Danny M. Cohen Writes Novel for Holocaust Education, Has Interview Event April 16

Danny M. Cohen Writes Novel for Holocaust Education, Has Interview Event April 16


SESP assistant professor Danny M. Cohen (PhD11), who specializes in the design of Holocaust and human rights education, has written a young adult novel that may be used in school curriculums. He will be discussing the new book, Train, at a campus-wide April 16 event for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Cohen’s novel Train takes place in 1943 Berlin, where six teenagers are attempting to escape Nazi round-ups. This thriller focuses on unheard victims of Nazism — the Roma, the disabled, intermarried Jews, homosexuals and political enemies of the regime.

The campus-wide discussion event for Train on April 16 will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. in G21 Annenberg Hall, followed by a reception in the second-floor commons. Cohen will read passages from the book, and professor Phyllis Lassner of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences will interview him. A limited number of SESP students, staff and faculty who RSVP will receive a free copy of Train.

Cohen wrote the novel “by accident,” as he says. “Building on my doctoral research on marginalized narratives of Holocaust history, I set out to design a new curriculum about the Nazis' persecution of Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, intermarried Jews, and political enemies of the Nazi regime. Teachers often use fiction to teach about Holocaust history; fiction can be compelling and can shine a light on hidden questions.”

Earlier, he had written a few short stories, all based on actual events. “One Roma story. One Jewish story. One story of a persecuted homosexual. One story about a disabled victim. But then those stories became connected, and suddenly I was writing a young adult historical thriller,” he explains.

Danny M. Cohen

For a school curriculum, Cohen offers a menu of activities and lesson plans, called Overlapping Triangles, that supports educators to integrate hidden narratives of Nazi persecution with the Jewish Holocaust narrative. “Without giving too much away, Train's ending leaves the reader with urgent questions — puzzles that can be solved in the classroom through historical research. After studying Train, Overlapping Triangles helps students to investigate history, as well as ask questions about why and how certain narratives become marginalized and, even today, are often unheard,” says Cohen.

Understandably, because of his doctoral studies the fiction is grounded in learning sciences. “Just last week, a reader told me, ‘I read Train and I just knew it was written by a learning scientist.’ Designing effective learning experiences has a lot in common with writing fiction. From the start, the audience has to jump forward and ask questions and, all the way through the experience, as each question is answered, another urgent question must emerge. One element within Train is a treasure hunt — a real treasure hunt that's possible to solve before the characters do.”

“Education is about providing opportunities for deep thinking along with an excitement to learn,” Cohen asserts.

Fans of Train can look forward to future books by Cohen. He is writing a second book, Hide or Speak, which is a contemporary thriller for young adults. The book “raises questions about the relationships between the media, politics and human rights,” says Cohen, as it specifically tackles sexual violence and the persecution of people who are transgender, both of which are taboo topics in many high schools.

Unsilence Project, a new nonprofit that Cohen founded and directs, is a series of educational experiences for teenagers and the public that bring to light marginalized narratives of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights. "I hope that the human rights fiction I write and the educational programs I design will unsilence the stories hidden in plain sight,” Cohen says.

In addition to his work as an educator, learning scientist and writer, Cohen is also a member of the Illinois Holocaust and Genocide Commission, which provides guidance on Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration across the state. He was reappointed by Governor Bruce Rauner on March 13.

At the School of Education and Social Policy, Cohen teaches classes in Program Design and Implementation; Holocaust Memory, Memorials and Museums; and the Holocaust and Education. Cohen focuses his teaching and research on the development of community programming for social justice, memorialization and museum design.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/19/15