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History offers lessons for teachers, Ulster Project students

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Karen Klaich (right) gives a history presentation involving the Holocaust while speaking about the many years leading up to the mass genocide of 6 million, to students of the Ulster Project prior to their visit to the Holocaust Museum at Oakmont Baptist Church Thursday, July 6, 2017.

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By Sharieka Botex
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A group of Irish teens who are headed to Washington, D.C., with their Greenville hosts on Sunday to learn about the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement heard a preview of the trip this week from a local expert on the subject matter.

Karen Klaich, who worked with Pitt County Schools for 30 years and serves as a member of the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust, led a group of teachers to the capital city last month to help them use historical events to teach students about anti-Semitism, prejudices and stereotypes.

Klaich on Thursday shared highlights from the trip with teens participating in the annual visit to Greenville by the Ulster Project, which tries to help Catholic and Protestant youth deal with some of the same issues.

“We bring teenagers from both backgrounds to stay with American teens ... Through the month, we do a lot of leadership activities, service work, fun activities, things for them to learn they can work together to overcome obstacles,” said Jennifer Sword, Ulster Project coordinator said.

The four-day trip to Washington is one of the activities. The group will head out on Sunday and return on July 19, Sword said.

“One of the first things we do is tour the Holocaust Museum,” Sword said. “We tour the monuments, specifically Martin Luther King Jr., Roosevelt and Lincoln ... figures that were big in creating peace.”

The students also will tour the Capitol building and other museums in the area. Sword hopes the students will take away lessons from the trip similar to those that Klaich and the teachers took away from their experience.

“I really want these students to go back to their communities and be leaders and stand up for people that may not be able to stand up for themselves ... Being able to work together even when you disagree,” Sword said. “Not everybody sees everything the same way, and that’s OK, but it’s not OK to hold to those ideals and not work together to find a peaceful resolution.”

Klaich said the Ulster Project is a great thing for students who participate because it brings them together. The purpose of her presentation was to provide students with a brief background on the Holocaust and to familiarize them with what to expect at museums where she said some things are difficult to see.

Klaich, who has been involved with Holocaust education for 25 years, led her group to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and National Museum of African American History and Culture. Teachers gathered resources for their classrooms and continuing education unit credits. The teachers also read “The Plot” and “Why the Jews?” 

“Our focus was on anti-Semitism ... anti Semitism that has reared its ugly head even more so in the last few years, not just around the world, but even our own state,” Klaich said. “It’s become very prevalent unfortunately so we wanted to tackle that topic.”

Teachers spent a day at the Holocaust Museum then had an in-depth reflection about their experience, which included a discussion with a Holocaust survivor, Klaich said. Educators also received feedback on practices to keep in mind when sharing materials with students.

“We want them to think about their rationale for teaching, why they are teaching this,” Klaich said. “What do they want their students to get out of this, how can their students use this material to foster better communities within their schools, better communities within their towns and cities where they live.”

Klaich said the group explored parallels between the Holocaust with the history presented at the African-American museum, which followed black Americans’ progress from slavery through the Civil Rights era.

The group on one day read the text of Holocaust survivors and the next day excerpts from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the writing of Frederick Douglas. They compared prison outfits from Auschwitz and Nazi brownshirt uniforms to Harriet Tubman’s clothing and Ku Klux Klan robes, Klaich said.

“There’s lots of similarities between the two, in terms of how you identify people,” Klaich told the students. “When you’re talking about stereotypes and racism and dehumanizing people and the techniques that were used and the way that people tried to keep their humanity. For someone in the Holocaust it would’ve been being able to worship; as a slave, it would’ve been the same, to keep their religion, to keep their faith, to create those songs ... that were used to communicate ideas of possible escape, but to also help them survive those conditions.”

Klaich said she thinks students are interested in history. 

“We are very polarized as a country ... In my lifetime I’ve never seen anything like this,” Klaich said. “I think we have to remember that it doesn’t have to be that way. Even though the older adults in our society, some of them are helping to keep it polarized, our kids don’t have to be that way.”

Rebecca Cole, 15, who is visiting with the Ulster Project, was one of seven teens from Greenville and seven from Northern Ireland who visited with Klaich.

Cole attends Foyle College in Derry, Northern Ireland. She said her brother took the trip three years ago.

“He encouraged me to do it because he said it was the best summer of his life,” Cole said.

Cole said she is looking forward to learning more about America and forming friendships with people from the United States and Derry during the trip.

Contact Sharieka Botex at 252-329-9567 and sbotex@reflector.com. Follow her on Twitter @ShariekaB. 

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