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CCHS Holocaust Literature class in the news

Central Catholic teacher offers Nazi Holocaust class so future generations remember Hundall's class: 
Only one of a few in Stark County schools

Charita M. Goshay
The Repository
January 14, 2023

PERRY TWP. − Because, as the saying goes, history unlearned is history repeated, one teacher has made it his mission to ensure students at Central Catholic High School have knowledge of the Nazi Holocaust.

Gerald "Gerry" Hudnall, a veteran social studies and English teacher, created a curriculum for Holocaust education in 2009.

It is one of only a handful of classes dedicated to the topic in Stark County schools. Lake High School, for example, has offered a curriculum for several years. GlenOak High School also offered a study.

Hudnall said he was inspired to create a class for upperclassmen after taking a graduate-level course at the University of Akron. He also took a workshop at Georgetown University in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Museum the year before he joined the faculty at Central Catholic.

On the rise

"I started out with probably one class, one semester long, and I think there were about 15 kids," he said. "It's gone to four classes each semester, and almost every senior has taken it."

The class, an elective to juniors and seniors, examines how the Holocaust affected young people who were the same ages as Hudnall's students in the ghettos and camps, and the Resistance, he said.

Fighting Holocaust denial

Hudnall said one of the books he uses is "Out of the Whirlwind," an anthology from his course at Akron U.

"One of the first selections is by a guy by the name of (psychologist Bruno) Bettleheim, who was Jewish and who was in a concentration camp, but he wrote a piece that said the Jews did not fight back, that they went like lambs to be slaughtered," Hudnall said. "Throughout the course, I try to prove him wrong. Even praying in a death camp when you're not allowed to pray is, in a sense, a way of fighting back."

Though he had some knowledge about the Holocaust, senior Ryan Turner, 18, said he took the course because he wanted to learn more.

"All the past seniors took it, and it was with Mr. Hudnall," he said.

There are no tests.

"I don't want them to memorize who was murdered, where and why," Hudnall said. "But if we finish a unit, they will do an in-class paper."

Hudnall noted that while at Georgetown University, Emory University University historian and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, was one of the instructors. In 1994, Lipstadt and her publisher were sued for libel by British writer David Irving, who claimed she mischaracterized some of his writings and speeches as Holocaust denial in her bestselling book, "Denying the Holocaust." Lipstadt won the suit, and the book and trial were made into a movie, which Hudnall said he plans to show the class.

The class curriculum also includes students visiting synagogues in Cleveland and Beachwood.

"There is program called 'Face to Face' where we hear Holocaust survivors or second-generation survivors," Hudnall said.

There are also plans this year for the Holocaust class to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Hudnall noted all students enrolled in Central Catholic take theology, which includes some study of the Holocaust.

"Even if they're not in the Holocaust class, we invite them to go with us to hear these speakers," he said.

Hudnall's students also visit local Catholic elementary schools to share some of what they've learned, tailoring it to make sure it's age-appropriate. The goal, he said, is to teach younger children to stand up if they see something wrong.

"I'll tell them that the average German during this time period was guilty of not taking a stand and looked the other way for whatever reason," he said. "And I then tell them, 'Would I look the other way if I were there?' I can't answer that because I wasn't there."

Senior Alyssa Schoolcraft, 17, recalls being a fifth grader when Hudnall brought a class to St. Michael's School.

"I remember specifically there was a really large book that they brought in, and all it had in it over and over again, is the word 'Jew' for every Jew that was killed during the Holocaust," she said, "And I remember thinking how huge that book was, and it was unbelievable that a government could be responsible for something of that scale."

Hudnall said the book was created by an Israeli teacher trying to teach younger children the scale of the crime.

Hudnall said he never teaches the class in the exact same way.

"This year we didn't do a whole lot of propaganda; we spent maybe two days where I went over the posters," he said. "Some years, they (students) make the posters. It depends on the flow of the class, what I feel they can handle or what I want to get through."

'They had similar hopes and dreams'

Central Catholic Principal David Oates said the class is in keeping with social justice, an element of Catholic identity.

"I think he does a fantastic job," he said. "It's not something that's talked about, but look at what's going on in the last few years, the fascist ideas around the world, the neonationalism and white supremacy. It's similar to the type of stuff that people need to be aware of."

Georgia Bentzel, an 18-year-old senior, said she wanted to take the class because most history courses only offer basic information about the Holocaust.

"But in this class, you're realizing that that are kids that were your age," she said. "They had similar hopes and dreams; then you see them and it's like, 'What happened?'"

Hudnall said he thinks some of the current rise in antisemitism is rooted in fear and insecurity, which more education can help dispel.

"I have a TikTok video on my phone that I saw over the weekend where some guys walking down the street are asking how many people died in the Holocaust, and one girl goes, 'It's got something to do with space.'"

Hudnall said his aim is the same for all students.

"Hopefully if they're put into a situation where they see something wrong, they'll do the right thing; they won't look away."

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