Spanish Classes Connect with Holocaust Museum Houston

In The Ermina Wadsworth│Azby Fund Technology Center on the first floor of the Gayle and Tom Benson Science Complex, students in Mrs. Claudia Vallejo’s Spanish classes connected via Skype with Holocaust Museum Houston’s educators. The Spanish AP class discussed Dolores Huerta: Change Makers Upstanders in American History presentation. The Spanish III Honors class participated in “Teen Leadership: Lessons from Holocaust.” Leading the sessions were Mr. Castellanos and Mrs. Pastiono, Museum Educators with the Museum’s Boniuk Center for the Future of Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Studies that provides research and a scholarly forum to consider how to best educate our community and others around the world about the history of the Holocaust. In the 2016-2017 school term, Mrs. Vallejo first connected with the Holocaust Museum Houston for their school outreach program – Educator in Motion. Since then, she has arranged for the Spanish classes to participate in the program each year.

Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta, an American labor leader and civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate, co-founded with Cesar Chavez, the National Farmworkers Association in 1962 that later became the United Farm Workers. She helped organize the Delano grape strike in 1965 in California and was the lead negotiator in the workers’ contract that was created after the strike.  A community activist and a political organizer, she was influential in securing the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and disability insurance for farmworkers in California. In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing community organizers and national leaders.  Among the numerous awards for her community service and advocacy are the first Latina inducted into the Nation Women’s Hall of Fame (1993), Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights (1998), United Neighborhood Centers of America Jane Addams Distinguished Leadership Award  (2008), UCLA Medal (2009), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2011).

Teen Leadership: Lessons from the Holocaust examines the roles and choices of individuals during the Holocaust. It includes discussions on Upstanders – persons, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, who resisted Nazi policies and practices.  In March of 1996, Holocaust Museum Houston opened its doors, charged with educating students and the public about the dangers of prejudice and hatred in society. The Museum is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims, and honoring the survivors’ legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice, and apathy. It asks visitors to consider the roles taken by people during the Holocaust and other genocides with the goal of eliminating apathy as a response to hatred and prejudice.  

The idea for the museum began in 1981 with Holocaust survivor and long-time Houston resident Siegi Izakson who had an epiphany. After attending an international gathering of Holocaust survivors in Israel, he realized his peers were getting older and, as they passed away, their stories and memories of unchecked prejudice would go with them. Returning to Houston he was convinced that the city needed a Holocaust education center and memorial that would preserve for future generations the memory of those who had perished and the stories of those who had survived.  He organized the Houston Council of Jewish Holocaust Survivors to help him implement his vision and also organized a speakers bureau of local Holocaust survivors to go out into the community and address students in their classrooms.  In 1990, Sandra Weiner, president of Houston’s Jewish Federation, embraced Mr. Izakson’s idea. She established the Holocaust Education Center and Memorial Museum with Martin Fein, the son of survivors, as its founding board chair and Lidya Osadchey as the center’s first director. After a $34 million expansion, the Museum reopened in June 2019 after more than doubling in size to a total of 57,000 square feet. It is ranked as the nation’s fourth-largest Holocaust museum and is fully bilingual in English and Spanish.