Archive for May, 2014

This story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book. It will be out early this summer for the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

My friend Jimmy Butterfield used to come to my classroom with his bride of 60+ years, Mary. She would joke with him, and us, and call him by his high school nickname, “But”. Maybe it was “Butt”, I don’t know, but they had fun playing around with each other in front of 17 and 18 year olds.

Jimmy, of course, was blind and hard of hearing. Mary had to yell at him, he would crack a grin under the dark glasses and flirt with her. The girls loved it. When the hearing aide was cranked up to eleven, we would get some echo and feedback, which didn’t seem to bother him, or the students in the class listening to his story. He just liked to talk to the kids.

Several years ago, after the two of them and Danny Lawler (another First Marine Division veteran of really hard fighting in the Pacific at Peleliu and Okinawa) came to my room for an afternoon, I came home to an email from one of my senior girls, telling me how meaningful meeting Jimmy and Mary and Danny was to her and her classmates. I still have it.

You see, Jim Butterfield got struck not once but twice in the head by enemy fire at Okinawa about this time in May  1945 (that is 70 years ago this month, if you are noticing). He was evacuated first to Guam, then to Hawaii and later stateside for over 18 months, and as many operations, for reconstructive surgery.  When he did realize that he would never see again,  he was ready to tell his high school sweetheart to leave him be. Not to get attached to him, a blind man.

Well, she told us what she thought of that. They ran a small mom and pop store back in Glens Falls together until they retired.

Why is Jim’s story important? Well, you’ll have to listen to him tell it. You have the sense of the unfolding realization of the loss he is feeling, but at the same time, wonderment at his and Mary’s resilience in making a successful life afterwards. The sacrifices made by this and other generations of veterans becomes real. We need to also note that Jim came home. Chappy and many others others did not.

Jim never looked for sympathy or pity- and of course would be the first to point out that Memorial Day is for those who did not return. But still, if we are to pause as a nation for one weekend to remember, we can’t forget what this nineteen year old from Hometown USA gave up as well.

Mary passed a year and a half ago. Jim died at home last June. What obstacles they overcame together…

Rest on Jimmy and Mary. Thanks for letting us witness your story.



From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

Book can be purchased at http://matthewrozell.com/order-the-things-our-fathers-saw/

Mary and Jim Butterfield Jan. 2007

Mary and Jim Butterfield in my classroom, Jan. 2007.



 Book Description: At the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled an upstate New York community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Seventy years later, a high school history teacher and his students track down over two dozen veterans residing around ‘Hometown, USA’ who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. They resurrect firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a special generation of Americans speaking to the youth of America today.  292 pages.


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Why it's Mr Rozell. Because the internet says it is.

Why it’s Mr Rozell. Because the internet says it is.

You may have seen this article by now. I don’t think that the Common Core is good or bad in and of itself. It’s just that when we forget that true education involves the passing on of the values that make us human beings, we are asking for trouble. And unfortunately in the “Race to the Top”, a lot of the important stuff gets shoved off to the side.


I try not to chime in too often when an outrage occurs- I’m not really an outrage bandwagon kind of guy. But you just don’t ask 2000 8th graders to decide if the greatest crime in the history of the world was fact or fiction.

Two thousand.

Eighth grade. Certainly many working at lower than grade level abilities.

Using words like “propaganda” for “monetary gain”, “political scheme” , asking 13 year olds to evaluate the credence of “influencing public emotion” to “gain wealth”. And to go on the internet later to find supporting materials.


Well, it IS out there, the sites that will argue that the Holocaust is just  a ploy for sympathy, that it did not really happen, or could not have been as bad as they say. This I know for a fact.  And it’s a little personal.



In a different way however, I think all the children of the Rialto School District learned one of the most important lessons of their entire lives with this whole episode. Mainly that the adults who are supposedly shepherding them and ushering them into this wonderful world of critical “thinking for yourself” were just plain wrong in their judgment, as Deborah Lipstadt points out below. (Not mention dumb, as the administrators first defended the assignment.)

