Holocaust Education at the JMM

Posted on June 7th, 2018 by

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

A few months ago, a report came out that more than one-fifth of millennials in the US, (a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century), haven’t heard of or aren’t sure if they’ve heard of the Holocaust according to a study which was commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Additionally, 41 percent of millennials believe two million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust; and two- thirds of millennials could not identify in the survey what Auschwitz was.  According to the news release on the findings, the survey found critical gaps both in awareness of basic facts as well as detailed knowledge of the Holocaust.

I was a little surprised by the report, as I see Holocaust education as one of the primary topics that we focus on at the JMM, with many teachers choosing to bring school groups to learn about our historic synagogues, Jewish customs and see our exhibitions that are related to the theme. In addition, every summer we offer a three- day workshop, Summer Teachers Institute, which provides educators with tools and resources on the best practices in Holocaust education.

Yesterday, I was very happy to see that the study was WRONG! We had a school group from DC public schools visit the Museum.  The teacher was previously a Baltimore City Public School teacher who was very familiar with our education program. Her students (3rd to 5th graders) had just finished reading, Number of the Stars (1989), a work of historical fiction by American author Lois Lowry, about the escape of a Jewish family (the Rosens) from Copenhagen, Denmark during World War II. The story centers on ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, who lives with her family in Copenhagen in 1943.

When the teacher made her reservation for the field trip with Paige, JMM’s very capable Visitors Services Coordinator, the teacher knew exactly what she wanted her students to take away from their visit. She wanted her students to learn more about Judaism and visit the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue; she wanted to have her students participate in one of our most popular education programs, Lives Lost: Lives Found: Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees 1933-1945; and she contacted the Baltimore Jewish Council so that the students could hear personal testimony from a survivor of the Holocaust.

The students’ visit was perfect timing, as it was the second day for our summer interns, and I felt that having the interns observe the school group, would help the interns see first-hand, the education program in action at the JMM.

The students from the DC public school were fabulous. They were engaged in the archival activity program relating to the Lives Lost: Lives Found: Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees 1933-1945; exhibition. The students loved seeing the Lloyd Street Synagogue and loved learning how to read the Hebrew Alphabet.

The most profound part of their time at the JMM was watching the students as they listened very intently to the testimony of Mrs. Herta Baitch, who told her story of coming to the United States as a child with the German-Jewish Children’s Aid Society and moving in with a foster family here in Baltimore. Following Herta’s testimony, the children had the opportunity to ask questions, many of them thoughtful and also amusing.

After a lot of clapping, the children literally got themselves into a receiving line, and each student went up to Herta to thank her and hug her. It was such a spectacular moment!

Our education department is very proud that these students had such a wonderful engaging field trip experience yesterday, and hopefully that experience we offered will make the students better citizens and future leaders to ensure that our history and the Holocaust will never be repeated again.

Registration is now open for our 2018 Summer Teachers Institute – you can find more information and the registration form here.

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The Book of Joseph: Everyman Theatre and a Jewish Play

Posted on April 25th, 2018 by

Playwright Karen Hartman and author and native Baltimorean Richard Hollander were kind enough to sit down with us and talk a little about their experiences with creating “The Book of Joseph” and bringing the story of Richard’s family to life.

Interview by JMM Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman. Filming and transcription by Carmen Venable. This interview was filmed on April 11, 2018 at the Everyman Theatre in downtown Baltimore, MD.

“The Book of Joseph” runs at the Everyman Theatre May 9 –June 10, 2018. It’s companion exhibit, “The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family,” is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland April 22 – June 3, 2018.

In this clip Karen discusses why Everyman Theatre’s production of “The Book of Joseph” is particularly exciting.

Transcript:

 Karen Hartman: Well, one thing that’s exciting about this production is that Everyman Theatre is one of the few theaters in the country to keep a resident company of actors. This used to be a part of the American Regional system and it just isn’t anymore. So, in our production here, this group of actors, who are playing a family, they kind of are a family. More than half of them are part of this company, they know each other, they work together. There’s this built in rapport and intimacy that they bring the production from the beginning that’s really exciting. And the other thing is, I’m excited about this director, Noah Himmelstein, who I’ve known for a while, who’s just one of the most exciting young directors around, who both has the heart for this play, and the imaginative spirit for this play, and I’m really eager to see what he brings to it too.

