Over the coming weeks, as OPRF students register for next year’s courses, they’ll have a new, cutting-edge class they can choose: Holocaust Studies, developed by OPRF history teacher Michael Soffer. Unlike other survey classes that might teach just a unit on Nazis or the Nuremberg trials, this semester-long course will offer a deep, interdisciplinary study of the Holocaust that centers personal stories.
Each day of the semester-long course will begin with a two-minute video clip of a Holocaust survivor sharing their personal experience with the events covered in that day’s class. In addition, each student will receive an ID card with the name and birthdate of a Jewish person from the Holocaust. The last five minutes of each class will be spent updating one person's story each day, as a way of stressing to students that the Holocaust did not just happen to six million persons, but happened to one person, six million times. At the end of the course, students will encounter some significant surprises about who these individuals were.
Mr. Soffer, who himself is Jewish, was inspired to create the class after last fall’s tragic shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. That incident was followed a short time later by episodes of antisemitic graffiti on the OPRF campus as well as the airdrop of a swastika during a student assembly.
The class will draw parallels to the rising tide of white nationalist acts taking place in the U.S. today. “Kids want to understand the world, and one of the hardest things to understand is how did a country like Germany turn evil ‘overnight,’” Soffer said. “Democracy is fragile. Kids don’t necessarily get that the stakes are really high.”