Shaler Area teacher receives accolades for Holocaust course
Shaler Area High School social studies teacher Nick Haberman has returned from Columbia University, after completing his Alfred Lerner Fellowship through The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.
The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh named Haberman, 35, its Holocaust Educator of the Year, awarding him the all-expense-paid fellowship, as well as a $1,000 grant for Shaler Area to expand Holocaust education.
For 10 years, Haberman has taught The History of the Holocaust, a half-year elective available to juniors and seniors. His lessons expose students to primary records.
“Any time I use a document, I try to use something that was written by someone who was there, whether it was testimony from people after the war, or journals from people during the war, or journals from people who were part of the resistance movement, or uprisings or even perpetrators,” Haberman said.
Students in his course meet Holocaust survivors or their relatives and visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
On the first day of class, Haberman shares a Fred Rogers quote about sharing feelings, so they become “less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” He then asks his students to write in journals about their experiences surrounding death and to share them with the class, if they are comfortable doing so.
He said this approach provides an avenue for discussing the more than 6 million Jews and Roma, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others murdered by the Nazis.
“These people didn’t die of natural causes when they were 90 like your grandma — they were murdered,” he tells his students. “That then makes the students think about the experience in a different way. It’s not this number anymore.”
Former student Scott Drischler, 18, of Glenshaw, whose Jewish great-grandparents fled Europe during the Holocaust, said while “you can look at numbers … you never really understand it.”
“I can always look at 6 million, but it doesn’t really have an effect until you are looking at the videos and the pictures and reading along,” said the 2018 graduate.
Fellow former student Bryonna Beeson, 18, of Shaler, said in Haberman’s class, “we’re always able to ask questions. It was always a very open environment.”
“A lot of it is tough to see,” she added. “He didn’t hold anything back because he feels, and I also feel, that it’s important to see these things so you know how real it is and to make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen again.”
The Shaler Area Class of 2018 presented Haberman with the Paul Schweiger Excellence in Education Award.
At his fellowship, Haberman joined 24 other educators from the United States and Europe for 10-hour days of lectures from Holocaust experts and survivors. Small groups of fellows discussed how to relay the information to their own students.
Part of the grant the district received will go toward Haberman’s new elective covering human rights and genocide.
He’s also developing the Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education, adjacent to the school’s library.
The center will provide a permanent classroom for related courses, host guest speakers and after-school activities, showcase art and literature and present professional development opportunities.
“The goal is not to teach them everything about the Holocaust because it’s never going to happen. The goal is to scratch the surface, spark interest and hopefully inspire learning after they leave me,” Haberman said.
A Shaler Area alumus, Haberman has a master’s in teaching and a bachelor’s in history from the University of Pittsburgh.
He resides in Allison Park with his wife Lindsay and their children Lily and Elijah.
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.