Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission Awareness - Education - Inspiration

THGC Commission Letters

Give below are past articles written by Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission commissioners and staff.  Go to our commission letter page to read the most current article.

August 2015

This entry was written by Chae Lee, THGC's Summer 2015 Diversity Intern

My four weeks here seem to have flown by, and I’m sad to see it come to an end. Whenever I would tell people that I work for the THGC, people would always respond with, “Genocides? Isn’t that kind of depressing?” But I have always been interested in the stories of the Holocaust and other genocides because they possess the power to inspire and create change. During my time here, my knowledge of these genocides has expanded and I gained a greater understanding of the importance of preserving these stories for the generations to come.

The majority of my time was spent on researching the five genocides recognized by the THGC, and writing a concise summary of each one which will eventually be uploaded onto the THGC website for teachers, students, and the public. While constructing these summaries, I understood how essential it is to make this information accessible. It struck me how a lot of the genocides happen concurrently, with the most recently recognized one occurring not more than ten years ago! Even if it is a small piece, I sought to be a part of the process of creating awareness. THGC’s mission is to create awareness, educate, and inspire people to prevent history from repeating itself, and without guidance many children are unable to learn what has happened and is happening around them.

Some of my other duties were to compose an organized excel sheet for the volunteer applications and to provide an easy format when searching for potential volunteers. I also listened to recorded quarterly meetings and completed minute summaries to keep in record. Another task assigned to me was to collect resources from the web to place in the resource page of the THGC website.

Outside of the office, I attended the Commission’s July Quarterly Meeting, where I met many of the THGC Commissioners. I was pleased to meet people who were determined to advocate awareness of the genocides to the younger population and also willing to put great effort to generate a change for the better. Some of the commissioners were also survivors of genocide; I was in awe to see how courageous and lively they were even after facing immense adversity.

The THGC offered me the privilege to travel to Dallas and Houston to visit the Holocaust museums there. Walking through the exhibits felt almost as though I had gone back in time, surrounding me with stories from the past. During my visits, I gained a deep appreciation towards those who work to preserve historical artifacts in order to help us better understand an event that took place before our time.

I can’t thank the staff of THGC and THC enough for giving me this opportunity and welcoming me with warm smiles. I will carry the experiences gained from my internship with me for years to come. Although my time here is over, I am excited to see what THGC will do in the future, knowing that any effort no matter how small can make a difference. As I continue in my education, I will make it my very own mission to aware, educate, and inspire.

Chae Lee is a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

August 2015

This entry was written by Liliana Gonzalez, THGC's Summer 2015 Diversity Intern

Other students told me too many internship horror stories before bed; few told me internship wonders. I didn't know what to expect from this internship, only that I would try my best to google every aspect of being good at it. Would I make copies and work on data entry all day? Would I even get my own desk? How many people would I have to report to? I think being in this intimate office environment surrounded by supportive staff was a good way to immerse myself with the setting and mission without being overwhelmed at the administration process.

It is known that you get what you give and I found it to be true; the more work I put into a project the more I learned and felt a sense of completion and satisfaction with my output. The first and most broad continual project I took part in was helping to develop the commission's resource database. Over the past four weeks I have spent over sixty hours going through about 80+ different resources that range from books, films, oral histories, interactive websites, biographies, interviews, lesson plans, and professional development programs. Development consisted of updating descriptions, finding providing organizations, determining grade level conventions, and identifying relevant TEKS in both the ELA and SS fields. Part of my tasks included a full book and film review of materials we could potentially use in the future.

I also worked with Robin, our education specialist, on teacher outreach. In order to become better acquainted with the services we provide as well as prepare for talking points for meetings with both instructors and administrators, I developed an updated outreach flyer in pdf form for easy sharing. The flyer gives a brief description of the commission's purpose and services in a manner that is concise and presentable - our social media tags were added to promote the commission and broaden our audience. We personally met with educators in San Antonio and throughout the Austin area to find out what kind of genocide awareness programs they were implementing and offering our services. Most importantly, we listened to their feedback and found out specifically what certain districts lacked and what they would like to see from the commission in the future in order to execute programs relevant to the THGC mission.

Additionally, I worked on putting together a proposal for a youth outreach leadership program in the future after doing independent research on other similar programs within the nation and contacting coordinators to learn more about the logistics of such programs.

Social media updates were part of my job here, and one of my biggest tasks was updating our YouTube page and reformatting it to ensure more traffic to our content. With the help from analytics programs, I got to see where we were lacking and what we could change on our social media page that would enhance our audience scope and promote our programs - then shared it with our commissioners at the quarterly meeting.

At some points I felt like I could have distributed my time to projects more efficiently. Eventually I realized I would be compromising my other tasks if I continued spending too much time on one thing - it's easy to get carried away in study when the content is engaging! There was some pressure within the last week to get everything finalized, but I feel the quality of my work has not suffered. Although I consider myself sociable to an extent I did sometimes find it difficult to speak to others in professional settings. This did not last long - friendly staff made sure of that!