And like Lipstadt, I, too, have been the target of Holocaust deniers. I used to delete the nasty posts and emails. No more. I have found them to be valuable educational tools and entertaining to boot. But when educators encourage students to question facts, to look at the Holocaust from the deniers’ point of view, then we have a problem.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my own career. But to think that this could pass muster is just plain stupid thinking, and shows how detached from reality so called educators and administrators can be.

And like a mantra, again I post,  the most fundamental learning I have gleaned over the years:

Israeli educational psychologist Haim Ginott writes about a letter that teachers would receive from their principal each year:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.

So, I am suspicious of education.

My request is this:  Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.



California School Asks 8th Graders To Debate Whether the Holocaust Happened

The assignment materials cited Holocaust deniers, and represent a gross failure of judgment—and historical awareness

By Deborah E. Lipstadt|May 6, 2014

After decades spent in the sewers of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, I don’t horrify easily. But yesterday I learned that a school district in Rialto, California, assigned 2,000 8th-grade students to write an essay on whether or not they believe the Holocaust was “an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme.”

Put simply, this is the greatest victory for Holocaust denial in well over a decade, if not more.

The language of the assignment is worth reading in full:

When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual event, but instead is a propaganda took that was used for political and monetary gain. You will read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based upon cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim.

When you ask a Holocaust denier why Jews would go to such great efforts to create the myth of the Holocaust, nearly all have the same ready answer: Jews have created this myth in order to deviously exercise political power and enrich themselves. They will cite the two things it is commonly said Jews “got” out of the Holocaust—reparations, and the State of Israel. It’s classic anti-Semitism founded on the notion that Jews deviously access power and do virtually anything for monetary gain, an idea that can be traced to the New Testament’s depiction of Jews in relation to the death of Jesus: The Jews sold out the Messiah and caused great grief to billions of his future followers all for a few pieces of silver. (Never mind the fact that everyone in the story is Jewish, with the exception of the Romans—who were the ones who actually did the killing.)

Along with entries on the history of the Holocaust from About.com and the History Channel, they offered the students supporting “material” titled “Is the Holocaust a Hoax?” that was taken from a Christian site. The document cites the execution technology “expert” Fred Leuchter, a leading denier, and presents a “theory” that Anne Frank’s diary was forged. “Israel continues to receive trillions of dollars worldwide as retribution for Holocaust gassings,” the document continues. “Our country has donated more money to Israel than to any other country in the history of the world—over $35 billion per year, everything included. If not for our extravagantly generous gifts to Israel, every family in America could afford a brand new Mercedes Benz.”

Unbelievably, district officials initially defended the assignment. “One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students,” one school-board member wrote in an email to the San Bernardino Sun. “Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship.” Administrators subsequently backtracked and said the assignment would not be repeated. “The Holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration for the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” spokeswoman Syeda Jafri wrote in a statement to the Sun.

What this assignment shows is that, at best, the teachers and so-called educators who took part in writing this question have been duped into thinking that there is a legitimate debate about whether the Holocaust happened. At worst, they knew better and looked the other way. The Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League believes the school district meant no harm. “ADL does not have any evidence that the assignment was given as part of a larger, insidious, agenda,” the group said in a statement yesterday. But truth be told, I would feel much, much better if we discovered that there were Holocaust deniers among the teachers, because then we could attribute this bizarre assignment to simple nefarious motives. But there don’t seem to be, which means these educators are instead profoundly naive and have accepted the view that Holocaust denial is “another” side of the argument and something to be debated. This is the dangerous legacy of a strain of academic thinking that says there are always two sides to every issue, when in fact some things are true, and others are false.

According to the district, the draft documents were distributed to teachers in February, and no one complained. The teachers who created this assignment and the administrators who passed it on helped fulfill exactly what deniers have been trying to achieve for the past 30 years. Before the creation of the Institute for Historical Review—in Newport Beach, California, an hour or from Rialto—in the late 1970s, deniers, who have been around since the end of World War II, were closely associated with neo-Nazis. Their publications were plastered with swastikas and Third Reich imagery. The institute, intent on having denial be taken seriously, shed anything that smacked of sympathy for Hitler and his cohorts. Their aim was to appear as if they were scholars anxious to “revise” any mistakes in history. That’s why they called themselves “revisionists.” In fact, they were nothing more than anti-Semites and neo-Nazis who use Holocaust denial as a tool—which is why I call them “deniers,” and think it’s important others do, too.

