MYcroSchool Gainesville Receives a Reading Lesson in History from Holocaust Expert
by Nan Thomas

Dr. Geoffrey J. Giles, a 1975 doctoral graduate of Cambridge University and a retired history professor from the University of Florida, recently visited MYcroSchool Gainesville.

I invited Dr. Giles to speak with my students, and we were later joined by history teacher Scott Hunter and his students. Dr. Giles was asked to speak at MYcroSchool due to his numerous credits in the field of German history. He graciously accepted an invitation to be the “pre-reading” activity for Elie Wiesel’s book Night.

Dr. Giles treated four classes of students to a slideshow presentation and lecture on pre-WWII propaganda, the civilians targeted for discrimination and persecution during the war, and actual postwar images of the death camps in Poland.

Students learned some of the devastating facts about the Holocaust. There were 400,000+ concentration camps, labor camps, and sub camps across occupied Europe, with six of them classified as “death camps.” Over 100,000 Jews did not reach the camps because they died in the ghettos of starvation or disease. Their food had been rationed; they had been limited to 180-230 calories per day, as opposed to 2,300 calories per day for German non-Jewish citizens.  Poles, also sent to live in ghettos and killed in the extermination camps, also suffered great losses due to an intake of no more than 650 daily calories.

Dr. Giles has visited the death camps in Poland numerous times. It was at the request of Zev Weiss (Holocaust survivor and president of the Holocaust Educational Foundation) that he began teaching a course on the Holocaust at the University of Florida in 1994. His intent to cover the subject matter sent him to Poland for research. After his initial trip, and over a seven year period, Giles led 20 students and professors yearly to the area for a 10-day “study abroad” stay.

In addition to being an associate professor of history for 35 years at U.F. (recently retired), Dr. Giles is the author of a book: Students and National Socialism in Germany (1985), and he is in the process of authoring a second book.  From 2000-2001, he was a Senior Scholar-in-Residence at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Dr. Giles has been awarded three CLAS (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) International Educator of the Year awards. He is an honorary Consultant of the Holocaust Educational Foundation, and Senior VP of the Friends of the German Historical Institute also in D.C. Born in England, Dr. Giles’ own grandfather was a victim of Hitler’s gas; he was gassed while “in the trenches” during WWI, but survived.

With the information learned from Dr. Giles, my students are reading the book Night by Elie Wiesel. The book is a firsthand account of the author and his family’s experience at the hands of the Nazi’s in Hungary and in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald extermination camps. Wiesel was the only member of his family to survive the camps, and has since been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Giles met with the author/survivor in the early 2000s.

For those interested in learning more about WWII and the Holocaust, Dr. Giles offered his movie recommendations: Europa Europa, Schindler’s List, Weapons of the Spirit, and Au Revoir Les Enfants. Books that may be of interest are The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak by Alan Adelson, Maus by Art Spiegelman (a comic history of the Holocaust that may interest students especially), and War & Genocide by Doris L. Bergen.

Nan Thomas is the Reading teacher at MYcroSchool Gainesville.