Dutchtown High School’s Mandy Perret has always been drawn to history in general and stories from the Holocaust in particular.
When she started teaching, she jumped at the chance to learn how to bring that history home by studying at the Institute of Holocaust Education at Tulane University, where historians interviewed survivors of the Holocaust who later settled in New Orleans.
Perret was one of 25 teachers chosen from across the nation to spend the summer further deepening that understanding by visiting several museums and sites of former concentration camps in Europe, she said.
Perret participated in the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program, which, according to a release from Perret, strives to help teachers push past the straight-laced history lessons and convey the ideals of spiritual resistance that came out the camps with the survivors.
As part of the program, teachers heard the stories of survivors, learned from professors and experts on the history of the Holocaust, and visited seven sites of former concentration camps in Poland and Germany.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Perret said, and though it was a sobering, powerful and, in many ways, stressful experience, she’d recommend it to others. “I really wish every teacher could go through this, and I’d encourage anyone who gets the chance to go.”
Each year, the Summer Seminar brings teachers — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — first to an orientation within the United States where they meet survivors and second-generation family members, along with scholars and experts in Holocaust studies, according to the release. The group then travels to Holocaust and Jewish heritage sites and memorials in Germany and Poland. As they travel, the teachers are witness to testimonies from survivors and hear lectures from prominent scholars and guides.
The lessons learned from the Holocaust aren’t merely to edify, Perret said.
Many of those lessons are applicable to the social problems we face today, she said, and any opportunity she can give students to talk about those issues is important to their education.
The Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program was initiated by Vladka Meed in 1984. Meed was a member of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance.
The program’s Summer Seminar, as well as its Alumni Conference, have become nationally and internationally recognized and respected, boasting more than 1,000 alumni over 30 years, the release said.