The four weeks flew by in the office but also slowed things down in my mind and put my life in perspective. I'm going to put my education first from now on because I know I can't afford not to, but I also feel like I refined which direction I want my education to take me. I'd like to personally thank Robin, Lynn, and Charles for having not only accepted me into the intern program, but for making me feel like a part of the office and its mission, for their patience answering my questions and their anecdotes that lightened the mood and gave me insight into my own future. Most of all I'd like to thank them for the guidance and mentorship they provided me, without which I would not have had as full of an experience as I did. I hope only the best for this staff and commission, and I will keep up with them through the years in hopes one day I may be able to work with them, this time as a civic minded educator.

Liliana Gonzalez is a student at the University of Houston.

August 2015

Updates on New AP Standards

AP European History, effective September 2015

AP World History, effective September 2016

Effective July 30, 2015, the College Board also issued a revision to the AP US History curriculum, which now includes sections that lead to the understanding of America’s lack of response to the rise of Nazi power during the 1930s and the consequences resulting from the Holocaust. The Holocaust section includes the concentration camps with emphasis on the liberation period and the plight of the survivors.

As a result, more than 482,000 AP History students throughout the US will now be introduced to the Holocaust, and our best and brightest Texas students will understand this integral part of our twentieth century history.

The changes approved for the AP US History curriculum are:

Period 7 1890-1945
Key concept 7.3, section II, page 74

E) In the 1930s, while many Americans were concerned about the rise of fascism and totalitarianism, most opposed taking military action against the aggression of Nazi Germany and Japan until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II.

Key concept 7.3, section III, page 75

A) Americans viewed the war as a fight for the survival of freedom and democracy against fascist and militarist ideologies. This perspective was later reinforced by revelations about Japanese wartime atrocities, Nazi concentration camps, and the Holocaust.

These critical additions to the AP curricula amplify the mission of the THGC to provide Texas educators with reliable resource materials that will enable Texas teachers to accurately teach these subjects.  We will continue to advise and support the College Board as they revise their examinations and formulate questions for both the short and long written answers.

THGC congratulates the College Board for this momentous decision. Their inclusion of the Holocaust and genocide in the AP Social Studies curricula is a huge step forward in teaching critical issues that framed twentieth century history.

- P.N. Berkowitz, THGC Chairman

February 2015

For several months, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission has been working closely with the College Board to address their AP standards concerning genocide and the Holocaust – or rather, lack thereof. This important missing piece of history has even caught the attention of the Texas State Board of Education, which recently approved a measure asserting that its own history curriculum “trumps that covered by the AP [U.S.] history course.”

Luckily, due to the hard work of the Commissioners, this month the College Board published several important changes to emphasize the remembrance of the Holocaust and other genocides. We are particularly excited that the standards now include the other specific groups targeted under the Nazi regime – people with disabilities, homosexuals, and Soviet POWs; these groups are often left out of Holocaust history. We are also very pleased at the College Board’s decision to require the teaching of the murder of Roma during the Holocaust, as they were the only people other than the Jews specifically targeted for extermination. This is an exciting achievement for us at the THGC, because it ensures that the best and the brightest of Texas students won’t leave their AP classes without learning this important part of our history.

Here are some of the changes approved in the AP European History Course:

From: “The Nazi government in Germany undertook the annihilation of Jews from the whole continent (the Holocaust).”

To: “The Nazi government in Germany undertook the annihilation of Jews from the whole continent (the Holocaust), as well as the murder of other targeted groups of Europeans.”

From: “World War II decimated a generation of Russian and German men, virtually destroyed European Jewry, forced large-scale ethnic migrations, and undermined prewar class hierarchies.”

To: “World War II decimated a generation of Russian and German men; virtually destroyed European Jewry; resulted in the murder of millions in other groups targeted by the Nazis including Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and others; forced large-scale ethic migrations; and undermined pre-war class hierarchies.”

From: “Fueled by racism and anti-Semitism, German Nazism sought to establish a ‘new racial order’ in Europe, which culminated with the Holocaust.”

To: “Fueled by racism and anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany – with the cooperation of some of the other Axis powers and collaborationist governments – sought to establish a ‘new racial order’ in Europe, which culminated with the Holocaust.”

Additionally, in the section of the AP World History Curriculum Framework that discusses 20th century global conflict and their consequences, this language has been approved: "The proliferation of conflicts led to the Holocaust during World War II and other forms of genocide of ethnic violence."

Teachers are now required to teach the Holocaust and at least one other example of genocide or ethnic violence. The curriculum offers three examples (Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I, Cambodia during the late 1970s, and Tutsi in Rwanda in the 1990s), but teachers may also choose another relevant example.

We are continuing to work closely with the College Board as well as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to provide resources for AP teachers and students. This is certainly a huge step forward for all involved in the difficult issues of genocide and Holocaust education.

December 2014

May I take a moment of your time? I know you are busy, but I really need your input - seriously! I look at our world and I see a great opportunity for an inspired younger generation to do better than my generation and even several generations after me.

To be honest with you, these are trying times. It feels as if so many people in the world have decided, all at the same time, to not get along and to hate and eliminate anyone who is different.

After the Holocaust, we were going to make the world a better place. We called this "Tikkun Olam," which is Hebrew for "repairing the world" - and that was what we were going to do. Actually, for a while this was happening and many nations and people within the nations were learning to live together.

