Growing up gay in London, Danny M. Cohen, 43, learned the Jewish narratives of the Holocaust, but no one ever taught him about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.
It’s such “hidden histories” of non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust that gave focus to Cohen’s research at Northwestern University. He is a professor, young adult novelist and founder of an education nonprofit, who specializes in Holocaust memory, hidden narratives and the design of social justice education.
Cohen will be presenting for Milwaukee in the months to come, for Wisconsin educators and for the public. The visits are sponsored by the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education and Research Center, a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
“All my work focuses on what I call hidden Holocaust histories,” Cohen said. “Those are the parts of Holocaust history that are often neglected because they’re about topics that are a struggle to talk about or there is push back from the wider community of parents, or even other teachers. So, my work helps educators and communities have difficult conversations about these marginalized narratives.”
Cohen developed curriculum on the persecutions that are often left out of the Holocaust histories—Romanis, political dissidents, people who are gay, black or disabled, and victims of sexual violence.
At the urging of teachers, Cohen wrote a young adult novel titled “Train” that addresses these disparate victims, he said. Over 10 days in 1943 Berlin, six teenagers witness and attempt to escape the Nazi roundups of Jews and the Romani people. “Train” was the first work of Holocaust fiction to be selected by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellowship Program, which trains leaders in the field of Holocaust education.
“This is based on real history and helps us think about prejudice in the world today, about resilience and resistance and standing up against all different kinds of prejudice. If we don’t talk about it, we’re not going to be able to challenge it or eradicate it from our community.”
His presentations invite educators and other audiences to see that Holocaust history has “many entry points and can be accessed by students and communities in all sorts of ways. We give them the tools to be able to build bridges between Holocaust history and ongoing prejudices.”
Cohen is the grandson of a Jewish Holocaust survivor whom he never met, but he shares his name. He died when his mother was 12 years old. “My grandfather is ever-present in my middle name, Maurice. He was unlike the survivors we think of who tell their stories and visit schools. My grandfather was one of those who never spoke about their families who were murdered. So, what I’ve come to see is that there are all these dead ends and hidden histories. It’s no surprise that I would focus on that. Perhaps it’s a way to fill in the gaps of my own family story.”
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Events with Danny M. Cohen
- Keynote speaker at Navigating the Holocaust virtual workshop, July 18-20, 2022. Free for Wisconsin educators. Visit: HolocaustCenterMilwaukee.org/NavigatingtheHolocaust.
- In Milwaukee, in person, for community programs on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, including a session titled, “Mickey Mouse and the Holocaust.” Details to follow this summer, at HolocaustCenterMilwaukee.org/Events.