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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Performance Counts: Ten Years of the Summer Teachers Institute

Posted on September 16th, 2016 by

If you ask the education department at the JMM, they will tell you that the end of the summer is officially over after the Summer Teachers Institute (STI) takes place in early August.  For the past 10 years, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Baltimore Jewish Council have partnered in planning this annual event. We just finished up another successful program, Holocaust Remembrance Through the Arts, the 10th Annual Summer Teachers Institute in early August.

A lot of planning goes into this program each year.  While initially conceived in 2006 as a two day program, our annual Summer Teachers Institute has expanded to encompass three full days. The planning staff from the JMM and BJC meets throughout the year to conceptualize and develop the program.  It takes quite a bit of phone calls and meetings to organize this event. This year the program took place at Beth El Congregation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the JMM.

Summer Teachers Institute 2016

This year’s program with 43 people in attendance was one of our largest in recent years.  While we did engage repeat participants, the majority of registrants (29) were first time attendees. We appreciated having the opportunity to introduce the JMM to so many educators, many of whom indicated an interest in returning with their students.

The following is a breakdown of attendance:

19 public schools (14 Baltimore City, 3 Baltimore County, 1 Harford County, 1 Frederick County)

7 Catholic school

1 Independent school

3 college professors (Towson)

2 retired Baltimore City teachers

1 homeschool teacher

4 Jewish congregational school

2 students (1 college, 1 middle school who attended with her mother)

4 community leaders (including two JMM volunteers)

Total: 43 participants

The Summer Teacher’s Institute has been such an important education initiative and professional development opportunity for educators over the past 10 years and it is interesting to see just how this program has impacted teachers and the community over the past ten years.

Total Number of Teachers Participating in STI for the past 10 years – 429

Total Number of Presenters Participating in STI for the past 10 years – 86

Total Number of Teachers Teaching in Public School Programs over the span 10 years – 220

Total number of Teachers who Teach in Parochial Schools over the span of 10 years – 64 (50- archdiocese; 14-Jewish)

Total Number of non-k-12 educators who attended the program in the past 10 years – 145  (Including university professionals, agencies, funders, private schools, homeschools etc.)

Summer Teachers Institute 2010

A further breakdown of teachers by district:

Archdiocese – 50

Jewish Schools – 14

Baltimore City – 102

Baltimore County – 46
Harford County – 21

Howard County – 10

Frederick County – 8

Carroll County -15

Garrett County -1

Cecil – 2

Prince Georges County 7

Montgomery – 2

Calvert County – 1

Anne Arundel County -5

Summer Teachers Institute 2006

A closer look over the past 10 years indicates that we have partnered with many agencies and organizations to ensure the success of this important program including:

Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

AEGON

Robert H. & Ryda Levi Center for Community Relations

Center for Jewish Education

Jewish Community Center

Red Cross of Central Maryland

Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University 

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation  

Chizuk Amuno

Beth Tfiloh

Centropa

Anti-Defamation League

Hillel at Goucher College

The Shoah Foundation

Beth El Congregation

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Maryland State Department of Education

Echoes & Reflections

The Jan Karski Foundation

We are especially grateful to our program sponsors, Judy and Jerry Macks and the Klein Sandler Family Fund for their sustained generosity and support of this important education initiative.Evaluation of the Summer Teacher’s Institute is crucial and every year we ask teachers for their feedback.Many teachers receive continuing education credits through MSDE through written reflections outlining how they will incorporate workshop content into their lessons. A review of these reflections provides a window for understanding its impact on participants in terms of increasing their confidence in teaching the Holocaust and other challenging topics as well as on their own personal growth. In the words of one participant:

“So many stories go untold. We have such a responsibility to share these stories, these people, with this generation. I am so grateful for the work done to restore these memories and tireless effort to prevent future genocide. I only hope my effort of partnership through education helps that cause.”

Summer Teachers Institute 2015

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Three Days Later and This is What I Learned

Posted on August 17th, 2015 by

Yesterday afternoon, Rachel Kassman (Development and Marketing, Intern Wrangler, and Official Candy Provider), asked me to write a final blog about the Summer Teachers Institute (STI) that occurred a few days ago. In a nutshell, the STI is an annual workshop that provides educators the tools and resources to teach the Holocaust to their own students. The topic changes, and this year, the focus was on Auschwitz. I helped prepare for it by doing administrative tasks such as making copies and folders for each participant, but this is really our Deputy Director, Deborah Cardin’s baby.

