Spring Exhibits and Holocaust Programming: Remembering the Holocaust at the JMM

Posted on January 18th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights is from Director of Learning and Visitor Experience  Ilene Dackman-Alon and Program Manager Trillion Attwood. Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


Later this month, the JMM will offer a series of Holocaust-related exhibits and programs. This series will offer glimpses into the personal stories of both loss and survival, inviting our visitors to reflect on the deep and lasting impact of the events on the Holocaust on individual lives and the world in which we live today.

The series begins on January 27th, the day designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations. The date marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and is set aside as a day to remember and honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the millions of other victims of Nazism. It is a day to remind the world of the lessons of the Holocaust and a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.

At 1pm join us for the first of two annual Sadie B. Feldman Family Lectures – Refugees and America: Past, Present and Future with speakers Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS and Anne Richard, former Assistant Secretary of State under the Obama Administration. This timely conversation will examine immigration in America, past, present and future through a historic lens.

On Wednesday night, January 30th at 6:30 pm we will present the second Sadie B. Feldman Family Lecture. Jack Sacco will be discussing his book, Where the Birds Never Sing: The True Story of the 92nd Signal Battalion and the Liberation of Dachau. Participants will hear the harrowing, at times horrifying, and ultimately triumphant tale of an American GI in World War II as seen through the eyes of the author’s father, Joe Sacco — a farm boy from Alabama who landed at Omaha Beach, fought his way through Europe, and liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini closes on January 21st. In February, we will kick-off our winter/spring exhibition calendar with the first of two upcoming Exhibits that tell the stories of people seeking escape from the atrocities that followed Hitler and the Nazi regime’s rise to power.

Opening on February 3rd the JMM welcomes Jewish Refugees and Shanghai created by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The exhibit weaves together the stories of more than two dozen individuals who lived in the Shanghai Jewish ghetto. Shanghai became the temporary home to more than 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Poland during World War II. The exhibit is on display through March 10th.

As a complement to the Shanghai exhibit, we are launching the First Winter Teachers Institute in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools. The two-day professional development opportunity will be held February 10th & 17th. The first day includes a visit to the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C., and a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to see the exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust. The second day will be held at the JMM, where participants will learn best practices and educational resources from dedicated scholars and educators. Baltimore City teachers will receive AU credit for participation upon completion of an implementation plan.

For more information about the Winter Teachers Institute, please do not hesitate to contact Ilene Dackman-Alon via email idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org.

We are celebrating the exhibit with a Special Members-Only Preview on Saturday, February 2nd with an evening celebrating the cultural exchange of the Shanghai Jewish ghetto. Enjoy Chinese Lion dancers and a String Trio playing Viennese music from a selection of Jewish composers. This is certain to be a special evening, if you haven’t yet reserved your seats, we recommend you do today, places are limited.

On Opening Day of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai from 11am until 3pm, visitors can try their hand creating a selection of crafts inspired for the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Pig! This is a perfect activity for the whole family right before Super Bowl kickoff.

Throughout the exhibit run, we have a series of fascinating lectures. On Sunday, February 10th we welcome Dr. Meredith Oyen for her presentation A Little Vienna in Shanghai. The following week we are joined by Dr. Kathryn Hellerstein, University of Pennsylvania for her presentation China Through Yiddish Eyes, an exciting exploration of Jewish life in China during the interwar period.

The following Sunday, February 24th we welcome local survivor Yvonne Daniel, the child of Jewish German parents who fled to Shanghai following Nazi persecution. On March 3rd, Sara Halpern will explore the experiences of Jewish families, with a focus on the youngest members, as she presents, In Their Own Words as Jewish Refugees.

We are pleased to present two films in connection with the exhibit. The Maryland premiere of Above the Drowning Seas, on February 21st recounts the story of Ho Feng Shan, the Chinese Consul in Vienna who defied his own government and braved the Gestapo to issue visas to Jewish refugees. On March 7th, Minyan in Kaifeng celebrates the ancient Jewish Chinese community. Finally, on March 10th we close the exhibit with Cantor Robyn Helzner and her unforgettable presentation Kreplach & Dim Sum. Audience members will be treated to lively stories, vibrant photos, video, and enchanting music as we celebrate the extraordinary presence of Jews in China.

