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Using Music to Teach and Remember the Holocaust

'The Children of Willesden Lane' International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27th  and is a time for reflection. Sadly, children are often subject to the same worldly violence as adults, especially during times of war. In our more recent history, think of the number of children who perished during armed conflicts in Vietnam, Kosovo, and Syria. Go back a few more decades and recall that, in Nazi-occupied Europe, more than 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered in the ghettos and death camps. Students need to “make meaning” of history’s tragic events if they are to understand the past and what roles they have in securing a more peaceful future.

If your students have already read The Diary of Anne Frank, try The Children of Willesden Lane. The series TeachingThe Children of Willesden Lane’ offers resources to help middle and high school students better comprehend survivor Lisa Jura’s story of loss, resilience, and ultimate triumph. Mona Golabek, Jura’s daughter, wrote The Children of Willesden Lane to honor her mother, who was spared the cruelty of the death camps thanks to the Kindertransport (children’s transport). In all, the operation saved nearly 10,000 children.

Music as Teacher

“Hold on to your music. It will be your best friend.” -words spoken to Lisa Jura by her mother as she boarded the Kindertransport

Music is as much a character in The Children of Willesden Lane as Jura. Therefore, each reading includes a musical selection that highlights the theme of that segment. In Reading 2: Uprooted (Chapters 4-8), high school history teacher Martina Grant asks her students to identify a song that would remind them of home, should they ever have to leave. After students respond, Grant reads the passage from the book where Jura takes the music for Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” with her when she leaves home. At about 2:45 minutes into the video, students listen to that piece and determine how the music revealed Jura’s feelings.

The video also shows how teachers from different disciplines can work together to provide a more meaningful lesson. Grant asked the school’s music teacher Jeff Arzberger to conduct a lesson on basic musical concepts such as rhythm and harmony, and the difference between major and minor keys. Arzberger meets the lesson objectives by asking students to listen to and then compare the musical approaches taken by Beethoven in his “Moonlight” Sonata and by Debussy in “Clair de Lune.” Would you be comfortable teaching music? Who might you call on to help you familiarize your students with music and music history?

Students then discuss whether it is important to understand Jura’s music in order to understand her story. As you watch the video, consider how music impacts Jura’s story. Does it make it more meaningful? Why or why not?

International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27)

ConnectArts_FindingVoice1‘The Children of Willesden Lane’ by Mona Golabek is a memoir about her mother’s experiences in the Kindertransport during the Holocaust. The course Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane’ has a multi-faceted Web site with descriptions of the history of the events, explanations of race and anti-semitism, musical selections from the book, and videos showing effective classroom instruction. After reading the book, students think about big themes, such as what it means to feel like an outsider, in program 12, “Gaining Insight Through Poetry.”

In Death: A Personal Understanding, program 3, “Facing Mortality,” people facing their own deaths or the death of others close to them discuss how they prepare. This program includes a segment on a Holocaust survivor who faced the possibility of her own death and the death of her family.

In Connecting with the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library Grades 6-8, program 12, “Finding Your Voice,” the teacher empowers her students to find their voices to communicate social justice through art. Students analyze meaning in art used to represent history, including work by artist Samuel Bak who painted about the Holocaust.