In conversation with Roxana Pianko

Upper school history teacher discusses the significance of the Holocaust and its relevance to today

by Alysa Suleiman, A&E Editor

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Harker Aquila spoke with upper school History of the Holocaust and Genocide teacher Roxana Pianko, whose family originates from Romania. Pianko touched on topics of remembering the Holocaust, combating anti-Semitism and normalizing discussion about the Holocaust and other genocides in order to effectively educate our community and beyond.

“As painful as it is to engage with the subject matter of genocide, it’s so important. Your generation inspires a lot of us, and you all work so hard on these things: kindness, empathy and being a part of movements that really matter,” Pianko said. “It’s really important to have a desire to engage in these subjects, to learn about them, to be able to better understand human behavior and why people do what they do.”

In the classroom, Pianko says that she actively tries to engage her students through empathy, emphasizing the importance of “never forgetting” the Holocaust. Together, Pianko and her students study diaries of survivors and those who have passed away, particularly those of teenagers and young adults around the same age that her students are. 

“It’s important to understand that these were humans, not just something that you read on half of a page in a textbook,” Pianko said. “You learn these young people went to school, that they loved to write, that they were artists, that they loved sports, that they were just exactly like you. One day, the most horrifically unimaginable thing happened to them, and they had no choice in the matter.” 

Pianko feels gratified to know that her class continues to provide a safe area of learning and growth, of nuance and responsibility. 

“History matters, all of it matters,” Pianko said. “A really important thing for me is being able to have access to that kind of material and then having my students come back to me even years later and to be able to say ‘I’ve never forgotten that assignment where we read those diary entries, it still stays with me now,’ and I think that’s really powerful.”