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D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership

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Workshop focuses on how to teach the Holocaust

Published - March 28, 2007
By Joe Orso, La Crosse Tribune

Story originally printed in the La Crosse Tribune or online at

Why did Nazis target Jews in the Holocaust?

The main reason wasn't because of their religion, said Stephen Feinberg of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

"The Nazis did not look at the world religiously," Feinberg told about 70 educators at Viterbo University. "They looked at the world racially."

And to the Nazis, the Jews were a race, part of a hierarchy of races—even though "race doesn't exist," Feinberg added.

"You have to show your students that the basic assumption of this ideology is a fallacious assumption," he said. "That is the hardest thing you have to do with this history, because the Nazis looked at the world through racial eyes."

Feinberg, the museum's director of national outreach for teacher initiatives, was among the speakers Tuesday at "Teaching the Holocaust: A Workshop for Classroom Teachers."

Later in the day, Rabbi Simcha Prombaum of Congregation Sons of Abraham in La Crosse encouraged educators to look to Biblical literature—in particular, the Book of Esther—to talk about the Jewish part of the Holocaust.

"Being from the faith community, I look to the faith-based origins of hatred," Prombaum said afterwards.

Feinberg said if time is limited in a course, it is better to focus on the racially motivated hatred of the Nazis.

But Prombaum said he doesn't think one can teach the Holocaust without religion, and one can't so easily separate racial and religious hatred.

"You have to have a seed bed ready to accept popular theories," Prombaum said. "What Steve Feinberg would call anti-Judaism provides the seed bed for the race hatred that the Nazis will introduce."

The one-day workshop by the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership attracted educators from five states and was part of a two-day event.

Monday evening, more than 1,000 people attended a lecture by Henry Greenbaum, 78, a Holocaust survivor.

"I was treated royally here," said Greenbaum, who received a standing ovation before speaking Monday. "I've traveled all over. In various places I get good receptions, but last night was perfect, the best I've ever had."

Presentations by other educators at the workshop explored schooling under the Third Reich and using Holocaust literature and films in education.

Mary Murphy, a former La Crosse teacher who sits on the board of the Holocaust Museum Houston, said Holocaust education is "spiritual" for her.

"Our mission is not only to teach the history of the Holocaust, but the lessons of the Holocaust," Murphy said about the museum.

Jeanne Watts, 41, drove 41/2 hours to hear Greenbaum speak and attend the workshop.

Watts has taught English to seventh through 12th-graders in Elcho, Wis., for 18 years. For the past six, she's taught a unit on the Holocaust, which now lasts 12 weeks.

She wants her students to "realize that what has happened in history isn't just the past," she said. "We've seen discrimination all throughout time, it's going to continue and … if we are bystanders and allow this to happen, how will change come about?"

Joe Orso can be reached at 608-791-8429 or

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