Today it feels as if the notion of "we" as a community, both geographically and in other ways, is becoming smaller and smaller. The group of people we consider to be the "other" or "them," those outside our community, those we don't like, understand, or want to be with, is getting bigger and bigger. We label those people with a tag that denotes our disapproval, which is very often a slur about their religion, the color of their skin, or their ideology. Shall I go on? Or are you getting the picture?

One day, I was expressing my frustration to Charles Sadnick, the Coordinator of the THGC. I was ranting about the passivity of people. I had the feeling that people were watching or listening to the news, to all of the tragic events as of late, with only half an ear - maybe eating, playing with their phone, not talking to each other - and the only words exchanged were "pass the salt please." I had the feeling that people were just indifferent to anything outside their community. Charles suggested that we should ask you to participate in our video contest with the goal of creating a more just world. He made my day!

Please, consider participating in this effort. You can read more about our annual student video contest here! I fervently believe that your generation can show the way. Take action and make a difference.

Thank you.

-Chaja Verveer, Memorials and Exhibits Chairperson of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission

October 2014

It's finally here! The 2013-14 project we have been awaiting has finally arrived. The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is proud to announce the start of a wonderful program to educate Texas teachers about the Holocaust in Europe during World War II.

The new module, entitled An Introduction to the Holocaust and Human Behavior, will be available to all Texas teachers beginning today. It was developed over the last two years by Facing History and Ourselves, an esteemed educational firm headquartered in Brookline, Mass. This program begins with a focus on identity, "who we are and who they are," as we explore choices made by groups and individuals during times of mass violence before World War II. We then explore the rise of the Nazis, the loss of democracy in Germany, and the Nuremberg Laws, before delving into mass murders and the concentration camps, and finally liberation and the aftermath of the Holocaust.

The module is loaded with links to numerous video tapes, interviews and other references to enable teachers to expand from the basic core of information. Educators are also invited to participate in other "Facing History" programs if they desire.

An introduction to the Holocaust and Human Behavior is available to K-12 teachers throughout Texas via Project Share, TEA's global online learning community.

-Dr. Frank Kasman, Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission Education Committee Chairman

September 2014

Summer has passed and many young adults will be entering college or otherwise continuing their education.  Some have already chosen their career paths while others have yet to decide. One question in all their minds surely is what the future will bring. It is time to recognize that one’s choices bear consequences.

Unfortunately, a study last year by Rutgers University shows that 62% of all university students admitted to cheating during the course of their matriculation. What does that startling percentage indicate? What does it mean to our Texas college students? Do they understand the deep impact their choices will have upon them and others? The problem was brought to THGC’s attention by many professors asking for advice about topics that they may include in their instruction to guide students to make correct ethical decisions and choices. Choosing right over wrong is one of the most important decisions a young adult can make.

We have all read of university scandals that led to disciplinary actions against dishonorable behavior. Two years ago, more than 100 Harvard students violated the university‘s honor code, and then suffered the consequences of their actions. In the past, athletes have often escaped punishment for the sake of their schools’ pursuing championships. However, this year, Notre Dame president Reverend John I. Jenkins addressed the matter at a press conference with the most principled statement I have heard from any university. Reverend Jenkins said, "Integrity is at the heart of our mission, and academic misconduct will not be tolerated at Notre Dame." He continued, "If the suspected improprieties are proven, we will use the experience to reinforce among our students the importance of honesty in all that they do. We are also examining ways of better conveying to students that they can avail themselves of legitimate academic assistance without resorting to cheating." Subsequently, five student players have been placed on suspension and if the charges against them are proven, Notre Dame will forfeit last year’s football victories.

In Texas, the new core curriculum will be modified to include personal and social responsible perspectives. THGC has undertaken the task of identifying those topics that students must consider to perform at the best level to achieve their education. Under the direction of Dr. Anna Steinberger, our Higher Education Ethics Initiative subcommittee of twelve noted ethicists has spent the past two years determining how to address our professors’ concerns. Working with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, THGC has issued a contract to the University of Texas El Paso, to prepare modules for teaching professors how to address these topics.

Dr. Jeffrey Spike, Professor at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, and Director of the Campus-Wide Ethics Program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, noted that the “purpose of these topics is to have students choose right over wrong and be responsible for the consequences of their choices. What we propose are topics to be used … laying the foundations for appreciating the importance of ethics for decisions they must make. The topics are important because they focus on the issues every student faces in their freshman and sophomore years, when students are most in need of guidance.”

If we are to have a society where everyone has an opportunity to succeed and to live a fulfilled life, then we must practice our chosen professions with honor and integrity. The privilege of attending a school of higher education is not without its challenges, but those who honestly achieve their goals will derive the satisfaction of knowing that they also serve as examples to the next generation.

We wish you success in your journeys wherever they may lead.

- P.N. Berkowitz, Chairman of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission

August 2014

Why do we tolerate genocide when it occurs?

This question has bothered me, yet I cannot reason why. Is it a complicated issue dealing with another country’s sovereignty? Is it as simple as we are too busy dealing with our everyday lives? Is it a matter of, “That is their problem, not mine…”? If genocide is wrong, none of these answers seems adequate.

