Penn State professor describes statewide Holocaust education initiative
Holocaust EducationPenn State University

Penn State professor describes statewide Holocaust education initiative

Documentarian, journalist and educator aids efforts to create digital "clearinghouse."

Boaz Dvir. Photo courtesy of A Wing and a Prayer
Boaz Dvir. Photo courtesy of A Wing and a Prayer

Boaz Dvir happily wears many hats. During last week’s Pittsburgh visit, he sported a few of his favorites.In describing efforts at creating a transformative digital space, Dvir, an Israeli-born, American-educated documentarian and journalist, joined several presenters at the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh Summer Teachers’ Institute to explore Holocaust education through a local lens.

Along with Penn State University colleagues, Dvir is currently collaborating with Pennsylvania’s Department of Education on the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative.

When completed, the initiative will “create a clearinghouse” for teachers where free and easily accessible materials will foster innovative and customizable methods for Holocaust education, he said.

Assembling such an electronic conglomerate requires curating thousands of pieces of content, including immersive technology, in hopes of promoting greater learning. Among the collected work is “A Wing and a Prayer,” Dvir’s 2015 documentary regarding the largely unknown story of Al Schwimmer and his efforts to aid the fledgling Jewish state by partnering with others to illegally transport military aircraft to the newly formed country.

In Pittsburgh, Dvir showed the documentary and offered a pedagogical approach by sharing age-appropriate viewing and discussion guides, lesson plans and instruction modules.

While “A Wing and a Prayer” and Dvir’s other work is among thousands in the budding initiative, his involvement with the Department of Education began prior to the project’s formation. In an earlier effort to bolster Holocaust education, the Department of Education approached Dvir about using his documentaries in its statewide curricula. Through that conversation broader awareness emerged.

“A Wing and a Prayer” poster. Photo courtesy of A Wing and Prayer

“In talking to the Department of Education it became obvious that there was a greater need, a much greater need, and that we at Penn State have the resources and capability, together with the Department of Education” and others to solve a difficulty in Holocaust education, said Dvir.

There is a “gap” where “students are missing out on this important part of their education,” and the reason “is not because they don’t want it or others don’t want to teach it,” he continued. “I believe that if the teachers are trained properly, if they have a place to go and learn about how to teach this, they will teach it and teach it well. For instance, there’s a lot of famous movies about this topic, but it’s not enough. You can’t just show ‘Schindler’s List,’ that doesn’t do anything. You have to know how to use the film.”

Which is why a larger educational undertaking began, he explained.

In partnering with Penn State colleagues and the Department of Education, Dvir hopes the initiative will enable teachers to find relevant materials and strategies for successful integration.

“The most important thing always is to give teachers tools that they can use in the classroom,” he said.

These efforts follow a statewide commitment to Holocaust education, explained Lauren Bairnsfarther, Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s director.

In April 2014, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Act 70, a bill prioritizing education about the Holocaust, genocide and other human rights violations in Pennsylvania schools. The bill’s intent was to “provide children with an understanding of the importance of the protection of human rights and the potential consequences of unchecked ignorance, discrimination and persecution.”

Such objective was confirmed by a survey, conducted three years later, that determined nearly 90 percent of schools provide this education, in age-appropriate fashions, through their curricula.

Boaz Dvir of Penn State University speaks with the Advanced Teacher’s Institute at Allegheny Intermediate Unit. Photo courtesy of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh

Creating a storehouse for Holocaust educational content enables teachers to further meet Act 70’s objectives, explained Bairnsfarther.

Although the initiative does not officially launch until August, Dvir is excited about the possibilities.

“I think it’s important for people to know that teachers want to teach this and students want to learn this. The lack of knowledge around it does not stand for lack of desire,” he said.

Dvir’s participation, along with fellow Penn State professor Elyana Adler, in last week’s summer institute, was a boon for participants, noted Bairnsfarther.

“If we can get with the teachers, get teachers to participate in creating this initiative, help them, teach them, train them, give them material, give them support, then we’re doing our job,” Dvir said. “I mean the most important thing is that this ultimately translates to making a difference for children. That’s what it’s all about.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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