Get To Know: Beth Siegel-Graf (Advisory Education Committee with the Staten Island Holocaust Center)
Since forming in 2020, the Staten Island Holocaust Center (SIHC) has placed an emphasis on furthering Holocaust Education by offering school and community programs that provide an understanding about how the Holocaust continues to have an impact locally in Staten Island and around the world. Partnering with area Holocaust survivors, second generation survivors, and their families, the SIHC offers opportunities for these individuals to share their personal stories and experiences with the Holocaust in order to educate others.
These programs with the SIHC present the chance to teach students and the general public to “never forget” and develop a deeper knowledge about the Holocaust to ensure it never happens again.
“We are working with schools to either strengthen their current programs or to insert Holocaust studies into the curriculum. After combing through all of the educational sites available, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for teachers to access material, understanding how valuable their time is,” said Beth Siegel-Graf, a second generation Holocaust survivor and chair for Advisory Education Committee for the Staten Island Holocaust Center.
A former director of admissions, high school assistant principal of Pupil Personnel Services, and assistant principal of the arts with the New York City Department of Education, Beth recently took part in a Q&A where she discussed her role with the SIHC, the importance of offering Holocaust Education programs in schools and at community centers, and how rising anti-Semitic crimes serve as a reminder why education about the Holocaust is so needed in our society.
Before discussing the Holocaust Education programs offered by Staten Island Holocaust Center, can you share your own personal connection to the Holocaust?
My father and my in-laws were survivors. My father was born in Ciechanow (Poland) but shortly after his birth moved to Przasnysz (Poland), my father-in-law was from Josefover Ordinasky (Poland), and my mother-in-law was from Pinsk (Belarus). My father didn't tell us his story until my siblings and I were much older because he couldn't bring himself to talk about his life during this time. When he started hearing about Holocaust deniers, he decided to start telling his story to us and to school children. When he knew his time was running short, he tagged me to be the one to keep his story going.
You have such an extensive history in education. Can your share more about your career journey and how those experiences led you to the Staten Island Holocaust Center?
As a retired educator, apparently we never really retire, I had a wonderful career trajectory. I began as a teacher of English and theater. While still teaching, I was given the position as an administrative assistant to the assistant principal of Pupil Personnel Services and then acquired my certification as an assistant principal, performing first in the content areas and then in an administrative capacity. During my time in the two schools in which my career spanned, I was fortunate enough to be in schools where Holocaust education was highly promoted. Both schools had Holocaust Literature classes given as electives within the English departments. I would frequently be invited as a guest speaker to tell my father's story in each school. My retirement has afforded me the time to give back using my skills as an educator and an administrator.
Why is it important for the Staten Island Holocaust Center to offer Holocaust Education programs in the area to schools, universities, and community organizations?
At this juncture, we are experiencing a rise in anti-Semitic crimes. Understanding the germination and history of the Holocaust can help students as well as adults recognize the dangers of hate and become "upstanders" as opposed to bystanders.
What are the programs currently offered with the SIHC?
SIHC is working with schools to either strengthen their current programs or to insert Holocaust studies into the curriculum. After combing through all of the educational sites available, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for teachers to access material, understanding how valuable their time is. We also have access to a number of Holocaust survivors and 2nd generation, children of survivors, available to talk to students and share their experiences. Nationally, the SIHC is also a strong supporter of organizations like the Holocaust Center of Humanity for example and have championed their Holocaust Education program series such as “Lunch-And-Learn”.
How has the way the Holocaust has been taught changed based on your experiences working in education, with young adults, and in the community?
Ten to fifteen years ago, there was much more time allotted to the high school curriculum for Holocaust studies. To the detriment of our students and hence our society, the amount of time now spent on this subject, has been greatly truncated. SIHC would very much like to be invited to adult community centers to speak about the Holocaust, as well.
For people looking to learn more about Holocaust Education programs offered with the SIHC, where can they go to get started?
The best way to get a better understanding of the extensive programs rooted in Holocaust Education that are arranged, organized, and led by the SIHC, is to contact SIHC directly through the SIHC website and social media channels. It would be our pleasure to partner together and help further Holocaust Education on Staten Island and beyond.
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