Holocaust by Bullets: Denver-bound Exhibit Bridges Gap in Holocaust Education
The familiar image of the railroad tracks leading to the Nazi death camp of Birkenau only tells part of the story. While deaths of Jews and many others in World War II concentration camps are often the central images of the Holocaust, the story of the massacres by Nazi mobile killing units is coming to Denver as part of an educational exhibit soon opening at the Staenberg Loup Jewish Community Denver.
In less than two years, from June 1941 until the spring of 1943, an estimated 1.25 million Jews were massacred by Nazi mobile killing units, or Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen rounded up the Jewish populations of the villages and towns they passed through, led them to the countryside, executed them, and buried them in mass graves. Very little is known about these atrocities because there were so few survivors. But in 2004, an organization named Yahad – In Unum (“together” in Hebrew and Latin) was founded in Paris by leaders of the French Roman Catholic and Jewish communities.Stemming from the initiative of its founder and president, French Catholic priest Father Patrick Desbois, the organization has conducted over 79 research trips, identified over 1,400 execution sites and interviewed close to 4,000 eyewitnesses in eight countries since 2004. Using oral history interviews with the non-Jewish survivors that remain, hand-held GPS devices, and metal detectors to search for hundreds of spent bullet casings Yahad the team has found dozens of mass burial sites in fields and pastures in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Lativa, and Moldova – all places where Jewish life thrived before World War II.
Yahad also provides educational programs for academics and teachers; investigates the actual crimes, identifies the sites, and videotapes interviews with the witnesses; conducts and promotes research; and by seeing the Holocaust by bullets as a model for mass violence, investigates other genocides to help us draw lessons and prevent similar atrocities.
In partnership with Colorado Holocaust Educators (CHE) and with the support of the Staenberg-Loup JCC and JEWISHcolorado’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Yahad is bringing their groundbreaking exhibit to Colorado. From October 9-November 7th, the exhibit be on display in the JCC lobby. The JCRC encourages school, religious and community groups to schedule guided tours, or simply visit the exhibit. Beyond the remarkable story it tells, JCRC Director, Dr. Dan Leshem says the exhibit itself helps to bridge a gap in current Holocaust and genocide education in the State of Colorado.
In 2020, the JCRC led a statewide effort with coalition partners representing various genocide survivor groups to pass a statewide Holocaust and Genocide Educational Mandate for Colorado. Because the 2020 legislative session was dramatically affected by the emergence of COVID-19 and statewide budgets were slashed, the initial legislation was modified to remove all the implementation plans and costs.
“As we worked with partners across the state on the specific standards language the massive challenges we faced in implementing this legislation became apparent—from the challenges Colorado’s ‘local control’ education system imposes (the need to engage independently with all 178 school districts), to State Board of Education members who fought to exclude the word NAZI from the standard,” explained Leshem. He highlights just some of the hurdles that Holocaust educators in Colorado face including a “lack of both a statewide Holocaust and genocide museum and of a state-level Holocaust and genocide commission that could raise funds to underwrite teacher training, books, and resources. Coupled with the ongoing loss of our Holocaust survivor community, we are facing an existential challenge to produce accurate, effective, and widely available Holocaust education in Colorado.”
Since helping pass the education mandate and spending the intervening time helping draft the standards language, the JCRC has been meeting with legislators, educators, and educational organizations across the state to craft a response that might fill the gap between the intent of the mandate legislation and the reality of its impact so far.
The JCRC, along with its partners at JCC, CHE, Yahad-In Unum and a handful of other statewide partners continues its work to bring more reliable resources and training to teachers across the state. Says Leshem, “We welcome the support of the entire community in trying to fulfill our mandate. It will take all of us working together to share and learn from the lessons and legacies of humanity’s troubled history.”
What: “Holocaust by Bullets: Yahad-In Unum, 15 Years of Investigation”
Where: Staenberg-Loup JCC Lobby (Open during JCC business hours)
When: October 9 – November 7, 2023
How: Sign up for guided tours here