Education Professor Jeff Mangram travels to Israel to study the Holocaust at Yad Vashem
For most, it is hard to imagine treating a human being as anything less than human— without dignity or free will. In his study of the Holocaust, Professor Jeffery Mangram ’88, G’89, G’06 understands how the process of dehumanizing an entire people sustained the systematic murder of millions. The concept took on even greater meaning for Mangram who was invited to participate in a program at Yad Vashem, the Israeli national Holocaust museum and memorial. The program, which took place in January, focused on the importance of examining historical evidence and the role of the Holocaust in shaping Israel as a country. For Mangram, the passion of the curators and historians at Yad Vashem had the most influence on him. “They had this sort of enthusiasm, this energy, this mission to make the world understand the consequences and seriousness of the Holocaust,” he says.
Mangram was invited to Yad Vashem after taking part in the Echoes and Reflections Professors Tour, an award-winning educational program run by the Anti-Defamation League, the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute, and Yad Vashem. Mangram, an assistant professor of social studies education in the School of Education, focuses his current research around the representation of historical, cultural, and social events in popular media, including studying the Holocaust as represented in recent comic books, graphic novels, and movies. When he received the invitation to study at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Mangram was excited and intrigued. “I had always wanted to experience Israel and understand the country from an Israeli perspective,” he says.
Along with 18 other American professors, and three staff members from the Anti-Defamation League, he spent seven days attending seminars, visiting historical sites around southern Israel, and exploring the 45 acres of the memorial compound itself. The memorial comprises more than 20 monuments, museums, and research centers, including the Holocaust History Museum, the Hall of Names, the Hall of Remembrance, and the Pillar of Heroism.
With the backdrop of historical sites, the scholars at Yad Vashem use a variety of evidence and materials to educate. A key focus was the resiliency of Israelis, Mangram says. Among the materials were artwork, prose, and poetry composed within the concentration camps, showing the prisoners’ determination to keep a record of their experiences. Regardless of whether they would live or die, they went to extreme lengths to ensure that their history was recorded, Mangram says. He hopes this program will force more educators to teach about the complexities of genocide in a more effective way by using the Holocaust as a basis for understanding the concept of genocide.
As both an SU professor and an eighth-grade international relations teacher at Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, New York, Mangram has been sharing his experiences from the trip with both pre-service teachers and his younger students, carrying on the very tradition that Yad Vashem thrives on—Venigadeta Lebincha—“And you will tell your children.”
“I showed my eighth graders slides from my trip, and shared what I saw there—about the 18-year-olds walking around with machine guns, but also about kids just like them—playing soccer, hanging out,” he says. Mangram wants to share his own personal experiences with them to hopefully debunk some common misconceptions American students may have about Israel.
As a follow-up to his trip, Mangram is working on a few projects to pass on what he learned at Yad Vashem to other teachers in the community. He hopes to put together a workshop for local in-service teachers and pre-service teachers from SU, and to organize an interdisciplinary course in Holocaust education combining art and history.
As with the professors who traveled to Israel, an open mind is essential to understanding, Mangram says. “We came in with this sort of gentle curiosity. The scholars brought a direct historical approach; they wanted to educate,” he says. Mangram hopes to build on what he learned at Yad Vashem and continue to study the Holocaust through his post-trip projects and possibly another visit. “I can’t wait to go back,” he says.
By Kate Morin/SU Publications