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Retired teacher and his students interviewed hundreds of WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors

Brazil Holocaust Memorial
Bruna Prado/AP
A youth looks at photos on an interactive table displaying the photos and stories of the thousands of people who took refuge in Brazil during the Holocaust at the Holocaust Victims Memorial. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

To mark the day, the Holocaust Center in Maitland will feature a talk by renowned author and historian Matthew Rozell. Rozell’s high school history students interviewed hundreds of WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors in order to preserve their stories.

Rozell says it all started out as a way to engage his students in the world history they were learning: his students interviewed a Holocaust survivor for class.

Soon, word grew, and more students enrolled. Over the course of his decades-long teaching career, his classes collected hundreds of interviews with WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors.

Rozell said he’ll share these experiences in order to inspire teachers and students to continue to have difficult conversations in history classes, despite new Florida laws like Stop Woke and the Parental Rights in Education also known by critics as Don’t Say Gay law.

“These are lessons that we have to be aware of," said Rozell. "So I don’t know if I would be getting in trouble if I was a teacher in Florida right now, I don't know. Because we asked hard questions, and had some really great discussions. And there are a lot of traumatic things that have to be discussed.”

Rozell said it's crucial that teachers continue to teach their kids about history, in all of its ugliness and complexity.

“I don’t think a lot of Americans really understand the magnitude of it [the Shoah]," said Rozell. "You're talking 6 million European Jews were murdered in a span of four and a half years. And in, you know, in a civilized country. Nazi Germany was the Germany of culture, of highly educated people, skilled doctors and nurses, who became perpetrators. And that's something that we need to look at. How did that happen?"

Every K-12 student in Florida is required to learn about the Holocaust before they graduate. To attend the event, register here.

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.
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