EVERETT — Kari Wilson wanted to make the trip for a long time.
She’s been a teacher at Cascade High School since 1987, with a focus on world history. Every spring, she teaches a two-week unit on the Holocaust. Over the years, she has done seminars and workshops through the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous in New York. She also is involved with the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle.
The foundation names fellows who are teachers and museum directors specializing in Holocaust education. As a fellow, Wilson, 53, traveled to Poland for a week in July to see Holocaust memorial sites. She spent time with leading scholars, some of whom have written the books that she’s read.
As part of the trip, Wilson, who is Christian, agreed to share what she learned with others, not just students but also fellow teachers. That duty becomes especially important as the survivors of World War II pass on, she said.
“My main prayer is that I can be a witness and do justice in some way to the memory,” she said.
It’s no easy task, imparting to teenagers one of the worst chapters of human history. Wilson has to be frank about the atrocities, but also careful and sensitive.
Wilson wants her students to realize the gravity of what happened. Teens have to understand they are not so different from those targeted, or their oppressors, she said. Small decisions by everyday people led to genocide in this case and others, she said. In history, mass killings have been made possible when one group begins seeing another as less than human.
For those reasons, she won’t show her students some of the most disturbing images from that time. Jewish people led full lives in Europe before the war, she said. Their cultural and economic contributions can’t be ignored. The students shouldn’t be shown only a mass of bodies, or victims of starvation and torture, she said.
People are “more than the moment and the means of (their) destruction,” she said
Each day during the trip, she tried to keep a mindset of reflection and to remember her classroom back in Everett. She lives in town with her husband and daughter, a sophomor at Everett High School.