“A million-and-a-half children all just disappeared. And I carry that around whenever I speak,” Fred Gross told a room of nearly 150 people at the Louisville Free Public Library on Thursday, February 4. Gross was describing his experience as a child in Hitler’s Europe when he paused to share his purpose for speaking. “I’ve dedicated my story to the children who were lost in the Holocaust,” he said.
Gross’s story was part of the larger Holocaust Short Course put on by the Public Library. The six-week, college-level course used a variety of instructors, including local teachers Shannon Kederis and Dan Penner, to teach about different aspects of the Holocaust.
While the course started with the history of Hitler’s rise and the resulting resistance, it also focused on voices of those who went through it personally: Gross, the author of One Step Ahead of Hitler, spoke about his childhood experiences, CenterStage’s Acting Out company performed And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank.
The Holocaust Short Course was facilitated by St. Francis of Assisi teacher Fred Whittaker, who has trained at both the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Yad Vashem. Most recently, Whittaker led a group of Jefferson County Public School teachers to Washington, D.C. to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Of the current course, Whittaker said, “We were approached in the summer [by the LFPL] and asked to do something that would be meaningful, and that was more than just history. So we were hoping that people would walk away appropriately respectful of and in awe of those portions of human nature that can create this kind of darkness, and at the same time be incredibly aware of the moments of light that can be seen if you look into the lives of the people who have survived the Holocaust.”
Attendees expressed gratitude as well as satisfaction for getting an in-depth look at the Holocaust. Jeb Skora said that what he wanted to gain from the course was “a greater understanding of why did this happen, why did we permit this to happen, and to make sure that it never happens again.” Mary Wheatley agreed, adding, “I honestly wasn’t satisfied with what I was reading about why the Holocaust took place. And I thought that some of the answers I was reading about weren’t complete.” Skora and Wheatley both said they enjoyed how the course educated them in a compelling, personal way.
Whittaker said his ultimate goal was to “open both eyes and hearts” of participants. He concluded, “We were hoping to be able to visit the lives of those who perished in the Holocaust with a sense of honor and dignity.”