Bryan Davis, youth and Holocaust education coordinator at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, says his interest in the Holocaust came from his childhood, when his mother worked as director of the El Paso Holocaust Museum. He grew up surrounded by survivors, and their history became important to him. In partnership with the Federation, the Jewish International Film Festival will screen Inside Hana's Suitcase as part of the Hallonot education series on Sunday, Feb. 20, at the Jewish Community Center. Tickets cost $10. For more information, visit www.tucsonjcc.org, or call Davis at 577-9393, ext. 124.
How did you get involved in Holocaust education?
In 2007, I was doing a summer program studying at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I got a call from the Federation. There was a demand from teachers in Tucson who wanted more programs on Holocaust education.
Is the Hallonot series focused on the Holocaust?
It sounds like a pop duo from the 1980s, but it is a Hebrew word that means "windows." It's an adult education program on current events. Three years ago, we organized one of these and invited all Holocaust survivors who are in the Tucson area. Back then there were 16 Holocaust survivors who wanted to participate. Over 600 people attended, and afterwards we got calls for similar programs. We shifted this Hallonot series to voices and views of the Holocaust, and now it's a community-wide program for Holocaust education, rather that Jewish education broadly.
The film screening on Feb. 20 is also part of the Jewish Film Festival, right?
(We are) partnering with the Jewish Film Festival. We try to see if we can partner in some way every year. This film is one I really wanted to promote. This movie, which is based on a book, is a true story about a teacher in Tokyo who attempts to teach the Holocaust. The teacher writes to the Auschwitz Museum to ask for an artifact to help her teach her students. They send her a suitcase with the name of Hana Brady printed on it. The teacher explores the history of Hana Brady and her family and it turns out Hana was murdered in Auschwitz and her big brother survived and lives in Toronto. He's in his 80s and he comes to Tokyo to meet the teacher and her students.
What about the musical performance before the screening?
There's a lot of history that comes out of the Terezin ghetto. It turned into a rich cultural environment, and one of the products was compositions written before people were sent to Auschwitz. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra's Southwest String Quartet will perform pieces of the compositions.
Why do you feel the Holocaust remains important for youth and community education?
There are so many enduring lessons that can be drawn from teaching the Holocaust—civility, the dangers of racism. I look at it as a blaring siren that warns us against complacency and hate. It also forces students to think critically and self-reflect on their own prejudices, actions and inactions.
What else do you do at the Federation?
Every fall we do a Holocaust-education teacher symposium. This fall we had the program at the UA Poetry Center and focused on teaching it through letters, diary, memoir and poetry. ... it's always set up at the beginning of the school year, and that's the initial contact; then we work to stay in touch. Teachers also contact me. We have a survivors' speakers bureau and I myself will go and help students prepare for a survivors' visit.
Many older survivors have died; seems it's more important than ever to tell their stories.
I was surprised when I came into this position by the long list of survivors I was given, that they were actively going out to schools, and I was surprised at how quickly that list shrunk as people got older or passed away. It is increasingly challenging, but I am happy we can still do that even though the number who can go to schools is diminishing. I think when you study—for any history, but particularly for the Holocaust—it's important to give a human dimension rather that just a numerical accounting or statistic. It reaches a point where it is limited in how it can represent the history, so it's important that testimony is included. You don't know what was destroyed unless you get to hear their voices.