WILMINGTON — Studying the Holocaust is nothing new in American schools. At Padua Academy, students in Barbara Markham’s history class spent a day with German exchange students discussing the similarities and differences in the way the subject is approached in the two countries.
The visitors told them that it is a difficult subject, even 80 years later, in Germany, and that most German citizens did not support the actions of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
“I still cannot get how a normal, logical thinking person can be influenced that much,” German student Michele Lindstrog said of those who carried out the atrocities.
It is hard for her to believe that her homeland was ground zero for such a horrific movement. In their studies at home, the 16-year-old said the amount of detail about the execution of six million people is influenced by the age of the students and that the intensity of study grows in their final year of high school.
Before their discussion, the students watched part of a film about the White Rose, the nonviolent resistance movement headed by a group of students at the University of Munich. Largely through a leaflet campaign, the students rallied opposition to the Nazi Party. Many of its members were tried and executed for treason.
Markham said her Padua students are studying resistance movements, and Jewish resistance was part of that. “But I also wanted to look at German resistance. So we’re looking at the story of the White Rose.
“What these kids (members of the White Rose) are saying – very much like the Vietnam era – is that our leaders are taking us down the wrong path. This White Rose group were patriots. They were young people who loved their country. They hated the Nazi leadership,” Markham said.
The German students at Padua wanted their hosts to know that the beliefs of the Nazi regime were not right then, and certainly not now.
“I think it’s important that everybody understands that all this is wrong,” said 16-year-old Anne Mohnen. “I hope everybody learned from it.”
Lindstrog said most Germans did not want to be part of the Third Reich and the final solution.
“The Holocaust was not supported by everyone,” she said.
German citizens who performed actions in support of the Nazis did so in many cases because they did not want to be killed themselves, she said. There were lots of Germans who tried to hide Jewish citizens, and some lost their lives for doing so.
“You shouldn’t forget the people who tried to prevent it,” she said.
Barbara Kaemper, the German teacher who accompanied the students, echoed that sentiment. There were German citizens who suffered as well, taken from their homes and sent to ghettos and, eventually, concentration camps. She has been to those camps. It is important for the German people not to deny the Holocaust.
“You have to learn from that,” Kaemper said.
This was the third year of the exchange program bringing students to Padua and also to Salesianum School. Markham said she wanted to incorporate the German students into the class instead of having them just observe.
“It gives them a chance to participate more,” she said.
Padua senior Haley Quickel said it was nice to have the German girls in their classes and their homes.
“It’s fun to see what they learn compared with what we learn,” she said. “Also, just to hear about some of the everyday life … has been really cool.”