AMHERST – Sixth-graders at Heritage Academy in Longmeadow were the first school group to visit the new Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst last month.
Ten sixth grade students, accompanied by teachers Yehuda Edry, Micah Winston and Dan Mason, and parent, Zev Dragon, toured the Institute, which now houses “A Reason to Remember: Roth, Germany, 1939-1942,” formerly housed at the Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center at the Springfield Jewish Community Center.
“It’s wonderful that they could find this new home for the materials from the Hatikvah Holocaust Center,” said Elizabeth Berke, principal of Heritage Academy. “It’s an invaluable resource for future generations in terms of learning about the Holocaust and then putting it in the bigger picture of struggles in the world in terms of genocide.”
The new Institute is located in a house built in 1929 formerly owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. It features a large exhibition hall that was added onto the building in 2004, and rooms for additional exhibits, a research library, living room and archival storage.
The new center is based around “A Reason to Remember,” which was the centerpiece of the Hatikvah Holocaust Center, and which was donated to the new center by the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. All of the photographs, displays and documents from “A Reason to Remember” showing what happened to five Jewish families in Roth, German during World War II, were moved from the Hatikvah Center to the new institute. The traveling version of “Reason to Remember” will also be based at the new center.
“The institute represents three rubrics and they are history, education and memory,” said Lara Curtis, assistant director of the UMass Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies. “The exhibition represents the educational component of the new institute. We work with the UMass school of education especially. They will be doing a lot of work around the exhibition.”
Curtis said that besides the Heritage Academy students, numerous UMass students have been making their way to the new center.
“The new Institute has already had hundreds of college students visit the ‘A Reason to Remember’ exhibition, but this group of Heritage Academy students was our first group of sixth graders,” said Curtis. “Having observed these students learn about the exhibition was meaningful, not only because they were our first middle-schoolers to come for a scheduled tour, but also because they are part of the Springfield Jewish community, which is where the exhibition was once housed.”
When the students returned to Heritage, they expressed their thoughts about the exhibit by writing poetry in Micah Winston’s English class.
“It was like an introduction to the Holocaust for some of them – some of the concepts and some of the terms,” Winston said of the exhibit. “It’s not like some other Holocaust museums with a lot of graphic details. These are still kids – they are sixth-graders, so I think it was a nice way for them to get exposed to general terms and concepts about the Holocaust and set the stage for future study.”