Amber Tilley: The Urgency of Teaching Holocaust Literature


Amber Tilley, a teacher at Northland Pines High School, was raised in a small Wisconsin town. She recalls how profoundly moved she was by Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” when starting her career. She knew she wanted to teach the book and its depiction of Auschwitz and genocide, but she didn’t have any experience in Holocaust education. Amber teaches 10th grade English Language Arts, AP Language and Composition, and AP English Literature and Composition. She has been teaching her students about the Holocaust for 23 years.

In 2016, Amber attended her first TOLI seminar in New York City. That experience had a profound impact on her approach to teaching. “It helped shape my own educational approach to incorporate more primary sources such as survivor testimony, diaries, and newspaper articles,” she said.

Before the 10-day TOLI program, reading “Night” and submitting an essay were the only requirements for her students. But, as her knowledge of the Holocaust grew, so did her teaching  unit – it now includes numerous novels covering the Holocaust and time for classroom discussions, one dedicated to presenting the information and the other responsible for listening and responding to text in writing. Her curriculum now spans an entire quarter of the school year.

Amber’s students can still choose to read “Night,” but have the opportunity to study “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, “In My Hands” by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong, and “Berlin Boxing Club” by Rob Sharenow. Amber says her students research the Holocaust and survivors of genocide in order to present their stories in interactive presentations. 

When asked how Holocaust education has been received in her classrooms, Amber says that students are “so interested in this part of history and learning about it through primary sources.” Her school has been supportive of Amber’s Holocaust curriculum and her quest for knowledge to be a better teacher of this history.

In Oct. 2023, Amber was selected as the Wisconsin High School Teacher of Excellence Award winner by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English. According to the NCTE’s press release of the announcement, this award honors and celebrates high school classroom teachers who demonstrate excellent practices and contributions in the classroom.

Amber has served as a TOLI seminar leader for the last few years, at the Milwaukee summer seminars since 2019 with Scott Lone and co-leading the seminar in Louisiana in 2022 and 2023 with fellow cohort participant Penny Kinchen.

“I see the urgency in teaching students about this history so that they are better humans, more understanding, and will not stand down to wrongdoing at the hands of an oppressor,” says Amber.

She credits TOLI’s  seminars as a way for teachers who want to learn more about teaching the Holocaust, effective methodology, and receive up-to-date resources in order to engage in quality professional development.

“TOLI creates a network for teachers who share pedagogically sound lessons, activities, and resources.” She still keeps in touch with her fellow cohort members and has said she is a part of an unforgettable group of Holocaust teachers.


For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact

TOLI is located at 58 East 79th Street in Manhattan. (get directions)