On April 7th, the JMM welcomes Stitching History Through the Holocaust, on loan to us from the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee (the other JMM!). The exhibit invites visitors into the story of Paul and Hedy Strnad, trapped in Prague as the Nazis close in. Desperate to get out of Prague and in fear of their own lives, the couple send Hedy’s fashion-forward designs to their cousins in Milwaukee. Paul and Hedy perished during the Holocaust, but their memory lives on in this exhibit that includes the letters, sketches and the dresses that were recreated from Hedy’s drawings.

Concurrent with Stitching History Through the Holocaust, our staff has been busy putting together an original exhibit, Fashion Statement – that explores the messages embedded and sometime embroidered into the clothing that we wear.

Our education department has been developing activities and interactives that will encourage our audiences to connect with the people and the stories of the clothing displayed in the two Exhibits. Our goals are two-fold: we hope these activities will help our visitors to be empowered to remember the Holocaust but also investigate ways clothing can convey social status, political messages and religious expression.

We are developing an exciting schedule of programs to include lectures, movie screenings, and testimonies from 1st and 2nd generation survivors to help us better understand the experiences of those who lived through the Holocaust.

The challenging stories you will hear in the coming months through our exhibits and programs are not easy, but they are compelling, fascinating, and necessary.

We hope we see you soon. Together we can learn from our shared past to ensure the health, safety, and wholeness of the world of today and tomorrow.

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Operation Finale and the role of art in teaching history

Posted on August 27th, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Back in July of this year, Trillion Attwood, the JMM Program Manager, was approached by a promotional company arranging for pre-release screenings of the new movie Operation Finale. Their goal was to create buzz around the Ben KingsleyOscar Isaac film that dramatizes the Israelis’ 1961 capture of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The promotional company wanted to know if we would be willing to host a screening if they would pay to rent the theater space at a cinema near our location.

Marvin and I jumped at the opportunity (not literally. There isn’t usually a great deal of literal jumping in the JMM offices).

We knew we wanted to do more than just a film screening, so we immediately got in touch with our colleagues at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum (USHMM) in Washington. They were planning their own DC-area screening with this same promotional company, but they were still excited to partner with us on our Baltimore screening. We also reached out to our colleagues and partners at Baltimore Jewish Council for their partnership. Together, the partners decided to do a talk-back after the film, with a facilitated conversation between an historian from USHMM and our audience. We decided I would be the facilitator.

In the days and weeks after the decision to proceed, it became clear that Marvin and I were not the only people figuratively jumping at the chance to see this film. We did very little promotion for the event (we didn’t have much time), and still saw tickets sell out in about 48 hours. Our staff fielded phone calls and emails of folks desperately hoping to score a seat. (Luckily for them, the movie is being released in theaters this Wednesday, August 29.)

That evening, I was excited and a bit apprehensive as I found my seat in theater 5 at the Landmark Theatres Harbor East. While I have considerable experience facilitating discussions, I usually have read or seen the topic of discussion before facilitating conversation. In this case, I watched for the first time with the other 200 people in the theater. I expected it would be an emotional experience. I didn’t anticipate how suspenseful the film would be.

I admit that I knew very little of the details of the capture of Eichmann in Argentina before watching the film. The filmmakers do an admirable job of building and holding suspense for the viewer. I felt my heart race several times as I watched. I was also struck by the nuance with which the movie depicted not only the Israeli operatives who carried out the mission in Argentina, but Eichmann himself. In the conversations after the film, some of my fellow audience-goers worried that the film made Eichmann too sympathetic. I did not find him particularly sympathetic—the film does not shy away from his monstrosities—in fact, in one memory, we see over and over, Eichmann oversees the field execution of thousands. His lack of compassion and disregard for what he oversees is depicted through the banality of his concern over the cleanliness of his jacket. I was, however, impressed with the three dimensions that the filmmakers and Ben Kingsley lent to the character. As one of our audience members put it in their survey response, “Ben Kingsley’s performance as Eichmann” showed “how someone so boring and ordinary can become so evil.”

