A Palmerston North teacher selected to travel to Israel to learn about the Holocaust will take the history lesson of a lifetime back to the classroom.
Palmerston North Girls' High School social sciences teacher Emma Tyler was among 20 New Zealand teachers given the chance to visit Jerusalem, on the first specially tailored Holocaust education tour for Kiwi teachers that will now be offered annually.
The 16-day tour has been designed to foster better understanding of the effects of the Nazi regime that led to the slaughter of millions of people, mainly Jews, in World War II.
Sponsored by the New Zealand Holocaust Centre and Yad Vashem, the international Holocaust centre based in Israel, Ms Tyler and her colleagues were in Israel as it underwent an election.
While there, she heard the love story of an elderly couple who had been saved from certain death by factory owner, Oskar Schindler. They had also been consultants on Steven Spielberg's award-winning film Schindler's List and shared their stories with the teachers.
"It was amazing to see the vibrancy they have for life and the success they have had in their lifetime," Ms Tyler said.
She also met Anne Frank's best friend, who is mentioned in the Holocaust victim's famous diary, as well as one of the world's leading Nazi hunters, who was able to share special insight on how the war criminals were caught.
Jerusalem had special significance for Ms Tyler, as the place where she took her first steps. Her father is a history lecturer and they had spent four months of her childhood in Israel for his study.
"It was very special to go back there," she said. "This is one of the best opportunities I have ever had. My whole life I had been interested in the Holocaust and the people who survived it."
The sombre experience was offset by visits to the Dead Sea and Wailing Wall and meetings with Israel's Hasidic community, or Orthodox Jews.
The trip has inspired Ms Tyler to teach a "Holocaust and heroism" series to her Year 13 social studies pupils. She said so far they had shown a great deal of interest in the harrowing period of history.
It has also prompted an addition to the itinerary of a combined history and drama students' trip to Europe planned for later this year which Ms Tyler will be leading with her drama teaching counterpart.
Girls' High pupils will soon begin fundraising for the trip, which will include a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
- Manawatu Standard
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