Bringing The Holocaust To The Classroom

As the teacher workshops director at the Holocaust Museum, Warren Marcus talks to a lot of educators. He tells them the gassing deaths of millions of Jews were carried out by a civilized democracy, and the whole world knew it.

Marcus says that one event can really get students thinking.

"Our students at middle and high school age can think about issues of personal and civic responsibility, they can think about how a government should act, they can think about the effects of how they act and how they treat people of different religous and ethnic groups and the impact that could have later on," Marcus says.

Shirley Johnson is the reason teachers are brushing up on the Holocaust. The Poplarville woman is the push behind the Mississippi Holocaust Commission.

Her father helped liberate a concentration camp in Austria and smuggled out the printed confession of a Nazi officer. It was given to him by a former prisoner. In 1979, Johnson promised her dying father she would go public with it.

"This was just somethin' that a man asked him to get back to America and share with the Americans and he never did. I told him I said I'll do it, don't worry about it, it'll get done.  To know that you're teachin' about the Holocaust, it's goin' to bring a difference to our state, there's no doubt."

Educators say Johnson puts a human face on a horrific tragedy that students only read about or see on TV and in the movies.

Judy Cooey of the Mississippi Department of Education says, "Shirley has taken this promise and she has made a great difference as well. She portrays herself as just a housewife and Shirley is doing so much to influence the children in our state to influence the teachers in our state and to make a difference in what's happening."

Shirley Johnson and Warren Marcus will meet with teachers in Hattiesburg Tuesday. Johnson has written a book about her father's military career that took him to the concentration camp in Austria.

A documentary crew from Nashville is also putting together the story and a Hollywood movie is in the works.