Summer Teachers Institute Flyer 2015

This year’s Summer Teachers Institute flyer

In the last 24 hours, I began thinking about all the things I could ramble about and decided to keep the spotlight on the purpose of this workshop: the educators and their students. One of my post-STI duties was to go through the teacher evaluations and analyze the results. The evaluation was in the form of a survey broken down by each session with attendees marking a 1 for the lowest score to a 4 for the highest score. Here are some statistics for you:

*100% of the participants gave Louise Géczy, the Senior Project Coordinator at The John Carroll School, the highest score citing her presentation to be “valuable” and “eye-opening.”

*100% of the participants gave the highest score in their overall experience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and the tour of their permanent exhibit.

*95% of the participants gave the two highest marks (3 or 4) on all the sessions on the first day, 92% of the participants gave the two highest marks on all the sessions on the second day, and 89% of the participants gave the two highest marks on all the sessions on the last day.

*When responding to survivor testimonies and what participants saw at the USHMM, the words “powerful,” “moving,” and “touching” were commonly used.

*When responding to speakers, the words “informative,” “knowledgeable,” and adjectives such as “wonderful” and “fascinating” were commonly used.

Image of entrance sign at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“At first, I thought this would be relatively simple, as I’ve visited before and studied the Holocaust rather extensively. But touring the exhibits brought me to pieces emotionally, and I can definitely relate to my students’ upheavals in studying the Holocaust.”

To end this blog post, here’s a short anecdote for you:

On the second day of STI, the location of the workshop was being held at the USHMM. STI provided buses at two stops, but I chose to meet the group at the museum since I would be staying in DC after. On that particular morning, I either forgot to set my alarm or slept through it, waking up late and scrambling out of my house. By the time I arrived two hours late sweating, and rushing through the metal detector, a very nice security officer pulls me aside and simply states he needs to do a random inspection. Instinctively, I start opening my purse, but he says it’s not necessary. Instead, he grabs a special piece of paper, rubs it on my red Rebecca Minkoff, and feeds it through a machine.

“Can I ask what that does?” I ask timidly.

“It checks your bag for explosive residues, which yours does not have,” he says as he’s reading the results.

I don’t think much of it as I hurriedly searched for Deborah in the lobby. During lunch, I tell the other interns about what happened, knowing I feel something but unsure of what that emotion exactly is. Someone jokes, “It’s because you’re Asian! None of us got randomly inspected.” But what I felt wasn’t a race issue- I’m used to being stereotyped. As the interns approached the main entrance of the museum to re-enter after lunch, I notice two security or police officers walking around outside and three more managing the security inside. That’s when I knew what that feeling was.

Photo of the interior of the Permanent Exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Permanent Exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In all of the museums I’ve visited, none has a tighter security than the USHMM. I felt such sadness and disheartenment that this place of education and living memorial has to be strict in security due to antisemitism that still occurs today, 70 years after the end of World War II. At the same time, I felt hopeful that I was attending a workshop with dedicated and passionate educators who were spending three days out of their summer vacation to learn how to better teach their students.

So, to Rev. Robert Albright, Judith Cohen, Louise Géczy, Dr. Lauren Granite, Josh Headley, Heller Kreshtool, Shiri Sandler, Rabbi Josh Snyder, Joseph White, and every single educator who attended at least one day of this year’s STI: thank you, thank you, thank you, for loving our younger generation. To me, you’re not just teaching about the pain and atrocity that occurred years ago, but you’re fighting antisemitism, and teaching kids how to be compassionate and kindhearted.

For other educators who could not join us this year, here are some resources from this year’s Summer Teachers Institute:

Centropa: Where Jewish history has a name, a face, a story

USHMM: Resources for Educators

Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

Graphic Novels recommended by Josh Headley:

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen

Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco

Palestine by Joe Sacco

Jerusalem by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, Greg Salsedo, and Marc Lizano

Mike’s Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv by Jack Baxter, Joshua Faudem, and Koren Shadmi

IMG_0993A blog post by Education Intern Eden Cho. To read more posts by interns click HERE.

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