MAYS LANDING - High school teacher Elizabeth Klem is on a mission to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for her students.
“It was a tremendous experience,” said Klem about her recent trip to Lithuania and Poland where she visited important Holocaust sites with The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, of which she is a fellow. Klem teaches English, along with the elective course Introduction to Holocaust and Genocide Studies in conjunction with Stockton University, at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology.
The trip was a part of the JFR’s mission to financially support the non-Jewish rescuers who helped to protect Jews during the Holocaust. Their help during the Holocaust has earned the rescuers the title of Righteous Gentiles. The trip was also part of the JFR’s other goal of providing educational resources for teachers when they teach the Holocaust — in which an estimated 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II.
Klem, who traveled with members of the JFR as well as several other teachers, said she did not know much about Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust prior to starting her research for the trip.
“It was an area that I did not know a lot about,” she said. “It really started there; it’s a very important part of the history.”
The group began their trip in Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius, where a thriving Jewish community existed before the start of World War II. While in Lithuania, the group also visited Ponary Forest, the site of a massacre where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered and then buried in mass graves by German Nazis and their supporters.
After Lithuania, the group traveled to Poland, where they visited the death camps at Auschwitz and Treblinka.
“It’s a very intense experience and it made me feel my humanity,” said Klem about her visit to the camps.
The group also visited Jedwabne, the site of a Jewish massacre in July 1941, on the 70th anniversary of the mass murders. The group experienced the emotional, solemn ceremony remembering and honoring the victims of the massacre.
Klem confessed that visiting these sites can make it difficult to see the good in humanity, but was thankful the group got to meet some of the good, righteous people who survived the war.
“We got to meet some rescuers and that was the good that came out of this,” she said. “It was just amazing to meet them.”
Meeting some of the rescuers helps Klem in her Introduction to Holocaust and Genocide Studies class, as her students do research papers on rescuers.
“It’s very important to let the students see the good,” Klem said.
Her personal experiences at the Holocaust sites helps her teach her students about the events of the Holocaust, which is exactly what the JFR hopes to accomplish with these trips.
“They are really focused on the education and the learning and the application in the classroom,” said Klem about the JFR.
She believes the Holocaust is a topic that can be studied for a lifetime, which is exactly why Klem is continuing her own education by working on her master’s degree from Stockton University in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
“I feel very fortunate to be connected with the JFR and with Stockton,” she said.
For more information on The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, please visit www.jfr.org.