would “revolutionize” the way he taught about the Holocaust.
“When I got back to New York, I looked the programs up and saw that Jen and Mark were totally correct,” Loeber said. “I have begun using them every since.”
Loeber wants to show his students that the victims of the Holocaust were normal people, just like the family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances his students interact with every day. IWitness introduces his students to survivors – not the perpetrators – who are often ignored in history textbooks.
“I wanted to focus on the victims, the survivors, and shine the light on them instead of those that caused all the darkness,” Loeber said. “I also want my students to recognize that these victims were individual people.... That they were not any different from you or me.”
Loeber is a fan of the pre-authored activities in IWitness, such as the activity on Kristallnacht. In the activity, students watch testimony clips about Kristallnacht, write responses, and then comment on their classmates’ responses. He said the dialogue generated by the activity is “priceless.”
“I believe the best part of IWitness is that it gets my kids talking and thinking about the victims and they really do see that these people were not much different then any of us!” he said. “Once my students reach this point, I know that I have accomplished a goal.”
He also shows two to three testimony clips to his class and leads a discussion about how the clips are similar and different, in order to demonstrate how people in different places and times experienced the Holocaust.
Loeber is adamant that students walk away from their study of the Holocaust knowing that it did not have to happen, that if more people had stood up and spoken out against what was happening, more lives might have been saved. He wants them to understand that every choice they make has consequences, and often ends his classes by telling his students, “Remember – what you do matters.”
“We talk about becoming to voice of the voiceless; that they have the power to help people stand up to discrimination, sexism, bigotry, racism, etc., and that I hope they remember the lessons here where people DID NOT stand up and speak out,” Loeber said. “I want them to be a positive difference maker in someone’s life each and every day...even if it is something as simple as a smile.”
Students have reacted to testimony with anger, curiosity, even sadness, Loeber said. From testimonies of survivors and witnesses in IWitness, students can begin to understand how people responded to the Holocaust and how their choice of response affected ordinary citizens. And once students begin to see the victims as individuals, they can truly grasp the magnitude of the Holocaust.
“IWitness helps with this because there is so much testimony that talks about the power of the individual; the power of choice,” Loeber said. “The testimony speaks to individuals that were betrayed by neighbors, friends, co-workers, etc. It also speaks about individuals that helped victims, and shows us that not everyone was evil. The testimony also speaks to the resolve of human spirit; that even at the darkest hour people refused to surrender and continued to fight for survival.”