The Holocaust is an indelible stain on human history. There is a duty not only to study the history of the Holocaust but also to remember it, for there is no future without memory. Remembering what happened should rightly awaken the conscience of my students.
To that end I created the Bearing Witness program at Marist School—a private Catholic school—in Atlanta, Georgia over 20 years ago to engage my students with the difficult topics of Nazi war crimes, genocide, and anti-Semitism.
To study the history of the Holocaust is to become a witness to a story that reaches us in that place where truth is kept. It inspires my students to apply all their learning, insight, and innate sympathy to the project of promoting understanding among different peoples, religions, and cultures.
The unique Holocaust studies program, designed to expand learning beyond the limits of the classroom for 9 to 12 grade students, is set over an immersive nine-day trip held each spring to Munich, Prague and Krakow, and visiting important sights such as Dachau and Auschwitz.
The Bearing Witness curriculum, designed to ensure student engagement with the subject matter before, during, and after travel, includes a twelve week seminar on the Holocaust, meetings with survivors, extensive journal writing, select readings, films, and documentaries, letters from prominent world leaders, artists, and scholars, student presentations, community service projects, memorial events, adult education classes for parents, and original works of art, literature and poetry created by participating students.
I decided to name the program Bearing Witness because I believe witness not only means to see something, but to see something and be changed by it. And I believe every one of my students have been.
This is part of a series called, Small Glimpses into the Past, where we see mini-reflections on impactful moments that have changed certain perspectives on life. You can send your submissions to email@example.com.
Header image design by Orly Zebak.
Brendan Murphy is a high school teacher at the Marist School and has led student trips to Washington, DC and across Europe to visit concentration camps and other significant historical sites, and authored the comprehensive “Bearing Witness” guide for ACIS (the American Council for International Studies) on best practices in Holocaust education. Brendan is the recipient of many awards related to Holocaust studies including the Georgia Educator of the Year in 2009 and 2016, the Outstanding Educator Award from the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, the Abe Goldstein Human Relations Award from the Anti-Defamation League, Teacher of the Year from the University of Notre Dame, and the Goizueta Chair of Excellence at Marist School.