A wall in Steve Marcus’ classroom at Egg Harbor Township High School is painted with a map of Europe showing the locations of concentration camps during World War II
“Everyone should know about this,” said senior Kali Cappuccio of Marcus’ course on the Holocaust.
Students in Doug Cervi’s U.S. History II class at Oakcrest High School share class projects on “genocides, massacres and atrocities,” including some they admit they had never heard of before.
“If to know about genocides is to stop them, why do they keep happening?” asks student Nadira Cottman.
The Holocaust and genocides are not easy topics to teach, which may be why many teacher shy away from going into too much detail. But some local teachers embrace the topic, even if it means asking parents and students to sign a waiver at the beginning the year acknowledging that the topics discussed will be sensitive.
“I’ve never had a complaint,” said Terry Kuhnreich, whose Search for Conscience class at Vineland High School has addressed racism, discrimination and even teen pregnancy.
“Mrs. K will find a way to connect it all,” said student Chris Wolfe of the variety of topics discussed in class and the heated discussions they can generate.
“This is not a class where students just sit there,” Kuhnreich said. “They get to talk and express their feelings.”
Paul Winkler, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, said while the mandate is to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides, the goal is to make students care about how people treat each other. Teachers said students do care when they can take the time to humanize history beyond battles and dates.
At Holy Spirit High School, where students can get dual credit for the course from Richard Stockton College, teacher Linda Mulvihill will address the Vatican response to the Holocaust, and that Jews were not the only targets. Her course includes civil rights and discussions of how racism can lead to genocide.
Oakcrest students Christian Paulino and Richard Velazquez cq did a project on the Guatemalan genocide during that country’s long civil war in the early 1980s when Mayans and people opposed to the government were massacred by the tens of thousands.
“I’m Hispanic,” Paulino said. “I knew about the Civil War, but not about the genocide.”
Cervi’s students have addressed the treatment of Native Americans and African American slaves. They’ve debated the definition of a genocide, and how it differs from a massacre. They don’t always agree, but they think.
“I’ve even had six students who told me the Holocaust didn’t happen,” said Cervi, who will retire this year after 41 years of teaching. “And one of them was just four years ago.”
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