The Holocaust from the Perspective of a Student Intern
The Holocaust from the Perspective of a Student Intern:
Extending Lessons of the Past onto the Present and Future
By Amanda Iacobellis
Knowledge and learning is most memorable when it is unexpected, underestimated and utterly submerges you into a new environment. This idea scared me when I was told the Rockland Community College MTS Honors Program requires its students to complete an internship. As a student and private tutor, I was content in my little academic shell. However, my experiences at the Holocaust Museum & Study Center have taught me that fear of embarrassment due to lack of knowledge leads to ignorance. That same fear leads to a dangerous path of not participating, not paying attention and not acknowledging important topics.
Being a Christian who grew up in an Irish-Catholic town, I worried that I would have insufficient knowledge of the Holocaust to properly complete assigned tasks. For the most part, I was right; my high school and college education barely scratched the surface of Holocaust education. On my first day at the internship I was introduced to the Survivor Station, a multi-media presentation that allows the researcher to select testimony from a variety of topics. While there were many topics to choose from, I quickly learned a small computer screen cannot hold all the different topics the Holocaust covers. This led me to wonder why my high school education only covered the Holocaust for such a short time, giving simple answers to complex questions.
Helping the community is the ultimate goal of the Holocaust Museum & Study Center. Through their extensive education programs and memorial events, the Museum embodies the life lessons they teach. In order to promote the ideals of diversity, acceptance and remembrance the Museum hosts countless education programs for all ages. I have found that the most memorable aspect to Holocaust education and remembrance is through conversations with Survivors. One of the most unforgettable moments of my internship was hearing a Survivor, named Hanna, speak about her experiences during the Holocaust. I heard her narrative while attending an education program for Nyack College students at the Museum. The entire program was educational, interesting and thought-provoking, but Hanna’s narrative is what truly stands out. This personal connection exceeds all textbooks, lectures and films. It is Survivor narrative that is unique and absolutely necessary in Holocaust education and commemoration.
The lack of Holocaust knowledge and awareness became apparent to me about half-way through my semester. In one of my classes, my professor posed this question: if we were living in Germany during the Holocaust and had a best friend who was Jewish and she ran to our house for refuge, would we hide her? I was surprised that in a safe classroom with a hypothetical setting, many students said they would turn their best friend away, refusing to help. They used utilitarianism, to sacrifice one for the well-being of many, to justify their answer. While it is understandable to think about the dangers for oneself and one’s family, the idea of utilitarianism cannot be applied to genocide. How can the sacrifice of “one” be equivalent to the sacrifice of six million?
This internship has not only helped me develop my business communication skills, but it also taught me lessons on the Holocaust that extend from the past into the present and future. This was evident during the Euro-Café event with which I assisted. At this event, Rockland Community College students met informally with Holocaust Survivors who talked about their experiences. While all of the education programs are important, this one struck me as particularly significant because while it was geared towards college students, it was not presented in a lecture style. Sadly, my generation will be one of the last to meet with and hear Survivors tell their stories, so it is extremely important to involve as many college students now as possible. The Holocaust is a part of history that may not ever be fully understood, but it is very important that we try.