Before we try to answer the question, it may be useful to quote the UN’s legal declarations contained in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Article II states two important conditions that must be met to define genocide. Genocide is an act committed with intent to destroy and the physical destruction in whole or in part of a national, ethnical, and racial or religious group:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III states five punishable forms of the crime of genocide:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

This international law has 135 nation parties who have signed agreement with its provisions, yet since its inception, only three different genocides have been declared. Mass murder within and in adjoining nations continues to this day. Understanding that words have meaning and definitions change over time cannot be an excuse for ignoring acts of genocide when it is perpetuated using the term, “civil war.”

The mission of THGC cannot be fulfilled without the youth of today challenging this understanding. Christians, Jews, Roma and others are being threatened with genocidal acts of eradication by groups or parties in nations throughout the world. The declared declaration of ISIS to eliminate all Christians within its area of control certainly meets the definitions of Articles II and III of the declaration. Christians also face eradication throughout other parts of the Middle East and Africa. In Europe, Roma are experiencing a planned incitement to eliminate their ethnic group. The Jewish people face a worldwide surge in anti-Semitism, in part stemming from its war of survival with Hamas who has declared its intent to eradicate the Jewish state.

Understanding right from wrong is not complete if silence is our choice. A means of acting may be as simple as writing our representatives to take a courageous stand against genocide. In recent history, we have witnessed genocide and enabled it by our inaction.  In the words of Senator Claiborne Pell, upon urging the US Senate to endorse the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide:

"I remember the shock and horror that my father suffered… at becoming aware of the horror and heinousness of what was going on….I am convinced…that there was an unwritten gentleman’s understanding to ignore the Jewish problem in Germany, and that we and the British would not intervene in any particular way… We wrung our hands and did nothing."

Unfortunately, these words still haunt every act of genocide when we do nothing. I ask each of you to tell us your words that might provide a pathway to a more humane society.

- P.N. Berkowitz, Chairman of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission

Read past letters from our Commissioners and staff.

August 2014

This entry was written by Idali Reyes, THGC's summer intern.

My eight-week internship with the THC as a Diversity Intern for the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is coming to an end. I’ve had an incredible experience working with the Commission for the past two months, where I’ve met people with life-changing and inspiring stories, such as THGC commissioners Anna Steinberger, Gilbert Tuhabonye, Chaja Verveer, and others. It’s a little hard to believe how quickly time has passed, and that I’ll be saying goodbye to the people I met over the course of three to four days while on rotation. It seems like it was just last week when I arrived in Austin and was trying my best just to not get lost! The first few days consisted of me going to each division and getting to know what role each played in the THC. The staff was incredibly friendly and made sure I knew that if I ever needed anything during the eight weeks here, I could go to them, whether it was for assistance with work or just general questions about Austin (ranging from where the best places to eat are to the “must-do things” while in the city).

The THGC has kept me busy since my start date. As the Diversity Intern for the Commission, my main project was to revise and research primary and secondary sources to create contextual documents that pertained to the 8 Stages of Genocide lesson plans (World Geography, U.S. History, and World History). This was where I dedicated the bulk of my time. Many hours went into researching different aspects of the Holocaust, such as what it was, the causes, the roles of those involved (perpetrators, bystanders, “benefiters,” and victims), and the aftermath of the event. I read books published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and looked into that museum’s archives as well as the sources and records available on Yad Vashem’s website. I also had access to the University of Texas at Austin’s Perry-Castaneda Library, which was a great help because of its vast selection of periodicals and books on World War II, the Holocaust, and genocide.

There were additional activities and projects to be completed throughout the course of the internship, which included researching and developing a list of primary and secondary sources, resource gathering, database development, translation, and participating in meetings (such as the THGC July Quarterly Meeting) by assisting staff. Another major project was revising a lesson plan that coincided with the Texas Liberators Oral Histories. Here, my primary focus was the Liberation period and Texas World War II veterans who were liberators.

The Commission also gave me the opportunity to travel to Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio to visit the Holocaust museums there.  By visiting these museums for the first time, I feel that I have become more aware of the importance of historical preservation. When we hear the word “preservation,” we tend to think of it in terms of historic sites (such as forts or buildings) or artifacts, but just as important is to preserve the stories that come with such locations - the memories of individuals. These memoirs are what help historians and others involved in the social sciences fields carry on the stories of a particular event. In this case, the testimonies of genocide and Holocaust survivors are instrumental in preserving the significant history of such tragic events. The study of the Holocaust and genocide through the 8 Stages model has also allowed the THGC and other organizations to bring awareness to students and teachers of what can happen when indignations like bullying go unchecked. 

I’m grateful to have spent these eight weeks with the wonderful and helpful staff of the THC and THGC. I know that with the experience I’ve gained here, I’ll be able to strengthen my methodological skills and become more involved in the preservation of personal stories that define a particular generation or period.  By recording and retelling their stories, we are able to learn what led to genocide and mass murders and also what can be taken from these historic periods – the lesson that may assist scholars and activists alike in attempting to prevent such heinous crimes from occurring again.

Idali Reyes is a student at the University of Texas at El Paso and a docent at the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center.

