John Regnier could smell the decaying bodies. They were all over the ground.
It was the end of World War II, and the a supply sergeant for the medical support unit attached to the 4th Armored Division was walking through the Ebensee Concentration Camp in Austria just after its liberation.
“When we left that scene, we were in shock. There was no conversation,” said Regnier, now a 90-year-old resident of Stevens Point, Wis. “We didn’t eat that night. There was numbed silence. The smells, the sights. We couldn’t comprehend this being done to human beings.”
Regnier and others with first-hand accounts of the Holocaust are featured speakers at Viterbo University’s sixth annual Holocaust Educators’ Workshop, which runs March 22 and 23. It’s designed to give educators the knowledge and tools to teach their students about the Holocaust.
“(Most) teachers are not being taught in college how to teach the Holocaust,” said Darryle Clott, an event organizer and presenter. “It’s really important that we educate teachers on how to do it correctly.”
Presenters include a Holocaust survivor, an editor who put together a book of diaries written by young Holocaust victims, Rabbi Simcha Prombaum from La Crosse’s Congregation Sons of Abraham, Clott, a Viterbo history instructor and Ethics in Leadership associate, and a special assistant for education programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Peter Feigl, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor travels all over the country telling his story.
“Time seems to wipe these things out of people’s memories,” he said during a phone interview from his Florida home. “Today, people who are 40 or 50, they know next to nothing about the second World War, about the Nazis. If you forget history, it’s going to repeat itself.”
Feigl’s parents had him baptized as a Catholic in 1939 to protect him from Nazi persecution of Jews. The family fled several countries to escape, but his parents were arrested and killed at Auschwitz in 1942.
Helped by Quakers, Feigl was hidden in several places, including the French village of Le Chambon, which helped save 3,500 Jews. With false identity papers, Feigl was ushered across the border into Switzerland in May 1944. He came to the U.S. in July 1946.
He kept two diaries during that time, one of which was published in “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” a book edited by Alexandra Zapruder.
Zapruder will show educators at the workshop how to use her book in the classroom.
“It’s important for teachers to understand what the diaries contain, how to take a line of a text and help (kids) understand what it tells about the broader history,” she said from her home in Washington, D.C. “You can’t hand (a book) to them without context or help and expect them to understand it.”
Steve Feinberg, a special assistant for education programs at the national Holocaust museum, will work with attendees on how to incorporate online resources in lessons.
“It’s not a simple history. It’s evolutionary,” he said.
“It’s an extraordinary workshop. One of the best nationwide.”