The Memorial Library Expands Its European Program, Launching Its First-Ever Summer Seminar in Bulgaria
In 2012, the Memorial Library expanded its efforts into Europe after identifying the critical need to train Holocaust educators in Romania. Partnering with the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, the Library has since offered summer seminars for school superintendents, teachers, researchers, and doctoral candidates from across the country.
When it recognized a similar need in Bulgaria, the Library decided to organize its first-ever summer seminar for educators there. The inaugural seminar, entitled Learning about the Past – Acting for the Future: Teaching about the Holocaust and Social Justice, took place from July 27-30, 2015 in Blagoevgrad, with cooperation from the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, American University in Bulgaria, and the Israel-Bulgaria Institute.
The timing was on the mark, given the rise of extremism throughout Europe, much of it directed against national minorities. As one participant observed, the Bulgarian summer seminar provided “a life lesson” on how to make a difference in the modern world by combating social injustice.
Close to 50 high school and middle school teachers – of history mainly, but of English and Civics, too – participated in the seminar. They came from all over the country to hear from internationally renowned lecturers, interact with survivors, and think creatively and collaboratively about how to teach the Holocaust and issues of social justice in their schools. They exchanged ideas, approaches, and challenges with their colleagues, and had the opportunity to engage with new teaching methodologies to help their students approach the study of this difficult topic.
Irina Ivanova Grancharova, a middle and high school history teacher from Yakoruda, said she attended the seminar to learn new things to share in her classroom, but also “because this is a subject we should never forget.” A high school history teacher from Sliven, Tanya Zheleva Elenska sees teaching as a means to help deal with “the growing intolerance and greater xenophobia in the country.”
Participants had the opportunity to learn about Jewish traditions through encounters with the local Jewish community, giving them insight into the realities of Bulgarian Jewish life both before and after the Holocaust. Other discussions focused on the rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews during World War II, enabling teachers to better understand the Holocaust’s contemporary lessons. This particularly resonated for Svetla Karayaneva, a high school history teacher in Plovdiv, whose citizens played a major role in saving Bulgarian Jewry from deportation. It was an example of tolerance that “is part of our legacy, something my students should know in order to continue living with a similar understanding” of other people.
In addition to the successful launch of the Bulgaria initiative, Library programs continued in Romania this summer with a seminar entitled The Holocaust in Romania: Between History and Perception, which took place in Lugoj and Surduc from July 20-24, 2015. Representatives of the Memorial Library, top national and international experts on the Holocaust and Holocaust education, as well as the Lugoj’s mayor joined 36 participating educators, who appreciated how the seminar’s direct approach made difficult material uniquely accessible and meaningful.
The seminar offered lectures and workshops exploring an extensive list of topics, among them anti-Semitism, Romanian Jewish life, the memory of the Holocaust in the post-Communist era, the use of primary sources in learning about the Holocaust, and Holocaust denial. Educators also met Holocaust survivors, saw Holocaust-related films and documentaries, and toured the synagogue in Lugoj.
The long-term goal of the Library’s initiatives in Romania and Bulgaria is to bolster the National Network of Holocaust and Social Justice Educators in those countries, to offer ongoing training to participants, and to build a platform for international Holocaust educators. Since the Library initially expanded into Europe in 2012, its Holocaust Educators Network has already grown to include more than 200 teachers in Europe.