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Students learn about Holocaust by filming survivors

Media teacher wants filmmaking students to understand the power of media to shape perceptions.

Joan Conger and  Alex Quine
Joan Conger reviews work of Alex Quine on mini documentary

In five years of teaching, Ferris High School media teacher Joan Conger had one student who did not know about the Holocaust and another who denied it occurred.  The latter later said his denial was a joke.  He knew it happened.  She told him his joking about the Holocaust trivialized it.

To help students take the Holocaust seriously, she agreed when Yom Hashoah organizer Hershel Zellman invited her to have her students film the April 11 Yom Hashoah observance. 

Then, for an assignment for students to make mini documentaries that would make someone think or cry, she encouraged two of 22 students in her advanced filmmaking class to interview Holocaust survivors.  Alan Cerimovic talked with Eva Lassman  and Alex Quine with Carla Peperzak.

Alan, who was born in Bosnia and left during the war when he was four years old, found Eva warm and open to tell her story.

Hearing the trauma and humiliation she went through in the Warsaw ghetto and concentration camps, he was amazed she could talk about it without being overwhelmed with emotion, he said.

Alan Cerimovic
Alan Cerimovic edits interview video

He learned that in the Holocaust, people were killed because of their faith.  He also talked with her about how, when she was in her early 20s, Eva lived in fear that she could die any day and that she did lose family members. 

“She said there were mass graves, like there were in Bosnia,” said Alan, who was born during the war there but remembers little because his mother relocated to America after his father, who was a soldier, was killed in the war.

“The most important part of Eva’s story is her message not to hate, because hate spawns mass murder,” said Alan, who filmed an hour of video on two cameras and will need to edit it to five minutes.  “Now she educates people about it.”

Alan added that it helped him understand what his mother may have experienced in the war.

Alex’s five-minute video of his interview with Carla, learning that she was 16 when Nazis came into her hometown, Amsterdam. 

He learned that although she grew up Jewish, because her mother was Catholic, she was able to get ID papers without being marked as Jewish.

Alex Quine
Alex Quine reviews his mini documentary

She told Alex of being unable to go outside during her teen years and having her friends disappear—unsure if they were hiding or picked up.  She also said she lived a block from Anne Frank’s house and was a friend of Anne’s sister, Margo.

“I had heard about the Holocaust in school, but this was about real life,” Alex said.  “I realize that we tend to take our freedom as a joke.”

Hearing about her use of ration cards, he realized how comfortable his life is and how much food he throws away.

The documentaries and film of Yom Hashoah will air on the Ferris Information Network—an internal school TV network that broadcasts programs three times a week—to help the student body understand about the Holocaust.

When Joan first began teaching media at Ferris, she offered a media literacy class.  Because of limited enrollment, she now includes media literacy in her classes on TV broadcasting, filmmaking, English and cinema studies.

“I encourage students to be aware of the difference between their intention and perception, and what someone else may perceive in what they film,” she said.

“Young people tend to see only what they perceive,” she said.  “A student may say, ‘My Jewish or Hispanic friend was not offended.’”

She encourages them to look at negative content that might produce stereotypes.

Joan Conger
Joan Conger Ferris High School media teacher

Joan, who earned a masters in filmmaking in 1988 at Stanford, lets them know that what is true of one friend may not be true for a broad media audience.

“I want them to understand that media has power and they need to be careful what perceptions they broadcast,” she said.  “Every school has issues around stereotypes.  It’s important to open their eyes so they see stereotypes are not reality, especially when what we do in our TV class airs to 1,800 people in the school.”

Joan worked 18 years in the San Francisco area as a freelance film director and worked from 1999 to 2001 with Independent Television Services producing “POV” and “Independent Lens” for PBS.

When she first came to Spokane, she was a freelance consultant until earning her school teaching certificate in 2005 at Gonzaga University and beginning that fall at Ferris.

For information, call 354-6154 or email joanco@spokaneschools.org.