Liggett students take on role in Holocaust project

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 17, 2016

 University Liggett School eighth-grade student Alex Deimel, left, works in class with global issues teacher John Farris. The students are part of a study to evaluate lesson plans for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new documentary movie, “The Path to Nazi Genocide.”

University Liggett School eighth-grade student Alex Deimel, left, works in class with global issues teacher John Farris. The students are part of a study to evaluate lesson plans for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new documentary movie, “The Path to Nazi Genocide.”

Photo provided by University Liggett School

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GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The eighth-grade students in John Farris’ global issues class at University Liggett School are involved in a study to evaluate lesson plans that will accompany the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new documentary movie, “The Path to Nazi Genocide.”

Farris, who said the global issues class is similar to that of world history, is a teacher fellow at the museum, located in Washington, D.C. Last summer, he spent one week at the museum working with other teachers to develop lesson plans to accompany the film. Currently, Farris is using those lesson plans to teach his eighth-graders, and the lessons were videotaped so he and the other teacher fellows could evaluate them.

When the studies are completed, Farris and his colleagues will return to the museum next summer to present their findings to museum staff and other museum teacher fellows. Once approved, the lesson plans will be available on the museum’s website so teachers across the country can use them in teaching the film.

“Every year during the third quarter, we always do a Holocaust unit,” Farris said. “I think it’s the unit (the students) get the most out of. It’s always the most engaging they are.”

In their studies, the students analyzed photographs and read testimonies from concentration camp survivors to better understand the Holocaust. They also determined what methods the Nazi Party used to build support while rising to power in Germany prior to World War II.

“In this lesson, students analyzed primary-source photographs to determine what methods the Nazi government used to build support among the German public in their first three years of power,” Farris said. “Students were surprised to find that rather than relying on coercion or threats of violence, the Nazis used many of the methods our own politicians use today; parades and public rallies, photo ops at hospitals and auto factories, and creating a unified community based on exclusion and scapegoating of minorities. (Adolf) Hitler visited people in hospitals.”

Along with learning about World War II and the horrors of the concentration camps, Farris took it one step further by having his students compare the Holocaust to the injustices of today.

“They’re deciding what kind of world they want to live in, why we exclude other people, and how we decide who is and is not a member of society,” Farris said. “How do we protect the fragility of democracy?”

As part of their studies, the students visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. 

“It was very interesting and very informative,” student Margaret Hartigan said. “It’s horrible the things that happened. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

“I think they got a lot out of it, especially meeting a survivor,” Farris said. “This is the last generation that will meet survivors.” 

“I think all the students in the eighth grade are starting to better understand it,” Hartigan said. “We talk about the tactics to gain (Nazi) votes and support, and we analyze it. How could a country support a government like that?”

At the end of the Holocaust lesson, the students will create a culminating project of choice about an injustice they feel strongly about.

Farris also is co-director of the Holocaust Educators Network of Michigan, where he teaches a weeklong seminar every summer on Holocaust education at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. The seminar asks teachers to assume the dual role of student and teacher of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Educators Network of Michigan is a satellite of the Memorial Library/Olga Lenyel Institute for Holocaust Education in New York. As part of his work with that organization, Farris will travel next month to Austria for a weeklong summit between Austrian and American teachers of the Holocaust.

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