These people persist despite the fact that Holocaust denial is a “tissue of lies,” in the words of Cambridge University Professor Richard Evans. In the words of Judge Charles Grey, who presided in my trial against the denier David Irving, deniers “distort,” “pervert,” and “mislead” about the historical record. Their findings are, he insisted, “unjustified,” a “travesty,” and “unreal.”

Despite my personal encounters with the deniers, I remain someone who believes that Jews often overreact to threats of anti-Semitism. For the past decade, I have often stressed the fact that Holocaust denial is not a clear and present danger: There are, today, far more people engaged in study of the Holocaust than those engaged in or attracted to Holocaust denial. To the extent that I worry, my concern—which I laid out as recently as this week, in a speech I gave Monday night at King’s College, Cambridge—has been that that denial is a future danger, one that it might eventually enter the conversation as a legitimate “other side of the conversation” the further away we get from the event itself.

But this episode in California shows that perhaps I’ve been too optimistic. The Rialto school district says it plans to respond by offering sensitivity training and even quoted George Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are bound to repeat it.” But these teachers don’t need sensitivity training. Sensitivity is not what was missing here. These teachers were not “insensitive” to the victims of the Shoah or to Jews. They were just wrong. Critical thinking and a basic understanding of what happened in Europe 70 years ago are clearly in very short supply throughout the ranks of teachers and administrators involved in this fiasco. What they really need are history lessons.


You can listen to Dr. Lipstadt here. She’s cool.

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My wife called me Sunday evening on her way into town to let me know that she had a blowout on her tire and could I please come and fix it?

So I did, in the wind, and rain, on a slope, in the dirt, and yes, a few curse words did fly.

Like how in the heck do you get the spare un-freed from the cable that drops the tire when it is all rusted and corroded? Grrrr.

Not her fault. It was all done in short order and everyone was safe and sound, aside from some new back spasms on my part.. I even let her take Big Red- my sacrosanct Chevy plow truck- to drive to work while the car was in the shop.

So when she dropped me off at school this morning, and then called me 15 minutes later at 7:30  from her school (she’s a teacher too), I immediately assumed she had somehow crashed or otherwise hurt Big Red! I cringed when I picked up the phone….

A soft voice, calm. “Hello, honey, how are you?”

Yep, the same line I got when she called to inform me that my Sunday night was about to get dirty. Nooooooooooooooooooooo……..


Well, she was calling to say that my mug was on the front page of the local newspaper, very prominently featured, in an article about what  my year-long WWII/Holocaust course has come to be. She was proud of me, and she wanted me to know it. But frankly, none of it could have happened with out her support.

Ever, in a million years. So, thank you honey for not wrecking Big Red, and thank you for being there every step of this incredible journey.

And it couldn’t have happened without supportive administrators, teachers and just everyone in the school community , but especially these kids and their parents who supported me by believing in the power of teaching, and learning. We open new doors fearlessly, even though that new room we enter together has a dozen new doors to open. And that is what is exciting- the taking of the risks together- the kids who were terrified, some of them, at the outset,  to make contact with a member of the WW2 generation, but who forged bonds, built bridges, and created relationships to link themselves to their own history as Americans in the most meaningful way possible.

To share their time, to sit and talk, and to then to process and weave  a new story  into the fabric of our national history. Listening, studying, writing, and presenting.These kids created history! And what is the highest form of learning?Creating new knowledge. {School reviewers, please take note!}

So I am proud of them more than of this new recognition, this milestone of sorts. I do thank the Glens Falls Post-Star {article below} and the reporter Michael Goot for his interest.  And I hope that it somehow serves to inspire new teachers and old, as we wonder about that element that sometimes seems to be missing from our harried workdays, of the real meaning of teaching.

A former administrator hit it on the head for me, in a passing comment from my younger days that has always stayed with me:

In the end, it’s about creating human beings.



NBC crew documents Holocaust teachings in Hudson Falls

10 hours ago  • 
Glens Falls Post Star, May 6, 2014.

