For the first time in the history of the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival, nearly 200 students from three New Jersey high schools attended with their history and Holocaust education teachers. The Bildner Center invited them to a free screening of No Place on Earth, a documentary about Jews who hid from the Nazis in Ukraine’s subterranean cave network.
Lesley Thomson and Jordan Siegel, participants in the Master Teacher Institute (MTI) in Holocaust Education helped organize the event, which gave students the meaningful opportunity to watch the film in a movie theater and engage in a dialogue via Skype with Nicola, who uncovered the incredible story. It brought the Holocaust out of the realm of the textbook, enabling the students to connect on a human level with the survivors portrayed in the film.
Thomson, who recently created a course on genocide and Holocaust Studies at Barnegat High School, an isolated shore community, said that the experience has broadened her students’ horizons. After viewing the film, the students expressed their awe at how quickly those forced to hide in the caves adjusted to the challenges in order to save their lives.
Jordan Siegel, a guidance counselor at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, has steadily developed a broad Holocaust curriculum for a student body that is largely African American. The study of the Holocaust has been eye-opening for them. “They were blown away by the power of the will to live portrayed in the film,” says Siegel.
Students in Heather Mendoza’s honors history class at Golda Och Academy, a Jewish day school in West Orange, found the fact that a non-Jew had brought this story of survival to light fascinating. One student even insisted that her parents see the film during the festival.
Teachers Siegel and Thomson believe that the film still resonates. It has helped Siegel further his overall agenda: to have students connect the dots between the Holocaust, African-American history, and social justice issues in the United States today. For Thompson, the film’s impact became most apparent when, during last year’s harsh winter, her students kept asking, “How did those families survive the cold in the cave?”