Wayzata High School English teacher Candice Ledman never thought of herself as a Holocaust educator, but because of her work in teaching the history of the Holocaust and its lessons for today, she was recently honored with the Leo Weiss Courage to Teach Award. The award, presented to Ledman by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, recognizes educators who go “above and beyond” the requirements to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and to inspire youth.
Several years ago, Ledman participated in a professional education session organized by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel. Ledman remembers being struck by the question of how Germany got to the point where so many people would follow an evil leader, and how so many people allowed themselves to be manipulated to such an extent that they would participate.
When Ledman left the session, she was inspired to teach about the Holocaust in depth. “I felt like I wanted to be a witness,” says Ledman. “Every year, the number of living survivors dwindles, and it’s up to us to tell the story." She developed a class for Wayzata seniors that teaches not only about the Holocaust, but about discrimination and what it can lead to. “I want to teach that any time we start viewing some people as ‘other,’ as not full people, we’re all in danger,” she says.
Ledman created a class that covers the events of the Holocaust, but also teaches the lessons of the Holocaust as they apply to the world today. She highlights the fact that the Holocaust began with discrimination. “It started with little things,” says Ledman. "Rules about what people could or couldn’t do that may have seemed small at the time, but they laid the groundwork for genocide.
“I teach about the ‘pyramid of hate,’” says Ledman. “The bottom layer, which people might think is harmless, is hate speech that’s presented as a joke. What happens if people don’t know that jokes can do harm by demeaning groups of people? A lot of students start out thinking these jokes don’t hurt anyone, but by the end of the class, they see the damage it causes."
Ledman also helped an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, Esther Begam, achieve her dream by being awarded a high school diploma from Wayzata High School. Begam always regretted that she had never had the opportunity to graduate high school because her life was interrupted by the war.
Ledman is passionate about ensuring the lessons of the Holocaust don’t get lost as time goes by. “Every year, there are fewer and fewer survivors. It’s up to all of us to be witnesses.”
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