In this clip Karen discusses why “The Book of Joseph” is a Jewish play.

Transcript:

Karen Hartman: No one has ever asked me about this play as a Jewish play, probably because it’s in part a Holocaust story, so that seems in some ways obvious, and in many ways we want to emphasize all of the ways that the play is universal and about immigration and American-ness and this idea of a briefcase. There’s also something that in a way, I can’t quite identify, strikes me as particularly Jewish, about a yearning to have a conversation with an ancestor. And I don’t know why that is, but I’ve known it from when I first started teaching playwriting– I started teaching when I was in my early twenties. I was right out of college and one of the first places I taught a playwriting workshop was a Jewish day school, and I asked the students, “Write a paragraph about something you want that you can’t buy with money,” as a starting point for teaching the kind of dramatic questions. And this little boy, a fifth grade boy, wrote, “I wish I could go back in time and meet my grandfather.” And I thought, this strikes me as a cultural habit of yearning to have that conversation with someone in the past. It’s been a huge part of my work, writing about my own family history, probing out those questions, writing a character who meets her own grandmother, and there’s something about the way this play works, that although it is– although it plays around in time and space, it doesn’t play around in a way that’s playful or random. It plays around in a way that serves this central yearning of, “I want to go back, I want to know my history better, I want to know my dad better.” And it strikes me as a Jewish habit of inquiry.

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My visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Posted on February 24th, 2017 by

As we will be opening Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust and Humanity on March 5th, it made me think of my visit a few years ago to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. While I had learned about the Holocaust from an early age and had visited many Holocaust memorials and museums, nothing could prepare me for visiting the site where 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives, including nearly 1 million Jews.

The entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau

The entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp

The day started in Krakow where I awoke early to take a bus through the Polish countryside to the town of Oswiecim, now known better by its German name of Auschwitz. I began by passing under the infamous sign “Arbeit Mach Frei”, translated as “work makes you free.” I first spent time in Auschwitz 1 which was the main camp and was where the Nazis carried out the first experiments at using Zyklon B to put people to death. It was also where the camp commandant’s office and most of the SS offices were located.

Guard house and barracks in Auschwitz 1

Guard house and barracks in Auschwitz 1

I stood in the courtyard where the SS conducted executions by shootings. In the museum, I saw haunting exhibits of victim’s belongings such as worn shoes, glasses and abandoned luggage. There were also rooms of empty poison gas containers and human hair. One particularly affecting room was full of children’s clothing.

Cattle car and train tracks

Cattle car and train tracks

I then proceeded to Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, which was where millions died in the gas chambers. I was struck by the scale of the complex which seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. The camp was surrounded by miles of barbed wire fencing and guard towers. I found Birkenau to be a more meditative space, generally free from the tour groups in the crowded barracks. I walked along the train tracks to a sole cattle car which once carried victims to the camps. I stood in silence inside one of the remaining gas chambers. I also paid my respects at the ruins of crematoria and pits which were filled with human ashes. The prisoner barracks were damp with not much light coming through and had what seemed like hundreds of wooden bunks inside.

A visible reminder of the people now gone

A visible reminder of the people now gone

Throughout my visit, I felt a sense of numbness, shock and grief. I returned to Krakow feeling empty inside and unable to comprehend how humanity could be capable of such evil. Although this was an emotional day, I am glad I visited because I believe it is important to see first-hard the evidence of the concentration camps.

Schindler's office and enamelware made by the factory workers.

Schindler’s office and enamelware made by the factory workers.

The next day I visited Oskar Schindler’s enamelware factory, which tells the inspiring story of how Schindler saved over a thousand Jews from the camps. While the day before I had witnessed the worst of humanity, the next day my faith in humanity was slightly renewed.

My Holocaust journey did not end in Poland. After I returned to the states, I returned to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where I learned more background on the Shoah. I also discovered great resources on their website on how individuals can take steps to fight against anti-Semitism in their own communities. Even if you are not able to travel to Auschwitz, I encourage everyone to visit their local Holocaust Museum and to stand up against genocide that may be happening around the world. Like many of you, I await with anticipation our Remembering Auschwitz exhibit and look forward to attending many of the upcoming programs ranging from presentations by Holocaust survivors to artist insights and musical performances.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

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