I have memories of my mother taking me to the library frequently, especially during the summer. As I ambled through the shelves of books, trying to make the perfect decision, I often paused in the history and biography section of the library. My love for history began early and was fostered by my mom, a voracious reader, and my father, a lover of history himself. I consumed as many books about as many diverse topics as I could, and frequently returned to some of my favorites, including a biography on Steven Spielberg and an account of the Hindenburg disaster. In a teacher's library I borrowed the book Daniel's Story and was immediately drawn into the fictional narrative of a boy living through the Holocaust. I still recall the exact way the book felt in my hands as I learned about this period of history. Years later, I found the same book at a book fair and as my hands touched the cover, I was excited to be able to return to this story. It was the beginning of a journey for me, delving into the history of the Holocaust, and it was to be a long one.
Fast forward to a summer teen camp field trip to the Holocaust Museum Houston. I had visited the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial a year prior and recall that I was deeply troubled by how upset I was as I spoke to my mom on the phone, even later that evening. I knew the major themes of the Holocaust and understood the basics of the timeline, but seeing the visual displays of photographs, artifacts, and hearing testimony from survivors was different from reading it on the pages of books from the library. Our group settled into the theater at the end of the tour to see local survivors give snippets of their testimony and each of us felt moved by the stories shared. But I specifically remember our preparation to leave. As we turned to exit the theater, I saw an elderly man in the back of the theater, hunched over, hands in his head, and he was sobbing. My heart broke for this man, this stranger, that, for whatever reason, felt deeply touched by what we had all just seen. My soul was touched and I wanted so terribly to console him in that moment, to connect with him in whatever way I could. I walked away instead, but I feel forever changed by witnessing that one minute, understanding on a deep level that feeling empathy for a man I didn't know in his time of distress was the best lesson I could have taken away that day.
A few years later, I again found myself at the Museum, this time ambling through their shelves of books as I researched Jewish resistance during the Holocaust for a major paper for two of my high school classes. While the paper taught me a great deal about an aspect of the Holocaust I had never thought of before, I discovered a new found level of love for thumbing through the pages of books, searching for hidden information, and putting it down on paper. The researcher inside of me came alive.
Later still, as I prepared for my first year of teaching, my advisor sent an email from the Museum inviting us to apply for a fellowship that May. The Warren Fellowship for Future Educators was an opportunity to learn from world class teachers about many aspects of teaching the Holocaust and Genocide, but also to learn more about pedagogical practices in general. Additionally, we promised resources and, the best part, time with local survivors, including Naomi Warren, who the fellowship was named after. I jumped at the chance to apply, but tempered my expectations, I considered myself until that point as an afterthought, someone that people concluded "Oh yeah, we should have considered her instead" and then shrugged their shoulders and moved on. Imagine my surprise when my invitation to join the fellowship arrived. The week was intense and I was, again, forever changed. To this day I think I am processing parts of that week and I know that I implement aspects of it on a regular basis. To learn these stories and to meet these survivors creates a sense of obligation and duty to attempt to make significant changes in the world we live in. Further, this fellowship opened doors of opportunity in other ways as well. A trip to Israel, a trip to New York, time in other institutes, and FaceTime with countless survivors, educators, and other important members of our mission in teaching the Holocaust would never have occurred without the aid of the Warren family. Thus, I am forever grateful and forever changed.
Four years ago, when learning about Johnny's diagnosis and condition, my interest and commitment to Holocaust education came to a screeching halt. The burdens I willingly shouldered to teach others about the victims of the Holocaust became too real and too raw as I realized that some of those victims were just like the little child I was growing in my belly. Thinking about the hatred and disregard for their lives and how we may face prejudice, hatred, and discrimination was a lot to take on as I worried about matters of his physical well being. My fragile emotional state, heightened by my own lack of understanding, my growing concerns, and, of course, those ever present hormones, quickly led to my bowing out of my work with the museum.
God had other plans.
By chance, a friend of a friend posted a video about the Holocaust on Facebook. Due to the random algorithms used by Facebook, it showed up in my newsfeed and I, naturally, commented and a conversation ensued. Another friend, due to algorithms, saw our conversation and approached me at church the following weekend exclaiming that he had no idea that my knowledge of the Holocaust was so vast. As I told him about my time learning with the museum, he excitedly gave me the opportunity to speak for a group at church. I accepted. This led to another speaking engagement which led to another speaking engagement which led to more speaking engagements. Soon enough, I was fully entrenched in reading and learning about the Holocaust once again. I sheepishly showed people in the waiting room of Johnny's therapy the titles of the books I was reading and watched their eyes grow large as the titles sunk in. I begrudgingly found fiction to take on our vacation this summer after Matt protested that Holocaust history was not appropriate for our time away together. I engaged and opened myself to these opportunities, waiting to see what was in store.
Last week I signed a contract to do work with the Holocaust Museum Houston. I couldn't ask for a better job right now. I am working with the education department to do research, curriculum writing, and speaking to area schools, groups, and organizations. As I sat in my first meeting last week, I was surprised by how natural it felt and how ready I was for the chance to do more. I forgot what this is like, being entrenched in something that consumes you. As I drove home from that meeting, Matt asked me how it was. I shook my head over the phone, unable to describe the range of emotions and feelings I had. Every historian dreams of the chance to work at a museum and I am grateful for this rare opportunity to achieve a dream I thought was only that. Our work is important and needed, I am honored and humbled to be a part of what is in store.
I cannot close without mentioning the timing of the beginning of my work. Naomi Warren, the survivor mentioned above for my fellowship, passed away last week. As I began the interview process, I knew her health was failing and was struck by how many doors her family opened for me and how, without my time in each of those places, I wouldn't be person I am today, let alone the educator this position needs me to be. Hundreds of educators have been changed and shaped by their time with the Warren family and that is such an important part of the legacy of the Holocaust. I believe we all carry a piece of her with us, ready to educate, lead, and choose correctly as the situation warrants. It adds to the honor I have in doing my work, to remember the Warren family's contribution to my journey.