The Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua recently sponsored a field trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a group of six students and seven Holocaust history and literature teachers from Chautauqua Lake Central School in March.
The Hebrew Congregation Holocaust Education Program received support from the Theodore and Pauline Cohen Trust, along with contributions from various other donors, to fund the visit. As part of the Shirley Lazarus Sunday Speaker Series, the students and teachers reflected on the trip Sunday, July 15, in Hurlbut Church.
Brian Binkley, an English language arts teacher at CLCS, visited the Holocaust Museum once before 18 years ago.
“It was as powerful today as I remembered it then, but if you have not had the chance to go, there are no words I could use,” Binkley said.
His favorite part of the museum is the Hall of Remembrance, a simple, solemn space designed for public ceremonies and individual reflection. The walls encircle an eternal flame and are inscribed with concentration and death camp names.
“You find there what can only be described as God’s grace-like emphasis on the horror of what we just experienced, while at the same time, offering peace and a place to reflect.”
-Brian Binkley, English language arts teacher, Chautauqua Lake Central School
This portion of the museum was personally striking for Binkley because it reminded him of the men and women who lost their faith during the time of the genocide.
“It was the most powerful,” he said. “The survivors would (wonder), ‘How could God do something like this? I can’t believe in someone like that.’ It still shakes me now as I say it.”
However, Binkley and the rest of the group had the opportunity to meet with one man whose faith not only outlasted the Holocaust, but was strengthened as a result of it: Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits. Berkowits survived Auschwitz and other concentration camps as a teenager.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” Binkley said. “And blessed double are those like Rabbi Berkowits who have seen and experienced humanity’s potential for evil and come through with deeper faith. It was a deep privilege to be able to witness his interactions with our students, as well as listening in such an intimate setting.”
Leigh-Anne Hendrick is the program coordinator at CLCS, as well as a social studies teacher. She has taught an elective Holocaust studies course for the past decade.
“I feel like this class is the most important thing I do as an educator,” Hendrick said. “It has had a great impact on students in how they see their world, how they think of human nature and how they want to respond in the face of intolerance.”
One of those students was Madison Webb, who graduated from CLCS in June 2017 and attended the first sponsored trip to D.C. in March 2017.
“This Holocaust studies class was not just a class every other day from 9:28 to 10:52 that I dreamed of being over, only because lunch was soon to follow,” Webb said. “This was a class I never wanted to end. The world was in this classroom, and I never wanted to stop learning.”
Along with enhancing her high school experience, Webb said the class also affected the course of her studies in college.
Following graduation, Webb initially pursued her love of music and attended the State University of New York at Potsdam to major in music education. However, the passion she felt on the trip to D.C. was missing, so she transferred to SUNY Buffalo State to major in international relations with a concentration in peace and security studies. Webb said this was her way of “making her mark on the world.”
“Anne Frank once said, ‘How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,’ ” Webb said. “That is exactly what I will accomplish. Being a bystander is just as bad as being the perpetrator, and that will not be a chapter in my story.”