For Geanina Turcanu, Every Lesson about the Holocaust Is Important

“I live with the feeling that speaking about the Holocaust has the effect of lighting a candle for the wrongdoings of the past,” says Geanina Turcanu, a history teacher from Slobozia Conachi, a village in Eastern Romania that is home to about 4,500 residents.

But in 2014, she decided that she wanted her students invested in the importance of talking about the Holocaust, too – to light their own candles, so to speak. She won quick approval from her school leadership and began offering a new elective course, entitled “Commemoration of the Holocaust,” to 30 seventh graders beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

Since 2003, Geanina has been teaching ancient, modern, and contemporary history, as well as civic education, in Slobozia Conachi’s middle school, which has about 350 students. She values the opportunity to impact their lives because “they will make the future a better place for us.”

When she launched the elective, Geanina recalls that the class was at first intrigued, but that interest soon swelled to outrage about what happened during the Holocaust. Over time, as her students studied the history in greater detail, they also began to understand that the roots of marginalization and dehumanization are intolerance and exclusion. She strongly believes that teachers “have the imperative to demonstrate how outlook makes all the difference.” The power of perspective to affect the way history unfolds is a message that runs through the elective’s curriculum.

In one lesson, Geanina holds up a paper bird and asks her students to describe what they see. The results are a fascinating study in point of view.  They know the bird is made of paper, yet they use words like “lonely” and “far from reach” to characterize it as if it were a real, living creature. Another lesson led to a Skype session with a school in the city of Tecuci, the students taking different sides in a debate about discrimination, its causes, and its consequences.

Geanina, who participated in the Memorial Library’s 2015 Summer Seminar in Romania, always believed that the Holocaust was a subject that must be taught, lest it be forgotten. Yet she herself struggled to explain how it could have happened. The seminar helped her find some of the answers in the intolerance that continues to plague modern society. That fall, she was determined to initiate new activities that would help her expand Holocaust education in her school for broad community-wide impact.

It is no surprise that Geanina has taken up this gauntlet. When she first decided to become a teacher, she had in mind a model educator who teaches with her soul, talks about good and evil, and is determined to make a real change in the lives of her students. “This image is in my mind at the start of every school day,” she says.

All the more reason, she believes, that “Every lesson we teach about the Holocaust is important. It’s how we instill in our children what they need to prevent it from happening again.”

Students describe a paper bird and assign it human qualities in a lesson about stigma and perspective.

Students describe a paper bird and assign it human qualities in a lesson about stigma and perspective.

Contact

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

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