May 2014

You’ve found the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission website, and hopefully you’ve perused its multiple resources, freely available for educators, students, and the general public.  But have you discovered the Commission’s other platforms?  More than ever, the THGC is connecting with Texans by using multiple avenues.

The THGC Facebook page is a great source for information about the Commission.  We share videos, pictures, and information about Commission activities, while keeping you up to date with news stories about the Holocaust, genocide, and issues related to human dignity.

Prefer your updates in 140 characters or less?  You can find updates about the THGC by following our Twitter account.

We also suggest you dive into our video resources through the Commission's YouTube channel.  Here you’ll find the full testimonies from the THGC’s concentration camp liberator project, as well as shorter preview clips for the oral histories.  We also upload winning entries from our annual student video contest to the channel.

Finally, we hope you’ll consider signing up for the THGC listserv, our most immediate way of getting important Commission information to you.   By delivering occasional notes to your email inbox, the listserv provides you updates about events and resources, as well as information about meetings, projects, and other Commission business.

Whatever your preference, you can find a way to keep up with the work the THGC is doing in ensuring that Holocaust and genocide resources are available to Texans.

April 2014

The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) has completing a preservation project for Holocaust museums in Texas-- recording and transcribing oral histories from Prisoners of War (POW’s), liberators of concentration camps and eye witnesses during WWII. The preservation of liberator and survivor testimonies is an ongoing project of the commission, whose mission is to teach about the eight stages of genocide with the hope that this will help prevent another Holocaust and the many other genocides that the world has witnessed. THGC has already transcribed testimonies for the archival collections at Holocaust Museum Houston and The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center.

THGC regrets to announce that one of the liberators from El Paso, Albert Schwartz, who so generously shared his story for this project, passed away March 21st at 94. Schwartz was awarded a Bronze Star for his military service, a U.S. Army captain in the 104th Infantry Division, which liberated a concentration camp in Nordhausen, Germany, in late 1945, finding almost 4,000 victims, 750 alive.

Schwartz, a Jew himself, said the stunning experience was life-changing and compelled him to action after returning from war. During the late 1950s, as head of the local Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish Civil Rights organization, Schwartz led efforts that made El Paso among the earliest major cities in a former Confederate state to outlaw racial segregation.  He helped to establish the city’s Holocaust museum and served as its second president. He leaves behind two sons and a daughter, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Another THGC preservation project, the Texas Liberators Oral History Project, is a collection of recorded oral history testimonies from Texas WWII veterans who liberated Nazi death camps in early 1945 at the conclusion of WWII.  The project was presented by THGC Commissioners Pete Berkowitz and Suzanne Ransleben to the United States Library of Congress on March 18th, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

(L-R) Col. Robert Patrick, Director of the Veterans History Project;
Mrs. Suzanne Ransleben, THGC Commissioner; Kyle Ransleben,
grandson of Norman and Suzanne Ransleben

The Texas Liberators Oral History Project, completed in conjunction with Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History in Waco, chronicles the oral histories of 19 Texans who were involved in Nazi death camp liberations. Lesson plans to accompany the project are being developed to meet the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirement for learning about the liberation of concentration camps during WWII.

THGC furnished these testimonies for the Veterans History Project, conducted by the American Folklife Center of the U.S. Library of Congress, which honors American war veterans by preserving stories of their service. The presentation of the Texas Liberators Oral History Project to the U.S. Library of Congress expands their collection of American historical accounts.

Portions of the recorded testimonies from the Texas Liberators Oral History Project are available on the THGC Oral History page.  The full videos can be found on THGC’s YouTube site.

Read past letters from our Commissioners and staff.

March 2014

One of the five grants awarded this year was presented to The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center for their project, Music in the Holocaust: Workshop and Performance. Bringing classes, recitals, lectures, training and workshops to the region, The El Paso Holocaust Museum welcomed Tamara Freeman, a Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Education from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Holocaust music
Dr. Freeman (1st row), joined by El Paso students and THGC Commissioner Steinberger

Although Texas endorses Holocaust and genocide education represented by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), New Jersey boasts our country’s first and only K-12 Holocaust Music Curriculum in response to the 1994 state mandate to teach Holocaust-genocide studies.  Freeman’s dissertation, Encouraging Racial Respect Through Holocaust Music:  An Interdisciplinary Curriculum for Grades K-12, gives the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission and The El Paso Holocaust Museum an opportunity to introduce a Holocaust Music Curriculum for students in Texas.

Tamara Freeman, D.M.A., a professional conductor, teacher, concert violinist and violist from the New Jersey Public School District in Ridgewood, presents lectures and recitals of Holocaust music, teaches Holocaust music classes for Kindergarten-12th grade, and offers training and workshops for teachers, clergy, administrators, and college faculty/students.

A Holocaust ethnomusicologist, Dr. Freeman plays pieces composed by Jewish prisoners interned in the ghettos and concentration camps on her 1935 Joseph Bausch viola, rescued from the Holocaust and secretly shipped to the U.S. Her students of all ages learn lullabies, folk songs, work songs and partisan songs in their original European languages and in English. Through singing, archival recordings, and hands-on materials, the classes encourage multicultural respect and personal relevance to Holocaust music and history.

