SPRINGVILLE, N.Y. – A social studies teacher at Springville Middle School is much more than that: Andrew Beiter helps train educators around the world on how to teach the Holocaust to their students.
Beiter hopes teaching the past helps secure a peaceful future.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us as teachers to make sure our students know about the patterns of history so they can better understand when there’s a fault like they need to take a stand on,” he said.
In a time with rising instances of antisemitism, Beiter feels Holocaust education is necessary everywhere, particularly in places like Southern Erie County.
“Especially in communities that don’t have a lot of diversity. These messages are universal, and when we learn how to not only tolerate but respect our fellow citizens as equals…those are the messages that are the basis of our society and civilization,” Beiter said.
He reaches his students in powerful ways. Beiter met Holocaust survivor Joe Diamond of Williamsville some time ago, and for years before Diamond passed, Beiter would invite Diamond to speak to students.
“The whole district stopped. The janitors came, and lunch ladies came, and everybody recognized this was a moment for them as individuals but also for our district,” Beiter recalls.
Beiter does all this on a global scale, too. He went to Poland to give a presentation to other educators on best teaching practices.
That conference happened around the same time as the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, allowing Beiter to visit during the historic commemoration, an experience he brings back to his students.
“As 8th graders, they need to be aware of the horrors of the Holocaust, and more importantly, the causes and why it happened,” Beiter said. “Genocide is one of those things that’s called ‘an enduring issue.’ It can happen again in our time, so students really need to understand its warning signs so we can stop such atrocities in their infancies.”
Beiter is right in line with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent proposal to increase Holocaust education in New York schools. Cuomo, citing more anti-Semitic attacks throughout the state in 2019, wants every student to visit a museum that covers Holocaust topics.
“The Governor’s proposal, I think, will allow students and allow teachers to have some concentrated attention on the issue of the Holocaust, its origins with antisemitism, and the power that we all have to stand up for a better world,” Beiter said.
In addition to the Education International conference he presented at, Beiter teaches way beyond the classroom about genocide and human rights. He’s the executive director of the Academy for Human Rights, a local non-profit, the regional education coordinator for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and he co-founded the Educators’ Institute for Human Rights in Washington, DC.