On Feb. 19, The College of Idaho campus had the fortune to host Janet Kaufman’s presentation “Tell All the Truth: Children’s Literature and the Holocaust” as part of the Craig H. Neilsen Lectureship in Judaic Studies. It was a deep and thoughtful take on a topic most of the audience probably never contemplated before.
Kaufman discussed many children’s books that begin to introduce the Holocaust. Her emphasis was the importance of getting this information out to the youth and doing so both properly and truthfully. How and why we teach this dark and terrifying truth is important among our youth in order to create compassion through education. Even though reading about the intense struggles that took place may cause pain among young readers, it still is valuable and necessary. How we go about introducing these facts is what matters most, and Kaufman brought some eye-opening perspective in her presentation.
According to Kaufman, it is the educator’s job to introduce the Holocaust through literature. This allows students to make their own connections between human differences and bridge them together. She surrounded the presentation around a poem called “Tell All the Truth but Tell it Slant” by Emily Dickinson. This poem backs up that necessity of the truth, but also shows how the educator can soften the blow when delivering the facts to children. There is no secret that the Holocaust is tough stuff to take, especially for young people. Kaufman feels that if an educator can introduce the topic, then the student can decide whether or not he or she is ready to delve deeper. Every learner is different, but the ultimate goal is creating empathy.
A line from the Dickinson poem that stood out for most of the audience was “Truth can blind like lightning.” I took that to mean that if we are not careful as educators, the student can feel threatened and not gain the necessary lesson at hand. So by slanting the truth—gradually working towards the darker parts of the Holocaust—there can be a better understanding of what went on and not an immediate threat. Kaufman also said that often times if a student feels threatened by what they are hearing, fear can block the lesson at hand. Those lessons of compassion and understanding the importance of life are not ones that should go unheard.
Finally, Kaufman discussed another way of “softening the blow”—making ourselves available to children and students. It is vital that their questions and discussion feel welcomed so that they can release their fear by having their questions answered and not feel along in the pain they are feeling. There will always be pain when teaching the history of the Holocaust, but by working together, we can strengthen our learning communities and, ultimately, our society as a whole.
The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation Lectureship in Judaic Studies brings dignitaries, scholars and public figures to campus to speak about Jewish religion, interfaith dialogue, culture, history, arts and current events. It is a vital piece of the College’s recently-established Howard Berger-Ray Neilsen Chair in Judaic Studies, which was created to promote greater understanding of Jewish traditions, culture and philosophy in Idaho and the West.
Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars and 14 Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College’s beautiful, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.
Story by Corbin Meyer, C of I student reporter