For educators, Dr. Freeman explores Holocaust history through music composed and sung in the ghettos and concentration camps, providing materials including music scores, lesson plans and teaching strategies that address the sensitive nature of these topics while at the same time effectively conveying lessons of morality and courage through authentic Holocaust music. For consultation or more information about Dr. Freeman’s work, visit www.holocaustmusic.org.

The El Paso Holocaust Museum introduced Dr. Freeman in a free concert for the community on February 27, 2014, as a part of the grant. Music in the Holocaust: Workshop and Performance is offered free of charge to local educators and students. In addition to teaching resources, CD recordings and sheet music provided by Dr. Freeman supplements materials made available by The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center.

The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission offers grant funds for organizations and projects that assist our mission to support Holocaust and genocide courses of study and awareness programs. Funding is available for a variety of programs.  Among other projects, funds may be used for classroom education, workshops, recording of oral histories, and memorials and exhibits.  Grants are open to permanent nonprofit institutions headquartered in the state of Texas. Grants for schools will be supported by a separate process.

Visit the THGC Grants page for more information about funding opportunities.

February 2014

My name is Chaja Verveer; I am a Holocaust Survivor and Commissioner on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. Have you heard about our video contest?  Can I get you to participate?

Why?  Simply, it could make a difference in your life.  How often have you looked back and wanted a chance for a “do-over”?  Think back about a situation where you could have made a difference, but did not; in fact, you were a bystander.  It could have been for many reasons:  you were afraid; it happened too quickly; your friends could turn against you; you did not want to draw attention to yourself.  There were so many reasons, and you were so unprepared. Thinking about having been a bystander and how to do better next time will open your eyes and make you understand that you yourself could be the victim and would need an upstander to be there for you.  If we all would just become aware of the roles we could play and would act upon them, it would help the world to heal and, as you well know, it needs lots of healing.

I have a confession to make; I did not always stand up when I should have.  Did I like myself afterwards? No!  I had a hard time looking the person I indirectly harmed in the face.  I also realized what I had done--or better yet, what I had not done.  Thinking it through, I was better prepared for the next time, which, of course, came sooner than I expected.  Did I always handle the situation well? No, not always. Sometimes my response was entirely inadequate, but at least I tried.

Also, many of you would like to go to college.  One of the questions you are almost always asked: “What extra-curricular activities have you participated in?”  Think about it--if you could tell them, “Yes, I have participated in a very challenging but important activity where I learned more about the difference I could make in becoming an upstander. And, here is the video I/we created!”  Don’t you think that would make a difference?

Last but not least, you have the opportunity to win a scholarship key. This contest is offering multiple scholarship keys awarded in each grade category.

So, here is your chance to learn, to become an upstander, to improve your admission application for college, and to earn a scholarship.

Get going--all submissions are due by March 14, 2014!

- Chaja Verveer, Memorials and Exhibits Chairperson of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission

December 2013

The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, in partnership with Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History, has digitized 19 personal accounts of World War II veterans who liberated concentration camps in order to create the Texas Liberators Oral History Project. Through the digitization of oral histories, THGC is acknowledging those who have risked their lives for the freedom of others, while at the same time promoting our mission—to educate about the Holocaust and the injustice of genocide. The Texas Liberators Oral History Project expands the understanding of historically significant events during World War II--the liberation of concentration camps throughout Europe-- so that the deeds of these soldiers can be honored, and we can teach as well as learn from their war experiences.

The videos of these oral histories are available as a free resource that educators and the public can explore for Holocaust and genocide courses of study and awareness programs.  The transcripts will be made available in partnership with the Veterans History Project, a collection of personal narratives, correspondence and visual materials from American war veterans made available by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Portions of the recorded testimonies from the Texas Liberators Oral History Project are available on THGC’s website. The full videos can be found on THGC’s YouTube site. For additional resources including oral history videos, Holocaust Museum Houston furnishes permanent and traveling exhibitions, archival collections, Survivor Testimonies and an Oral History Project including short films, entitled “Voices,” that compile stories told by Holocaust survivors residing locally; also, along with exhibits, El Paso Holocaust Museum furnishes Survivor Testimonies and a curriculum trunk that reinforces the shared educational mission--learning from history may help to prevent its repeating itself, especially in light of the events surrounding the Holocaust.

The importance of recording and preserving the stories of survivors and supporters of war efforts enhances our documentation of history. The stories told by the individuals themselves helps them leave behind a valuable legacy so that no one ever forgets the roles they played in history and helps magnify the effects of their efforts on the future in our war against intolerance of differences.

October 2013

When the Texas legislature established the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) in 2009, one intention was for the Commission to provide resources to both public and private schools.  Since that time, the THGC has focused on working with Texas schools to help educators teach about the Holocaust and other genocides.  However, at the beginning of this school year, the Commission was able to join in a unique project in which students acted as educators.

