CHAMPAIGN — If the propaganda Nazis used in Germany existed in the U.S. today, it might take the form of ads disparaging blacks and encouraging people to burn down their houses.
And if eighth-grade boys lived in Nazi Germany, rather than the modern-day United States, they'd have to be members of the Hitler Youth and go on to join the Nazi party.
Franklin Middle School's 200 eighth graders learned and presented these facts, and many more, when they created their own Holocaust Museum on Thursday at the school. It's the fifth year for the school's museum.
The students have spent five weeks learning about the Holocaust in social studies and language arts classes, with some science and math lessons included as well, said teacher Trina Wetzel. The museum allowed students to dig into the areas of the Holocaust and related topics they were interested in.
Students built dioramas, put together PowerPoint presentations and put together posters with their findings.
One even made a shirt to represent what concentration camp residents wore, and several dressed in outfits you might have seen in Nazi Germany. They filled classrooms and hallways.
A flooded bathroom and hallway halted the museum for a bit, but after the mess was cleaned up, students set their projects back up and went on teaching others about various aspects they researched.
It was Justin Connor and Joe Goode who decided to study Nazi propaganda, its history and role in the Holocaust.
They learned about how Germans were bombarded with negative messages about Jews and helped the Nazis gather support for their cause.
"The German people could have been us," Connor said. "They were normal people."
It led him and Goode to think about what such messages might look like in the U.S. today. They found ads disparaging Jews, and thought maybe in the United States, such propaganda might target blacks, because they're a minority group. They drew and wrote mock propaganda, with ideas of how blacks might be portrayed.
"We just want to show how powerful media can be," Connor said.
Nick Finke and Matthew Scaggs studied the Hitler Youth, learning about the requirements for boys and girls in Nazi Germany.
They found that Nazis used education to brainwash German children, and Finke said he found it interesting because they were studying people their own age who were forced into certain beliefs.
Deffa Borro studied anti-Semitism from the Middle Ages until Hitler's time and found that Martin Luther published an anti-Semitic book and some people believed Jews caused the Black Death plague that swept Europe in the 14th century.
Other students studied particular concentration camps, trains' impact on the magnitude of the Holocaust and the daily lives of those in concentration camps.
Wetzel said while the students learn the "grave and horrible" facts of the Holocaust, teachers also make an effort to encourage them to think about the genocide more broadly.
"We work hard to make sure they can incorporate into their own lives," she said, including concepts about social justice and treating others well.
"We have a responsibility to help," Wetzel said, "and looking the other way is just as bad."
Brian Kahn is chairman of the Champaign Urbana Jewish Federation's Holocaust Education Team, which lends teachers materials and puts on workshops to help local teachers with Holocaust education, which is required by the state.
The committee sent Wetzel to a workshop at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., last summer and will send one of her co-workers at Franklin this summer.
Kahn said especially in a time when education tends to favor standardized tests, Franklin's museum engages students and allows them to create personal responses to what they've learned about the Holocaust.
It also allows them to look deeper into aspects of the Holocaust, he said, and into things like social justice, the human condition and "how people relate to each other ... the building blocks of creating engaged citizens in our democracy, in any democracy."