HMTC visitors learn about life before the Holocaust, the rise of Nazi Germany, the events of the Holocaust, life in a concentration camp, liberation and life after war and other genocides since 1945.

Meet Christopher Probst, Nassau County Holocaust Museum’s Education Director

Addressing rise of antisemitic, racist incidents through education
By Jennifer Corr
[email protected]
The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County dedicates itself to educating students and the community about the Holocaust, as well as the importance of tolerance and respect for all people.
“We are here to serve the community, and we have a broad range of programs,” said HMTC Director of Education Christopher Probst, who began his tenure in September 2023. “We are concerned about the Holocaust, other genocides, and issues to do with race. We see it as interconnected.”
HMTC is located at Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove, which was the estate of Harold I. and Harriet B. Pratt. Surrounded by nature, school groups and community members who come from around Long Island go to HMTC to take tours of the exhibits and learn from museum docents and survivors. They can also tour the Children’s Memorial Garden, which honors the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.
Beyond Welwyn, HMTC devotes itself to educating the community about the Holocaust and modern prejudice through programs and speaking engagements.
Probst has always known about the devastation of the Holocaust, as he’s a descendant of Holocaust survivors.
“My late grandmother Ester Goldstein, all of her aunts and uncles perished in the Holocaust,” Probst said. “They were in Poland. Public education on the Holocaust and genocide, for me, is not solely an academic pursuit. I think it’s necessary to combat antisemitism, xenophobia and all forms of racism in present-day society.”
Probst gained his Ph.D. in history, particularly the history of the Holocaust, from Royal Holloway, the University of London.
Since then, Probst has served as an educator. He taught history at Howard Community College in Maryland and Saint Louis University, Maryville University, and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He’s also written articles and books about the relationship between Protestant and Jewish people in Nazi Germany. And he’s served as a volunteer at the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum.
“I felt a pull, a tug towards doing work with the public, in other words, taking that academic knowledge I had about the Holocaust and genocide and doing something about it that would be helpful in the community that I live in,” Probst said when asked what brought him to HMTC.
The job Probst interviewed for, and the job he has today are much different. About a month after settling into HMTC, news broke of an attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas militants, starting a deadly conflict and rising antisemitic and Islamaphobic tensions including here in the United States.
“That has made adjusting to this role something that’s been much more hectic than I have anticipated, to say the least,” Probst said. “We have seen antisemitic, racist or bullying incidents involving students from Long Island schools in at least eight different districts across Long Island. And many of them come to us for help. So within weeks of taking the job, my phone has been ringing off the hook, my colleagues as well. My inbox is filling up very quickly.”
Before Probst moved to Long Island, he studied news reports and spoke with former directors of education to get a sense of what he was walking into.
“I’ve seen that since 2015, at least, there has been a rather significant increase long-term, over those seven or eight years, whether it’s racist incidents, whether it’s anti-Black incidents, whether it’s swastikas etched on bathroom stalls or in classrooms,” Probst explained. “On the other hand, you have this really intense focus on Israel-Palestine since October. So that has led to a significant spike.”
After the attack, HMTC’s education team met together to create a plan of action, which included a rapid response to incidents.
“When schools call us, of course, they’re horrified at what’s happened,” Probst said. “They want to address it in some way. Our aim with this rapid response is to empower educators and parents to tackle antisemitism and other forms of hate in the community.”
One of HMTC’s signature programs called “Deconstructing Symbols of Hate,” a one-hour workshop designed for students in grades eight through 12, analyzes the history behind symbols such as the swastika and teaches participants how to stand up to racism or antisemitism.
“Students really reflect what these symbols mean,” Probst said. “Sometimes there’s a gasp or a sort of intake of air when they realize just how much a symbol is attached to the murder and ideology of the Nazis.”
There have also been cases where students who mimicked Nazi salutes or drew swastikas, for example, went to HMTC on a private basis to meet with an educator and learn about the story of the Holocaust.
“It’s a small sample size, but we’ve seen a very good conversion rate,” Probst said. “The light in their eyes tells us that they understand what they did was wrong and how it caused so much pain.”
Probst said he believes there’s been an increase in hate incidents in the past seven or eight years because of access to hateful and harmful ideas on social media, as well as a cultural environment where antisemitic and racist symbols and actions have moved from the fringes of society closer to the center.
“Students are going through school and are typically getting a good education on the Holocaust, about Civil Rights and the history of these things, but in the broader society, it’s become more accepted culturally, even politically, to say things that are at best racially insensitive,” Probst said. “Now, more than ever, I think it’s our responsibility as educators to teach about the oppression and violence that resulted, historically, in giving into this temptation to exclude rather than to understand.”
In January 2024 HMTC had a near-record number of students and adult community members, 5,000 people, coming for tours and programs. While January is normally a busy month for HMTC, it hasn’t been this busy, Probst said.
“It’s two sides of a coin; it can be very challenging, but at the same time, on a daily basis, [HMTC staff and] I have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives, especially of young people, but also adults,” Probst said. “Whether introducing and moderating a discussion in a school auditorium with a Holocaust survivor, leading a professional development workshop with teachers and administrators on how to educate about and combat hate incidents and speech in their schools, or teaching students about the horrors of the Holocaust and genocide, it’s a very rewarding job.”
HMTC offers programs for students in grades five through 12.
“At the grade five level, we emphasize stories of courage, those who survived the Holocaust and were able to exemplify their courage, and resisters who stood up to antisemitic hatred,” Probst explained.
Middle and high school students are offered a tour of HMTC’s exhibit and the Children’s Memorial Garden by a well-trained docent, covering subjects such as life before the Holocaust, Nazi Germany before World War II, the Holocaust, life in a concentration camp, liberation and life after war and other genocides since 1945.
The tour typically takes about an hour, and students will then take a short break for lunch. Afterward, students will hear a testimony from a Holocaust survivor or a descendant of a survivor.
“In that way, they get both an academic approach in the exhibit with the tour and they get a real-life story, a testimony from somebody who survived the Holocaust or someone who is a descendant of someone who survived the Holocaust,” Probst explained.
HMTC also offers adult education college campus groups. For example, Probst said, HMTC will host a group from Stony Brook University for a program called “Courageous Conversations,” addressing how to talk about race, systemic racism, biases and other topics.
Nurses and Suffolk and Nassau County police cadets also come to HMTC for programs.
Moji Pourmoradi, executive director of the HMTC, said they are thrilled to have Probst to lead the educational team.
“His breadth of knowledge, combined with his gentle demeanor makes it very easy for our students to connect with him,” Pourmoradi said. “He is dealing with a very difficult subject but he has proven himself to be a formidable educator who cares deeply about the subject and the student, which is the perfect combination.”
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