Nolan Catholic High School (Fort Worth) annually focuses on a specific theme, which students explore through the Universal Reading Day event.  The 2013-14 school theme is “Service + Justice = Peace,” and toward that end, this year’s event focused on the Holocaust and the actions that students can take in the face of genocidal travesties today.  Students were required to read Life in a Jar by Jack Meyer and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and sessions were arranged based on these readings, including one led by the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

Another of the sessions included interactive stations designed and led by student leaders.  Christian Chen, one of these leaders, contacted the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission as he researched genocide, with the goal of informing his fellow students “about genocide and its effects on the world.”  We were able to provide him with resources, including the 8 Stages of Genocide posters, which are part of a lesson plan the THGC developed to educate students about how genocide develops and the actions that they can take to prevent such atrocities.  In his exhibit, Christian included the posters along with a timeline, map, and other materials.

Patricia de Winter, Nolan Catholic High School Librarian, volunteered that Christian’s station “was an excellent display of critical information and very interesting to the other students.”


Posters from the 8 Stages of Genocide lesson

Ultimately, the work done by Christian and all the other students and organizers was a success, informing the student body about the individual’s role in social justice in light of lessons learned from the Holocaust.  The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is proud to have played a small role in encouraging the students of Nolan Catholic High School to think about how their actions, or inaction, can play a significant factor in helping others.

For more information on genocide and Holocaust education, including the 8 Stages of Genocide, please visit our Resources for Education page.

Read past letters and posts written by THGC commissioners and staff.

September 2013

With the end of summer, the transition to the beginning of a new school year is the time when students look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones, teachers become excited about new classes and setting goals, and parents are hopeful about fresh starts and great accomplishments. Within all of these expectations, “back to school” reminds us all of a most important purpose:  learning.
(TEKS) Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills related to Holocaust and Genocide Education

To assist our hard-working Texas teachers and educators, Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission’s (THGC’s) website has listed the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) correlating to Holocaust and Genocide education for Social Studies and related subjects.

Lesson plans and learning activities under Resources for Education are also provided to aid informed instruction about the Holocaust and genocide. These lessons include articles and texts; presentations with maps, charts and photos; printable worksheets; and extensive lists of additional reading and resources to consult for further teaching on these topics.

The THGC has developed and made these resources available for free to educators for teaching this required content, especially in secondary World Geography, World History, and U.S. History Since 1877 classes but also for English/Language Arts, Government or Sociology classes. Culture, citizenship and content in social studies are the targeted areas of learning.
Useful Resources for Teachers to meet TEKS Requirements

Resources available on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) website are designed to give educators more opportunities to develop academic programs about the Holocaust and other genocides in order to study history, learn from it, and guide our population of student-citizens to be constructive in assuring that such atrocities never occur again.

The Eight Stages of Genocide model developed by Dr. Gregory Stanton was the springboard for one of THGC’s most dynamic resources:  the Eight Stages of Genocide posters and supplementary lesson plans. These are valuable teaching tools for reading and discussion in secondary Social Studies classes (World Geography, World History, and U.S. History Since 1877) and can be reinforced in English/Language Arts classes as well. They are intended to complement textbooks and other resources already utilized.

Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide is a THGC-sponsored exhibit traveling to eight cities in the state between 2013 and 2015. The Prijidor exhibit is currently displayed in Georgetown and will move to Texas Tech University's Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library in Lubbock from October 4th through October 30th. Midland is the third of eight planned venues in Texas for this exhibit. Check the THGC Calendar for updates.

The exhibit, Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide, tells the story of genocide in the Bosnian city of Prijedor between 1992 and 1995. Thirty-four display panels and a forty-minute video combine information from official sources, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, with original photographs and compelling testimony from genocide survivors now living in St. Louis, Missouri.  The exhibit honors both the memory of the lives lost in the Prijedor genocide and the experiences of the survivors whose stories are told within the exhibit.

Although all Texas residents are encouraged to attend, particularly college students, middle and high school students, and teachers will find the exhibit educational. As the Bosnian Genocide is more recent and less familiar than others may be, educators are encouraged to arrange for students to attend and to download and use lessons plans especially created to accompany the exhibit, which will help meet TEKS related to genocide.

The Texas Liberators Oral Histories project chronicles the oral histories of 19 Texans to celebrate their service and their efforts to free survivors of concentration camps. The THGC and Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History partnered on this project so that the Oral Histories and transcripts can be used by educators to meet TEKS requirements while uncovering personal stories that recall atrocities of the Holocaust.

By accessing our resources and giving the THGC feedback, the commission will better be able to develop and expand programs throughout Texas.

THGC Chairman Berkowitz reminds us, “The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission’s mission is to educate our student-citizens about the genocidal horrors of the past and suggest what can be done to prevent future genocides.” Share the THGC’s website, projects and programs with educators and institutions to promote this mission!

August 2013

How can we expect our youth to not be bystanders when human rights are threatened if we do not provide examples for them to follow?

With this question in mind, and with pride, I report to you on two stands taken by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) in 2012 and 2013.

In 2012, the THGC wrote to President Barack Obama requesting that the U.S. lead an international effort to assist the refugees of the Syrian civil war as well as conflicts in Africa.

