December 12, 2022
Photo Credit: Indiana Public Media
Never Forget - Candles lit during the 24th Annual Holocaust Remembrance event
by Erin Ondrusek and other award recipients.
Mrs. Erin Odrusek, Westfield social studies teacher, was awarded the Hoosier Upstander Award for her Holocaust education program during the 24th annual State of Indiana Holocaust Remembrance Program on Nov. 10.
This event took place on the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a state-sponsored pogrom of Jewish homes, stores, and synagogues causing the death of around 100 Jews. The Hoosier Upstander Award was given to Ondrusek for teaching students to stand against bigotry by embodying respect and compassion.
As a history teacher, Ondrusek noticed that the Holocaust was the one topic her world history students never wanted to move on from. By creating her own elective, she was able to spend a whole trimester on it instead of a single day.
“Personally I’ve just always been outspoken and a little angry sometimes on how people could treat other people and not realize the impact,” Ondrusek said. “This is a point in history where I really just can’t fathom how if somebody was lucky enough to survive how they could go on to live life … [and] be able to love again.”
The Holocaust class starts with learning about the dominoes that were set in place, initiating the genocide of six million people. Then Ondrusek has students discover lessons they can learn from the past to apply to their lives in the present.
“Germany was a young democracy [before Nazi takeover],” Ondrusek said. ”Democracy, whether it’s been around for a couple years or two hundred, is still a fragile system .. you have to have people buy into it, you have to have people who will stand up when there’s injustices whether it’s for themselves or a neighbor. Those are the main two lessons for me: how do we react to power and how do you treat others.”
As Holocaust survivors pass away, teaching their message has become increasingly important so their stories do not fade away. Ondrusek is committed to helping students understand how the Holocaust applies to their 21st-century lives.
“Right now [the Holocaust elective] is really relevant going through the pandemic and politics with … the polarization of the parties,” Ondrusek said. “If we don’t learn how to live amongst each other, and appreciate each other, and not demonize each other, the Holocaust reminds us that is a slippery slope.”