Stitching History from the Holocaust: Students as Storytellers Part 1

Posted on April 10th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

(This is Part 1 of a two-part blog post about the latest education programs offered at the Jewish Museum of Maryland for our special exhibits: Stitching History from the Holocaust and Fashion Statement. You can check out part two tomorrow!)

At the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we are stories tellers. We are also storyfinders, storykeepers, and storyprotectors.

We are thrilled to share the poignant story found in Stitching History from the Holocaust on loan to us from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. This exhibit brings to life the dress designs by Hedy Strnad, who perished in the Holocaust. In doing so, the exhibit aims for visitors to see that each victim of the Holocaust has their own story that deserves to be remembered.

When students from John Ruhrah Elementary Middle School visited this week, they did not just hear the story of Hedy Strnad but took a behind-the-scenes look at how this story came to be.

Many stories begin with a question, a discovery, or someone’s desire to know something more. In the case of Stitching History from the Holocaust, the story began with the discovery by Burton Strnad of a red envelope containing a handwritten letter, a black and white photograph, and eight dress designs. Burton Strnad gave these items to the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, who then began to piece together the story behind the couple in the photography, Hedy and Paul Strnad.

6th-grade students from John Ruhrah taking a close look at the dresses on display in Stitching History from the Holocaust, on loan to us from the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee.

Sometimes stories don’t begin with just one question. They begin with lots of questions. Students stepped into the shoes of Burton Strnad and the staff at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee. Imagining they made this discovery, students pondered what would they want to know about these items and the people that they belonged to? Students came up with the questions: Who were the people in the photograph? What did they do? What happened to them? Where did they come from? Are they related to me? How did the letter get there? Who made the dress designs?

Students thought about how they would find the answers to their questions. They could talk to family members, search on the internet, go to the library or a museum. All great ideas (especially the Museum suggestion).

Hedy and Paul’s story is told using dresses that were fabricated from the designs found by Burton Strnad. Students discussed how the dresses represent a family’s attempt for survival. They represent a profession. A talent. An individual. They are a memorial for someone’s talent and potential that was lost because of the Holocaust. They allow Hedy and Paul’s story to live on and pass from generation to generation.

The story of Hedy and Paul is still being uncovered by the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee. As new pieces of information are discovered, the Museum is able to fill in the blanks. Students considered what else they wonder about the dresses and the Strnad family. Students asked: How did Hedy and Paul die? How old was Hedy? Are there any traces of her dress shop? Are there other designs or photos? How long did it take to make the dresses?

Students working with JMM Educator Marisa to think about what they would still like to know after learning about Hedy and Paul Strnad.

Exhibits are three-dimensional storytelling environments that you can move through and interact with. Unlike the paperbound novels that students are reading in class, an exhibit immerses them in the narrative. The dresses on display in Stitching History from the Holocaust do just that. They bring to life the Strnad family’s story and allowed students a behind-the-scenes exploration of how Museum’s tell important stories. Finally, the exhibit and the dresses don’t answer all the questions, but left students inspired to find out more.

Find out how students created their own stories about clothing items on display in the JMM-original exhibit Fashion Statement, in the next blog post, Fashion Statement: Students as Storytellers Part 2 (publishing on April 11, 2019).


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School Stories Shared from Jewish Refugees and Shanghai

Posted on March 14th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

From February 3rd to March 10th, the JMM hosted a special exhibit created by the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum titled Jewish Refugees and Shanghai. While only on display for a mere 26 days, we had 8 schools visit 13 times with over 240 students, teachers and chaperones. A special shout out to the Park School of Baltimore who visited 4 times with their 4 Chinese studies classes!

Jewish Refugees and Shanghai explored the often-untold stories of the Jewish people who sought sanctuary in Shanghai during World War II. This multi-lingual exhibit (printed in both English and Chinese) weaved together the first-person experiences sharing stories of resilience and cross-cultural expectance.

Washington Yu Ying School 5 grade students exploring the panels in Jewish Refugees and Shanghai.

The exhibit provided students an opportunity to not only learn more about the history of Jewish refugees during WWII, but also the ability to interact with, and conduct research using, primary sources. These primary sources included historical photographs, birth certificates, wedding certificates, and travel documentation.

Sidwell Friends School 8th grade class learning about the story of Sonja Muhlberger and investigating her birth certificate.

The JMM education team developed an archival exploration which looked at items once owned by Jewish Refugees living in the Hongkou Ghetto and Shanghai as a whole. Critical to the development of the archival exploration was our Museum Educator Alex. Alex said this of the program:

“The Shanghai Refugees exhibit was such a great opportunity to showcase this important little-known story to our visiting school groups as a way of talking about immigration and refugees in the past as well as in current events. For our education program, we were able to highlight artifacts from the JMM archive that told the story of Wilhelm and Selma Kurz, a local couple who came to Baltimore after spending a number of years as refugees in Shanghai. Using the exhibit panels as inspiration, I designed an original panel using photographs and documents belonging to Wilhelm and Selma as well as a map that showed their journey around the world.”

