By SARAH GALZERANO & REBECCA KOLIMAGA
The Cumberland County Coalition for Holocaust and Genocide Education has held public workshops here at Cumberland County College. For over a decade the coalition, which consists of only volunteers, has been doing these workshops to encourage holocaust and genocide consciousness and provide resources to teachers.
Teachers who attend the workshops are awarded three professional development hours. Richard F. Flaim is the Founding Chairperson of the coalition, and Harry Furman, esq., who has presented over 20 workshops, is the current Chairperson. Furman explains the coalition’s goal is to “encourage people to act in a manner which will reflect their sense of compassion for other people.”
Harry Furman took part in the creation of the first Holocaust curriculum in New Jersey, aside Flaim. In 1976, Furman pioneered the first high school semester course on the Holocaust, The Conscience of Man, which is now taught by Terry Kuhnreich at Vineland High School. Furman is also a member of the N.J. Commission on Holocaust Education and an adjunct professor at Rutgers University. “I’m still involved in education, and I have been all these years,” said Furman.
When Furman begins his workshop, he reminds us that it is not a lecture. His workshops are far from ordinary- often on controversial subjects relating to the Holocaust and genocide. As he says, they are not a “be all, end all,” he’s just trying to “open up a topic.” Furman observes that a change in an audience’s opinion doesn’t happen after one workshop; people need time to reflect on such a stirring subject.
“We really have to think in terms of individuals. You take one person at a time, and that’s how progress occurs – slowly, sometimes painfully slowly,” Furman said, “part of the task of an educator is to find out how to move someone forward, even if it’s one step, and that’s a challenge.”
For Furman, the most shocking element of the Holocaust is that the death was caused “not by unintelligent, uneducated people, but in fact were among the most educated and brilliant professionals in German culture. They believed very much that what they were doing was the right thing to do.” He concludes, “Education by itself does not by itself ensure compassion.”
In December 2014, Furman orated a workshop about the misuse of terms such as “Holocaust” and “genocide” in social media. He presented People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advertisements that compared slaughterhouse animals to victims of concentration camps, Pro-Life campaigns that compared the Holocaust to abortion, and Presidential campaigns that compared Obama to Hitler.
The most recent workshop in February 2015 focused on the contested power of the photographic image and the moving picture. Furman showcased some of the very first pictures of concentration camps and newsreels that were shown in American theatres. Furman made the point that “you don’t see workshops about this subject.” The main points of this workshop were that it was rare to see an accurate representation of camps early after the war ended since Jews were never mentioned and that seeing these real films and photographs can change how you think about the Holocaust.
“We are all shaped by our own personal histories. We all deal with history, whether we like it or not.” says Furman. He believes it would be beneficial for Cumberland students to attend these workshops because “they’re in an educational institution. The purpose of their being here is not just to learn a trade, it’s also to think about the world in which they live.”
Furman’s final remark was “It’s more important to be kind than to be clever.” The next workshop, in March, will be about “Humor and the Holocaust.” Other events offered by the coalition are the Dear Esther production held each spring at CCC (open to all county students), and outreach presentations with nationally known speakers. If you are interested in attending, you can contact the coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org.