Teachers Using Comics to Teach the Holocaust: Rebecca Baverso

As we continue to dedicate the month of August to comic books, we are proud to feature some of our all-star Holocaust educators who are using comic books effectively in their curricula. Our first teacher, Ms. Baverso, is a great friend of the Center–she once taught our very own Christina Sahovey! Thank you Ms. B for all that you do!

Rebecca Baverso–aka Wonder Woman!

Let’s start with an easy question – please state your name, where you teach, and what grade level(s)/ subject(s) you currently teach…

Rebecca Baverso, St. Bede School, 6-8 Language Arts

How have you used CHUTZ-POW! Superheroes of the Holocaust in the classroom? How were you introduced to CHUTZ-POW!? Do you use any other comic books or graphic novels in your pedagogy? 

I use Ultimate Spider-man Volume 1, Ultimate X-Men Volume 1, Maus 1 and 2, and the Chutz-Pow! comics as part of my regular curriculum on graphic storytelling + the Holocaust.

I use Spidey and X-Men to teach HOW to read a comic, and then start the Holocaust unit that focuses on Maus 1 and 2. I use the Chutz-Pow! comics to introduce more survivor stories and to encourage more reflective writing about the actual PEOPLE of the Holocaust who may/may not have been camp victims but were involved in other ways (upstanders, etc).

I also have an entire collection of trades and single issues the kids can read in my classroom for free reading that includes other incredible novels with some of the same themes like Fax from Sarajevo, Persepoli, Pride of Baghdad, etc…

I learned about the Chutz-Pow! comics through some people I know called Marcel Walker and Christina Sahovey. Maybe you know them? They’re pretty cool!

Why or how has the comic book/ graphic novel genre in general been useful in teaching about the Holocaust?

I think part of the reason the kids are so hooked is that Maus is one of the best books ever written, graphic fiction or otherwise. The story is SO GOOD the kids can’t put it down. It changes them…so many kids over the years have said those books have changed their lives. 

I also like that the graphic fiction I’ve used allows the kids to get an image of what people looked like without being gruesome. Obviously the stories are awful, but I don’t really want kids looking too much at the horror. Graphic fiction allows the kids to “see” it, talk about it, have ideas about things, write, change their minds, become better people….without the gore. I DO show them many films, and they see the images there. I think it’s different when a young person holds something horrifying in their hands. The graphic novels and comics buffer the horror a little. 7th grade is still young, so I love that I can teach the subject matter in a way that is realistic, but not too gruesome.

Many of the people featured in CHUTZ-POW! eventually settled in Pittsburgh, like Moshe Baran, Dora Iwler, Fritz Ottenheimer, Judah Samet, and others. For your students, does that Pittsburgh connection make a difference for them? Does this make them feel more of a personal connection to the survivor stories profiled in CHUTZ-POW!

Yes, but only after a visit to the Holocaust Center. I think hearing the stories there, being in the museum that’s right in their neighborhood brings it home to them. I think they KNOW when they’re reading it (I mean I tell them :D) but it’s really clear when they get to go to the center and meet the survivors. I think that is one of the reasons the Chutz-Pow! comics are so successful for me in the classroom…we have such a great resource in the Holocaust Center that pulls everything together for the kids and makes it all real. 

What is a comic book or graphic novel that you think everyone should read, and why? 

Maus. Hands down one of the best books ever written. I can’t even tell you why, but Spiegelman is a master storyteller.  It’s one of those books that once you read stays with you forever. Others on the list: Bone, Persepolis, MarchMarvel 1602, and Transmetropolitan.

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