|Center News – Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies April, 2000|
Gedenkdienst Interns Speaking to 800+ Students
by Andreas Feuerstein & Heinz Boesch
Since our arrival in Reno at the University of Nevada half a year ago, we Gedenkdienst Interns have kept busy. We assisted Prof. Hertling in the publication of the Fall 1999 issue of CenterNews; we redesigned the Center’s Website; and we represented the Center at various community events. In the course of our activities, we have met quite a number of people with ideals similar to ours. Many were surprised to learn about the existence of our commemorative service; and they have shown teir support for what we are trying to do-namely, make the world a better place.
One of our most important goals once we got to know “the ropes” – was to visit local schools and talk to young students about ourselves, our Gedenkdienst work, and how our internship fits together with Austria and the Holocaust.
We are happy to report that we have talked to more than 800 students in Washoe, Storey, and Humboldt Counties.
Talking to students barely younger than we are was, and still is, a real challenge. Not having any teaching experience, we wondered how we would keep the students’ attention. What might they already know about the Holocaust? Which terms would we need to explain? Would they accept us – as young and green as we are – as their “teachers?”
We structure our presentation in three parts. We explain why we are here, what our commemorative service is about, and why our service is supported by the Austrian government.
After this general introduction, we give students an extensive overview about Jewish life in Austria before the Holocaust; what it meant to be a Jew during different historical periods; how, for instance, Jews were treated during the Middle Ages; how limited their possibilities were; and what it meant to have been granted equal rights by the Austrian Emperor in 1867. We also talk about the rich cultural and social life in Vienna between the end of the 19th century and the Anschluss to Germany in 1938.
Finally, we talk about the fate of Austrian Jews during the Holocaust. Many students have read Night by Elie Wiesel. By focusing on this novel, we are able to discuss more than just statistics. The discussions help us to show students that every life destroyed by the Nazis had its own value and its own story. Every experience was unique.
We try to explain how persecution begins with small, incremental steps. We emphasize the importance of recognizing “early warning signs,” and encourage the students to talk about what similar signs they might have noticed in their own environment. Particularly important to us is the fact that people should always speak out against persecution and intolerance before it is too lat to do so. Genocides do not happen overnight. Therefore, it is our responsibility to take action while there is still time. To convey this notion is our primary mission.
Students were surprised to thear us tell them that prejudiced people are often ignorant about the people they dislike. As we talked, we felt that many students began to reconsider some of their own prejudice. People would really get along better if they would spend some time with those who are “different” from them.
At the schools we visited, we took many pictures to add to the Center’s Website and document our internship. We thank all the students and their teachers for inviting us to their classes. We look forward to visiting more classrooms. Our presentations and conversations with young people confirm to us that we are headed in the right direction. The young people of today will shape the future in years to come. As one of the newspapers wrote:
“Heinz’ and Andreas’ message is a serious one, and it is not mitigated by their ages. If anything, they argue, young people should be most sensitive to the lessons of the Holocaust. After all, it is up to them to ensure peace for future generations.” (The Humboldt Sun, Winnemucca, Nevada, February 28, 2000).
- Date 2. July 2016
- Tags Pressearchiv 2000