For Hashim Davis, when it comes to injustice, ‘see something, say something’ is more than a slogan.
Davis, a history teacher at Albemarle High School, makes a point each school year to teach his students about the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews during World War II when about 66% of Europe’s Jewish population was systematically murdered by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.
He hopes learning of the genocide will encourage students to not be silent if they see an injustice occurring.
“Because there are choices,” Davis said. “We know that, based on the history, the numbers of those who spoke up were far smaller than those who didn’t, so we’re urging them to speak up.”
On Monday afternoon, students in Davis’ history classes heard first-hand why that’s important. Jack Alder, a Holocaust survivor, zoomed into the class to share his story with Davis’s students, including those in the African American studies course.
Students said before the talk that they wanted to hear more about Alder’s experience and his perspective for a deeper understanding of the Holocaust.
Chloe Carpenter, a senior at Albemarle who is in Davis’ African American studies class, said she was looking forward to hearing directly from a survivor.
“We usually read from textbooks and other excerpts about the Holocaust,” she said. “But having someone screen to screen sharing their experiences is very, very cool. And I just feel like this is a once in a lifetime experience and I’m happy to be in a class where I can share that experience with other people.”
She said that she wanted to learn more about the steps Alder took to ensure “this horrendous experience” doesn’t happen again.
“Mr. Davis has emphasized this from day one. Black people and Jewish people have many similarities when it comes to genocidal experiences, with slavery for us and the Holocaust for them,” Carpenter said. “We both had to battle hate groups in order to gain our freedom.”
Being able to hear from a survivor reminded Carpenter that the Holocaust happened recently.
“People are oblivious to the fact that we still have other Nazis today,” she said. “We’re supposed to learn from our past and from history. It’s a continuous cycle. We cannot go through the same thing that we went through many, many years ago.”
Alder, a 93-year-old who now lives in Colorado, was about 10 when the Nazis invaded his hometown of Pabianice, Poland. He and his family were first forced into a ghetto. Then they were sent to several concentration camps and his entire family died. Alder was shipped to the United States as a war orphan and eventually settled in Skokie, Illinois.
He documented his experiences a 2012 memoir, “Y: A Holocaust Narrative” as well as the 2015 documentary “Surviving Skokie.”
Davis was connected with Alder through his work as an Alfred Lerner fellow. The fellowship, through the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, is designed to help teachers teach the Holocaust to students.
For more than a decade, Davis has placed particular emphasis on the Holocaust in his history classes, which he said is a passion of his. He also has been a teaching fellow with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Survivors are not going to be around much longer,” Davis said, adding that he hopes if his students get an opportunity to talk with a survivor in the future, they will take it.
Davis is teaching African-American studies at Albemarle. This is the first time in several years the course has been offered.
He said he wanted Alder to speak to the African Americans studies class because there’s “an intersection in terms of the experiences that many those who were persecuted as a racial caste in Nazi Germany as related to those who are more persecuted as a racial caste within the United States.”
In the African American studies class, Davis said they focus on the idea that policy is not accidental but intentional.
“The policies that enable a racial caste to be created are systemically tied in with what was happening in Nazi Germany,” he said. “In fact, the Nazis looked to Jim Crow South to design a framework to create the Nuremberg race laws. As I shared with my students, they even looked at Jim Crow South and went, ‘you guys are a little too extreme.’ So the students get that kind of parallel and as we dive in deeper into exploring the Holocaust, they’ll see some similarities as well as some differences.”
Students in the class said they appreciate the way Davis teaches.
“He doesn’t shy away from anything,” said Carée McDonald, a senior at Albemarle. “He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He just gives it to us straight up and comes to us with facts and just says this is how it was and this is what you need to learn to understand what’s going on now and how we can drive away from it in the future.”
Elizabeth Brubaker, a senior at Albemarle, said she wanted to get Alder’s thoughts on people who are denying that the Holocaust happened or minimizing how bad it was.
“We’ve also connected it to the Rwandan genocide,” Brubaker said of the class. “It’s always this pattern of separation, segregation, discrimination, and then termination. It repeats and that’s why we’re studying the Holocaust. It is just a pattern that repeats itself and being able to recognize the signs.”