Glens Falls Post Star, May 6, 2014.

HUDSON FALLS –The Hudson Falls High School students in Matt Rozell’s Living History class got to hear a firsthand perspective on the liberation of a concentration camp — nearly 69 years to the day when that event happened.

The class watched a clip of an interview with 88-year-old Rich Marowitz of Albany, a member of the U.S. Army’s Rainbow Division who helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in on April 29, 1945.

Marowitz recounts going to Adolf Hitler’s apartment in Munich the following day and taking the dictator’s top hat.

Senior Mackenna Wood, 17, said it was amazing to hear Marowitz’s story.

“It gives us a whole other dimension. When you read it in a book, it’s all facts and impersonal,” she said. “When you hear from someone that was actually there, it makes it so much more real. It makes so much easier to relate. I think it’s important to learn from our past.”

Rozell has been interested in World War II and the Holocaust for many years.

Over the years, he has had concentration camp survivors and their liberators meet through giving talks to his class on World War II and the Holocaust.

This year, his teachings on the Holocaust caught the attention of NBC Learn, which is a subscription service of NBC News that provides educational multimedia content for schools.

A crew came to the school on April 28 to film Rozell doing a lesson about the Holocaust.

Rozell’s Holocaust history project began in 2007, when he invited four men who on April 13, 1945 were part of a tank battalion investigating an abandoned train near Magedburg, Germany. They found about 2,500 Jews crammed in boxcars en route to a concentration camp. [clarification: one liberator, Red Walsh, and 3 survivors]

Students taped their testimonials and put them on the website www.teachinghistorymatters.com. More videos get added every year.

“For the past seven or eight years, it’s kind of taken on a life of its own almost,” he said. “We’ve heard from about 250 people who were on the train all across the world,” he said.

NBC Learn segment producer Norman Cohen explained that he is producing a 3- to 4-minute-long video in partnership with Pearson Education about the liberation of concentration camps. The video is part of NBC Learn’s video “field trips,” where cameras follow students as they meet someone who has witnessed history.

While doing an Internet search, Cohen found an oral history that Rozell had done with Marowitz, and Cohen thought it would be nice to have his students interview Marowitz.

However, since Marowitz couldn’t make the trip to Hudson Falls for health reasons, Cohen interviewed him at the New York Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.

Rozell showed excerpts of the interview in his class and lectured on the subject.

The NBC Learn crew filmed the students’ reaction to the interview. The piece will be edited and uploaded next month, according to Cohen.

The class watched the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where bodies were being dragged around.

Tim Havens Jr., 17, said watching footage from that area is powerful.

“It was graphic. We all had to decompress after the lesson,” he said. [Teacher’s note: PBS Frontline’s “Memories of the Camps”. My students are seniors in high school in studying the events in full context. As I have always promoted, if graphic materials are to be used, it must be with judiciousness and sensitivity. If you are an educator, DO NOT use these materials casually.]

It is important to bring those stories to light, according to Havens.

“There are people that deny the Holocaust,” he said.

Student Matt Connolly’s grandfather, Carrol Walsh, was one of people who helped free the prisoners on the train.

“My grandfather didn’t think of (himself) as a liberator. He never wanted to be talked about as a liberator,” he said.

The class covers the build-up to World War II in the first semester and the Holocaust during the second half of the year. Students are required to record their own interview of a person connected to World War II for the mid-term.

Cheyenne Bishop, 17, interviewed a veteran who was a member of the Signal Corps, which was a noncombat team in charged with maintaining communications between Allied forces. This gave her a new perspective on the war.

“You don’t learn about the behind-the-scenes people,” she said.

Bishop, who is planning to study history in college, said it is important to record these stories because World War II veterans are dying off and, soon, this will be the only way to access their stories.

The stories is what she likes about studying history.

“It’s almost like a huge mystery and that’s what this is, the greatest crime in the history of the world,” she asked.

“Why did it occur and what can we do to stop it in the future?” she added.

Rozell said he enjoyed having the cameras in the classroom.

“It was a good experience for my kids to kind of demonstrate what they learned and why study of this particular segment of history is something that shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said.



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