Dr. Tamara Freeman: Teaching the Holocaust with Music
If the viola Dr. Tamara Freeman plays could speak, perhaps it would tell us the name of the original owner, a young Polish woman who perished in the Holocaust. Her gentile neighbor rescued the viola, a 1935 Joseph Bausch, from the woman’s apartment, protected it throughout the war, hoping to reunite it with its owner. When the woman never returned, this neighbor sent the instrument to the United States, to the home of the owner’s sister, who had escaped before the war.
Finding this viola on a routine visit to a bow maker to repair her violin and viola strings, Freeman knew this instrument was “her lucky break” that would help her gain the trust of the survivors she’d been trying to meet.
When New Jersey mandated that all schools include Holocaust education in their curriculums in 1994, Freeman volunteered to attend workshops to obtain materials and lessons for her school district. While she gathered information for teachers of all disciplines, she became particularly fascinated with the music and songs that pervaded the period and became symbols of survival.
“I realized this music had a lot of character education lessons that needed to be told. The sheet music and songs described a spiritual resistance. They evoke loss and longing and help us understand what was happening historically during that time,” Freeman said.
She found some resources of music, mostly folk songs, from the ghettos and the concentration camps. Yet finding no specific curriculum devoted to bringing this music into schools, Freeman decided to create one, resulting in her earning a Ph.D. in 2007 from Rutgers University’s arts conservatory, the Mason Gross School of the Arts. Her dissertation, “Using Holocaust Music to Encourage Racial Respect: An Interdisciplinary Curriculum for Grades K-12” is aligned with the state’s requirements.
Freeman interviewed 24 Holocaust survivors as part of her research. At first, many were reluctant to share their experiences until she played songs they remembered on the rescued viola. “They would sing along; their eyes would fill with tears. They were so grateful someone respected their music, knew the composers, and understood the importance of sharing this with the world,” Freeman said.
Given that only five states mandate Holocaust education — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and California — she believes there’s much work to be done ensuring the lessons of the Holocaust aren’t lost. #