OC professor selected to study Holocaust literature and classroom best practices

Willie Steele, associate professor of language and literature, spent the last two weeks examining Jewish responses to the Holocaust in diaries, letters, artwork and community documents at the nation’s premier Holocaust museum. He also discussed and learned best practices for teaching the important topic in the classroom. Steele’s two-week study was made possible when he was selected to attend the 2010 Curt C. and Else Silberman Seminar at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The 2010 Curt C. and Else Silberman Seminar for University Faculty, hosted by the museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, focused on the Jewish responses to the Holocaust and was titled Teaching the Victims’ Perspective. The seminar, held annually, is a higher education program that promotes, protects and strengthens Jewish values in democracy, human rights, ethical leadership and cultural pluralism.

“This year’s Silberman Seminar caught my interest because it looked specifically at the victims’ perspectives, a view that has gained momentum in recent years,” Steele said. “Being a part of the 21 faculty from around the country chosen for this opportunity gave me a great chance to learn from experts in a variety of areas related to Holocaust studies.”

The seminar introduced Steele to the variety of Jewish responses to the Holocaust—the largest victim group—and expanded the knowledge base and pedagogical techniques that he uses in his Holocaust studies course. Jewish responses to persecution were explored through an investigation of both primary and secondary source readings, and included presentations, participant-facilitated discussions of classroom teaching methods and roundtable discussions of teaching strategies across multiple disciplines. 

“Having the opportunity to study under some of the top scholars was truly a once in a lifetime experience,” Steele said. “Dr. Deborah Lipstadt is one of the world’s leading scholars on disproving Holocaust deniers, and Dr. Susan Sulieman has written and lectured about the role of memory in Holocaust literature.”
According to Steele, the museum follows through on its mission to inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, promote human dignity and prevent genocide.

“The entire staff at the Holocaust museum went out of its way to provide resources and materials that I plan on integrating in my Holocaust literature course,” Steele said. “Realizing the impact that the Holocaust continues to have, 65 years after the camps were liberated, continues to amaze me, and this seminar greatly reinforced the importance of teaching this subject for generations to come.”

Curt C. Silberman was a jurist, community leader and organizer of numerous Jewish organizations and social agencies in Germany and the United States. He devoted his life to fighting for the rights and serving the interests of Jews and Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, and to assuring that the roots of prejudice and the Holocaust are understood. He believed the lessons learned would contribute to the betterment of society.

This is the second seminar that Steele has attended at the Holocaust museum. In addition, he was one of three faculty winners in the 2009 Faith and Learning scholarship contest at Oklahoma Christian. Steele won for his essay titled “Suffering with Faith: The Holocaust and Christian Education.”