Teachers Using Comics to Teach the Holocaust: Nick Haberman

Nick Haberman

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

  • Nick Haberman
  • Shaler Area High School
  • “Holocaust: Background, Tragedy, and Aftermath” (11-12) and “Multicultural Studies” (9-12)

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’ve used volumes 1-3 in the classroom.  My librarian purchased a class set (30 copies) of each, so my students and I could each have a copy on our desk at the same moment.  We’ve used it in a variety of ways, the most successful as a buildup to the Waldman Competition (studying how the stories of an individual can help us understand the larger event).
  • I was introduced to CHUTZ-POW! at the release party of volume 1 that was held downtown (outside the old ToonSeum) a few years ago.  I’ve always been a fan of using MAUS in my Holocaust elective (I have a class set), so having a locally-created Holocaust comic book was something that really sparked my interest.  I also have a class set of “Anne’ Franks Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” that I’ll begin using this year.

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

CP is useful in a variety of ways:

  • My lower readers find CP much easier to digest than something that takes much more time and effort to complete, and in a Holocaust elective (not a required class), I need to find resources that students can get excited about just by looking at the cover.  They need to WANT to pick it up and open it, and CP is one of those resources.
  • CP opens many doors in Holocaust education.  It covers a wide variety of topics in a large geographic region over a long timeline, which means it sparks interest and encourages further study.
  • At different points throughout my curriculum, CP is a form of differentiated instruction.  By allowing choice within my Holocaust curriculum, CP is one of those resources that’s maybe more compelling than others.  It by no means replaces testimony, but it fills a void for many learners, giving them access to stories they otherwise would have missed.  
  • CP is a perfect entry point for younger learners, because it takes important themes of the Holocaust, simplifies them, and makes them age-appropriate.  It’s the perfect example that Holocaust resources don’t need to be graphic (no pun intended) to be effective.  CP is a very concise, user-friendly Holocaust resource in a world of very lengthy, very mature resources.
  • The comic format allows many readers to imagine themselves in the story.  It makes us feel like witnesses to historical events.

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!?

100% yes.  The Pittsburgh connection is what makes CP one of the more powerful, impactful Holocaust resources in my toolkit.  The students hear about the Pirates World Series, about the University of Pittsburgh, about Roberto Clemente – about our city and our neighborhoods through the stories of so many survivors.  The students constantly make connections to their own lives through CP.  This personal connection, along with the testimony available through the HCP, creates a framework where the students can have their interest sparked through CP, then easily dig deeper.  Though I’d still enjoy CP if I wasn’t from Pittsburgh, it really helps my students make those important connections to the event and the individuals. 

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

One of the first graphic novels I read was Usagi Yojimbo, which became the first one I used in the classroom (10th grade world cultures).  When I first read Usagi as a teenager, I never realized how much I was learning about Japanese history and culture.  That’s the thing about a great comic – it’s such an engaging, thoughtful, entertaining experience, you sometimes don’t realize how the story is fundamentally changing you.  For my students – some of whom have never read a comic book – CP is entertaining and enjoyable to read, and they don’t necessarily even realize how much they’re learning and how the lessons are becoming part of their understanding of the Holocaust.  Then, when we connect those lessons in the classroom to contemporary events, they begin to understand how lessons of the Holocaust – like the importance of being an upstander – are transcendent. 

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