In early 2013, the THGG wrote to the Hungarian Ambassadors to the U.S. and the UN, as well as to the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary about remarks made by Zolts Bayer, a member of the country’s leading political party. The content of our letters included:

"…We learned with alarm of the recent public statement made by Mr. Zsolt Bayer, founding member of Hungary’s Fidesz Party, in which he referred to your country’s Romani minority population as 'animals . . . who should not be tolerated or understood, but stamped out.' These words along with Zsolt’s recent hateful remarks about Jews are reminiscent of the language of Hungary’s fascist Arrow Cross party. Therefore, it should not be necessary to remind you how chillingly similar they are to those used by the Nazis of the Third Reich to incite hatred against Jews and Roma. It was the Nazi intent to crush all compassion in the general public and—ultimately—to initiate their massive program of genocide against those two peoples.

We call for immediate official condemnation of Mr. Bayer’s remarks and his expulsion from the party he represents…"

We have received an e-mail from U.S. Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis indicating that she would continue to discuss those issues with Prime Minister Viktor Orban. More recently, Hungarian Ambassador Szapáry György telephoned me to discuss our letter, cited above. During that lengthy conservation, the ambassador said that his “government is resolute in condemning anti-Semitic attitudes. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has declared a ‘zero tolerance’ policy against anti-Semitism.” He also said, “The current government of Hungary is prosecuting those responsible for the murder of innocent Roma individuals.”

Those statements are encouraging, but they do not reflect the attitudes of the Hungarian population. There have been several incidents in the past two years that may appear to the casual observer as tragic or, on the other hand, cynically farcical, when the Romani people were subjected to vile acts of a non-political party, the Hungarian Guard Association for Protection of Traditions and Culture. Ten members of the Nazi-like Jobbik party were the founders of that association. It is disturbing that the Jobbik party, which advocates a return to the fascist policies of the Arrow Cross, represents 17% of the elected government.

The European Court recently expressed its support for the dissolution of the racist group, “Guard.” Its reasoned decision was based on the principle that “… social organizations are different than a political party with respect to the roles they play in a democracy.  There is a difference between shocking, disturbing, or even disrespectful ideas that are protected by freedom of expression and ideas that incite violence or negate fundamental democratic principles that serve a democratic society and are the basis to dissolve that organization.” (Vona v. Hungary, European Court of Human Rights)

These rulings are not only a call to stop anti-Semitic and anti-Roma actions, but a wider announcement that deprivation of minorities’ human rights will not be tolerated. This is what the THGC advocates. With your help, it is a vital step in the right direction. Our youth can be assured that we too will do our part make our word heard both within government and in the public sector whenever possible.

The letters, responses, and actions of the Hungarian government are a testament to the importance of THGC’s letters, proof that even a small commission has the capacity to initiate changes in our world.

Regrettably, we need not look beyond our own communities to understand the consequences of hatred and bigotry or the results of being bystanders. Our nation provides excellent examples of individual human rights, yet there is much to be done to educate all our citizens about past wrongs and their resonance within the present:  teachable moments from which we can and must learn.

- Peter N. Berkowitz, Chairman of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission

June 2013

As students and faculty read names of hundreds of victims of the Holocaust at an event sponsored by the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC), one speaker encouraged respect and remembrance as well as tolerance of others.

Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, Chancellor of the University of Texas system, noted that the events of World War II ended nearly 70 years ago, but that we should never forget the immense loss of life in that long, tragic conflict.  In their honor, we also have a responsibility to practice tolerance toward those who are different than we are.  We live in a great nation that practices religious tolerance of other cultures, languages, and religious beliefs, but that acceptance came at a great price for many who struggled.  We cannot ignore the lessons of the Holocaust and ever become complacent and indifferent to the ideals our democracy shares.

Chancellor Cigarroa then lit memorial candles in respect for his own family members who perished during World War II in Europe and the millions of others who were honored with the ceremony at UT Permian Basin.

Development of educational programs about the Holocaust and other genocides are one of the major reasons the state legislature created the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission three years ago.  Hundred of teachers throughout Texas have attended the THGC’s programs in the past and will be able to find other opportunities to study about the Holocaust and other genocides on our website.  As we study the past, we must look to the future, so that such atrocities will never occur again.

- Dr. Frank Kasman, THGC Commissioner and THGC Education Committee Chair

April 2013

Spring is a time of renewal. But, without memory of the past there is no renewal. There is only repetition of the past. Humankind must be ever vigilant against repeating its most violent moments. The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission’s mission is to educate our student-citizens about the genocidal horrors of the past and suggest what can be done to prevent future genocides.

The Texas Legislature has declared April ‘Genocide Awareness Month.’ In keeping with that declaration, the THGC has posted on the Texas Education Agency’s website an educator lesson plan to teach the ‘8 Stages of Genocide’. This classroom instruction takes an interactive approach to guiding students to not be bystanders and suggests what can be done at each stage to keep bullying (stage 1) from gaining momentum toward genocide (stage 7). Another THGC program aimed at encouraging students to demonstrate their understanding of genocide in the most imaginative manner is our video contest open to all Texas middle and high school age students. THGC will award scholarships for the first and second place winners.

These two programs are only a portion of the many opportunities we have to educate our students to be better citizens. All of us have the responsibility to do for the next generation what was ignored by past generations who allowed genocide to go on unchallenged and unabated.

- P.N. Berkowitz, THGC Chairman