Students from Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School working together in a group.

At the end of the program, students summarized the stories they learned, such as that of Wilhelm and Selma Kurz, and shared them with the class. Here are some of their responses:

“Inge and Peter lived in Shanghai where they each met important people in their lives. Inge met her husband, Ernie, and Peter met his nanny, mentor and art teacher, Amah.”

“Shortly after fleeing Germany, Wilhelm and Selma got married and lived in Shanghai for 7-8 years before moving to Baltimore.”

“Sonya’s parents fled to Shanghai to escape the Nazis, where she was born and later she went back to Germany as a teacher and activist.”

Students from Sidwell Friends School presenting their research to the group.

Students from Washington Yu Ying School sharing the stories they learned about.

Reflecting upon the program, Museum Educator Marisa shared that:

“Working with the students that came for our Jewish Refugees and Shanghai educational program was incredibly fulfilling. They analyzed the exhibit’s primary sources, asked insightful questions, and retold these survivors’ stories. Many of the students who visited us are studying Chinese in their schools, and these students also engaged with the original Chinese language text, working together to understand and interpret the meaning of the characters. Overall, I felt that the students left having gained a greater understanding not just of this often-untold story, but of the many challenges facing Jewish people seeking refuge in the 1930’s.”

Our education team is working hard to develop unique experiential programs for our upcoming exhibit Stitching History from the Holocaust, on loan to us from the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, and the next JMM original exhibit Fashion Statement. We look forward to sharing more stories that connect students to Maryland’s Jewish roots.

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“I’m Going to Graceland”

Posted on December 25th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Learning and Visitor Engagement Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

Recently on Friday mornings, I find myself humming the Paul Simon tune, “Graceland.”

No, I am not thinking about Elvis Presley’s mansion in Memphis Tennessee, I am thinking of Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Elementary Middle School, the newest school to the roster of other schools which is part of the JMM’s Museum /School Partnership program with Baltimore City Public Schools.

Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Elementary Middle School is in East Baltimore near the Interstate 95/895 exit for the Harbor Tunnel.  The school is directly across the street from Temple Oheb Shalom Cemetery where Henrietta Szold’s parents, Rabbi Benjamin and Sophie Szold, are buried.    Built in 1950, Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Elementary/Middle school is slated to be torn down in the coming year to make room for a new school building that is currently under construction right next to the existing school building.

There are two existing elementary middle schools in the neighborhood, Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Middle School and Holabird Elementary Middle School that are located within 3 blocks of one another.

Both schools will be replaced with Baltimore City’s Public Schools first two “Zero-Energy” schools which will highlight future-focused and sustainable learning environments.  Each of the schools has similar academic programs but they will be organized into flexible grade group clusters that will feature shared, collaborative learning spaces and environments to accommodate different student learning styles.

Realizing the importance of giving both schools their own character, each school building will have a distinct exterior palette reflecting their school community. Each school will be equipped with student gardens, outdoor classrooms, rooftop solar labs, and vegetative roofs that further push innovation while intertwining sustainable concepts in education – staying true to their mission to nurture, engage, and empower the whole child for life-long excellence.

New School Building – Anticipated Completion 2020; Grimm & Parker Architects

The JMM is excited to include Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights to our roster of partner schools this year.  We are working with 7th grade teacher Amy Rosenkranz and her seventh graders in an education project, Graceland Park: PROJECTED where students will create their own stories of their communities and families.   This project is very similar to the pilot project, Morrell Park: PROJECTED that we did last year with 8th grade students from Morrell Park Elementary Middle School.

Once again, the project is led by young adult author, Jonathon Scott Fuqua and area graduate students who have been going to the classroom to meet with the students to discuss stories and the element of telling a story.  The students have been listening and watching different kinds of stories, from interviews and short films to understand how stories are developed. The goal of the project is that the students will tell their own personal stories using video footage from their smart phones. The students will learn editing applications for the phone and will premiere their films later in spring 2019.

Jonathon “Scott” Fuqua with 7th graders.

One of the components of the museum/school partnership is that the students get to visit the JMM.   Last week, the 7th graders visited the JMM and had a fantastic time visiting the historic synagogues and discovering the fun inside the Harry Houdini exhibit.

What does it feel like inside a milkcan?

Graceland Park 7th graders visit the JMM!

The administration at Graceland Park has been wonderful to work and one of the great benefits of establishing museum school partnership schools is that there is a shared learning between the students and teachers and the JMM’s education team throughout the year instead of the one-time museum field trip experience.  What make this project even more exciting is that these 7th graders will take their newly acquired knowledge and skills with them as 8th graders next year.  The school’s administration is hopeful that these students will become the stewards for Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Elementary Middle School as they document, film and tell the story of the closing of the existing school building to the opening of the brand-new school facility.

The JMM is looking forward to working with the budding filmmakers and storytellers of the Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Elementary Middle School community!

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