“Hands on learning” is a term usually reserved for students. It’s the act of learning not only from a textbook, but also through experience and application.
For East Brunswick High School teacher Robert Gangi though, being a student is just as important as teaching, and hands on learning is an invaluable tool for him as well as his students.
The instructor of Genocide in the Modern World was one of 13 middle and high school teachers from nine states to participate in The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous’ (JFR) 2012 European Study Program in Germany and Poland. The program is an intensive educational experience that includes visits to concentration camps, ghetto sites and Holocaust memorials. Gangi said the lessons learned there will be incorporated back into the classroom in East Brunswick.
“The trip was absolutely amazing,” said Gangi. “It was a one of a kind learning experience. JFR does amazing work with educators.”
During the trip, held in June, Gangi visited Munich, Weimar, Berlin, Dachau, Buchenwald, and the House of the Wannsee Conference in Germany, and Warsaw, Krakow, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Along the way, he got the opportunity to study alongside Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt and was taken to places that aren’t normally open to the public, including the Documentation Center, and studied rare items such as blueprints for Auschwitz-Birkenau, providing him with a unique insight into the Third Reich.
“They were able to show us the mindset of the Nazis and those developing the camp and what its purpose was and how it’s purpose changed, and how it grew and developed and changed into the camp that we all know and think of it as,” said Gangi.
Gangi said the trip was taken chronologically, starting with the beginning of the Third Reich up to the formation and implementation of the Final Solution. The group studied plans and heard lectures that focused on the sites they were standing in at the same time.
“We looked at the idea of the development of (Auschwitz-Birkenau), and how the crematoriums were built over time, how it began with bunker one and then bunker two, and how the process of the railroad cars didn’t begin until 1944, so we looked at how the camp expanded and developed and evolved as the killing expanded.”
So what does all this mean for EBHS students? For one, those who attend Gangi’s course will get an up close and personal look at his trip. Using photos and extensive notes, Gangi is creating lesson plans designed to give students new insight into the Holocaust.
“I’m compiling all my notes and I took hundreds and hundreds of photos and my goal is to take this information and inject it into my lessons and with things I do already. We’ll talk about the functionality of death camps, what survival was like inside Auschwitz…I want to give kids a virtual tour of the camps, so I can bring it to them, and have them experience what I did.”
He said learning about the Jewish Holocaust and other acts of genocide are among the most important lessons a student can experience. He also plans to not only point out the terrible nature of the events, but the heroic part of the human spirit, the aspect that drives people to fight, and to survive, and to help others do so, including those who hid refuges during World War II. Part of the trip even included a luncheon and talks with some of those very people.
“It’s important for a student to hear these stories, about the decisions these people made, that under these conditions people can rise to tremendous good, and to tell them that such heroism is possible,” he said. “It’s important to look at heroism and resistance in addition to the perpetrators.”
For more information on the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, visit its website at www.jfr.org.
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