In our talkback after the film, Dr. Peter Black, an independent scholar and historian formerly with the USHMM helped us understand what is true and what is fictionalized in the film. It turns out that while many of the dramatic details that had my heart racing are fictionalized, the core of the story is an accurate depiction of the facts as Peter Malkin (played by Oscar Isaac) recollected them in his published accounts. Taking the time to distinguish fact from fiction was appreciated by our audience, who, in surveys noted “loved that you clarified fiction vs. fact. Love that there was audience participation,” and from another, “the follow-up—fact from fiction—was the highlight!”

My big question to the audience that night was “what role does art like this have in the teaching of history?”  There was some disagreement. One gentleman lamented that movies like this disseminate misinformation. He suggested that most of us in the audience already knew the story, and perhaps the filmmakers should have left well enough alone. I countered with a question. What about for my daughter, who is six years old? She is unlikely to know any survivors into her adulthood. Does art have a role in keeping the story alive for future generations like her? If the answer is yes, do the art-makers have license to make the audience heart race even if the adrenalin-filled chase to the airport is a little less-than accurate?

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Reflections from the Second-Floor lounge of the USHMM

Posted on August 20th, 2018 by

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

Entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C., I felt as though I had entered a building that could have been located anywhere in the world. I was separated from the hustle and bustle of tourists moving between their destinations across the National Mall. Having arrived prior to the Museum’s opening, our group from the Summer Teachers Institute collected on the stairs in the Hall of Witness. I immediately knew that the Museum’s design would have a strong impact on my visit.

STI participants standing at the bottom of the staircase in the Hall of Witness. The staircase is often thought to look like a railroad track. (Want to hear more about Summer Teachers Institute? Check out Ilene’s recent blog post here.)

Different components – including the exhibit floor plan, color of the walls, light levels, scents, and sounds – within a space culminate together to influence a visitor’s experience. These elements are carefully curated by the team at USHMM. The architecture of the USHMM was not designed to reference any specific site or structure. Rather through a collection of carefully selected materials and features, the architecture eludes to the history shared inside the Museum. It is meant to evoke reflection and memories.

The lounge located after portion of the permanent exhibit The ‘Final Solution’ – 1940 to 1945 dedicated to ghettos and death camps, is an example of how a carefully curated space impacted my experience.

The second-floor lounge is a clean white space. This space, with a few benches along the wall, is where I encountered artist Sol LeWitt’s wall drawing “Consequence.” But first, let me back up a few steps. Before entering this lounge, I walked through the “Tower of Faces.” The “Tower of Faces” is a three-floor-high component of the permanent exhibit. The tower is filled from floor to ceiling with photos of families and individuals. Consisting of approximately 1000 reproduction photos, this tower is devoted to the Jewish community of the Lithuanian town of Eisiskes. This community was massacred on September 25th and 26th, 1941.

“Tower of Faces.” You can learn more about this component of the USHMM’s permanent exhibit here.

I walked out of the “Tower of Faces” feeling saturated by images of families, couples, and individuals. I saw a glimpse into these people’s personal lives and their unique stories. After exiting this tower, I was confronted with Sol LeWitt’s artwork on the wall of the lounge. The artwork is composed of five monumental squares set on a black background. Each square is a different color: purple, yellow, blue, red, and orange.. In the center of each colored square is a smaller grey square with a thin white border.

Sol LeWitt’s “Consequence” located in the second floor lounge in the permanent exhibit at USHMM.

The result is four colorful portrait frames with nothing in the middle of them. Unlike the tower immediately prior, there are no faces, no families, no personalities, and no stories. They are void. They emit emptiness.

This space provided me, and other visitors, an opportunity to reflect. To digest the information presented in the permanent exhibit. The artwork “Consequence” is poignant. Taking up the entire wall, the artwork embodies that overwhelming sense of loss.

There are numerous spaces throughout the USHMM and each is designed in an incredibly thoughtful manor. While my experience in the second-floor lounge heavily resonated with me following my visit, I am certain that when I visit again I will find another element carefully curated that impacts my experience as a visitor.

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