Lives Lost, Lives Found

Posted on November 16th, 2012 by

A blog post by assistant director Deborah Cardin.

On Wednesday, I traveled to Patterson Mill Middle School in Harford County to facilitate educational activities for 100+ 6th graders over the course of the day. The activity that the teacher selected was our Lives Lost, Lives Found photography exploration unit that was developed several years ago when we had an exhibit of the same name on display. The exhibit explored the experiences of the 3,000 German Jewish refugees who found safe haven in Baltimore in the 1930s and 40s. The exhibit provided wonderful educational opportunities to teach students of all backgrounds about the Holocaust from a different perspective, using first-hand testimony and artifacts from individuals who left Germany during an intense period of upheaval and discrimination.

 

Personal belongings of Herta Baitch who left Austria for Baltimore in the 1930s as an unaccompanied child participating in the German Jewish Children’s Aid Society’s rescue of Jewish children.

In addition to examining conditions in Germany that led to the large-scale migration of Jews and the difficulty that Jews encountered in their attempts to leave, the exhibit also explored the challenges that the refugees faced in adapting to life in their new homeland.

Because the exhibit afforded us the opportunity to create a stand-alone curriculum incorporating photographs on display, we have been able to continue facilitating Holocaust-related school programs. Students examine poster sized reproductions of the photographs in groups, answer questions about the photo that encourage them to use critical thinking and teamwork skills, and present their findings to the class. As a final activity, students attempt to create a timeline of the photos which gives them the opportunity to think about how the photos tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. (The curriculum and photos can be downloaded from the education section on our website: http:///www.jewishmuseummd.org/educational-programs.)

The stories captured in the photos that the students explore are quite moving and bring to life this distant historical event in a more personal manner. After the students have finished the activity, they listen intently as they learn about the real stories behind the photos. For example they study this photo:

The Weil Family, Hilda and Theo with their children Erna, Lisa, and Toni on vacation in Hollenthal, Germany, 1925

and then learn the story of the Weil family. As we discuss this photo, students who have earlier questioned why Jews didn’t simply leave once the Nazis came to power realize just how complex this question is. The Weils had deep roots in Germany; Theo Weil was a decorated army officer in the German army during World War I and was a successful businessman. Like many other Jews living in Germany, the Weils felt more German than Jewish and were reluctant to uproot their family for what they thought would be a temporary political situation. However, it soon became apparent that their situation was not going to improve. This point was further proven by Theo Weil’s arrest in the wake of Kristallnacht. Theo’s wife, Hilda, arranged for Theo’s release from Dachau by selling family possessions and paying a bribe to the prison officials.

As we discuss the Weil Family’s plight, students also become aware of just how difficult it was for Jews to leave Germany because of the strict immigration quotas that many countries – including the US – had established. The Weils had applied for visas prior to Kristallnacht which was fortunate as the wait for visas became extraordinary afterwards. They still were forced to endure a lengthy wait as the US limited German and Austrian immigrants to 27,370 immigrants per year.

While awaiting their US visas, the Weil daughters had an opportunity to travel to England where they worked as household servants. While living in England, they received their US visas in April 1940. After arriving in the US, they settled in Baltimore and immediately found jobs and worked hard to establish new lives for themselves. They also worked to help their parents emigrate from Germany.  They were soon devastated to learn that their parents were sent to Gurs, an internment camp in France.

Theo and Hilda Weil (standing in the second row in the right) outside a barracks at Gurs, 1940

The three daughters worked strenuously to secure their parents release. Because their parents had been approved to receive US visas, they were able to appeal to the US State Department for assistance.

Because Theo and Hilda Weil had no identifying documents with them when they were deported to Gurs, their daughters had papers drawn up for them.

Amazingly their work was successful and their parents were released from Gurs and reunited with them in Baltimore in April 1941.

(The story of the Weil family has been well documented by Anita Kassof in the Winter 2002 edition of Generations in an article, “Dispossession and Adaptation: The Weil Sisters Rebuild Their Family in America.” Back issues of Generations are available in the JMM gift shop. Contact Esther Weiner / eweiner@jewishmuseummd.org for details.)

The photograph of the Weil family is the first one in the series of photos in the timeline and it inspires such interesting discussion about the rich lives that Jews led in Europe prior to the Holocaust, the struggles they encountered in their attempts to leave, and the hard work that refugees encountered in settling into their new lives while awaiting news of relatives left behind in Europe.

After working with five separate classes and having such positive interactions with the students and teachers at Patterson Mills Middle School, I left feeling energized about the impact that JMM programs have on students and how our resources inspire them to think about topics they are studying in school in new ways.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




The Abiding Impact of the NurembergTrials

Posted on August 19th, 2011 by

A blog post by Education Director Deborah Cardin.

On August 8, 1945, the Allied victors in World War II entered into an agreement to establish the Nuremberg Trials in an attempt to carry out justice against perpetuators of the Holocaust. 61 years later, the impact of the Nuremberg Trials can be seen in today’s headlines about trials against notorious genocide masterminds. Although genocide was not yet a classified charge (indeed it was not until later that the term was accepted as a criminal charge in international law thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Rafael Lempkin who coined the term), the Nuremberg Trails marked the first time that an international tribune was convened to try “crimes against humanity.” (For more detailed information about the Nuremberg Trials, check out the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website: http:///www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/warcrimetrials/)

Participants at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Baltimore Jewish Council’s recent Summer Teachers Institute, The Holocaust: Persecution to Nuremberg, recently spent a full day exploring the impact and significance of these trials.

According to University of Pennsylvania law professor, Harry Reicher, an expert on the topic of human rights law and our speaker for the morning, the Nuremberg Trials were significant for many reasons. He cited the efforts of chief prosecutor Robert Jackson who advocated on behalf ensuring that defendants would receive a fair trial as evidence of the high moral plane upon which the trials were based. Furthermore, the Nuremberg Trials also set a precedent by placing 22 defendants (including leading figures in the Nazi establishment who were still alive and in captivity) on trial as individuals as opposed to specific governments.

Through documentary film clips – as well as through the use of clips from the award-winning dramatization Judgement at Nuremberg (check out http:///en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgment_at_Nuremberg to learn more about this film) – Professor Reicher kept attendees riveted as he discussed important legal concepts that served as the trial’s basis.

Among these was the importance of collecting enormous amounts of documentary evidence, and prosecutors gathered extensive documentation for evidence. This proved to be one of their most enduring legacies as prosecutors foresaw the need to combat future efforts at Holocaust denial.

In the afternoon teachers had additional opportunities to learn strategies for teaching about the Nuremberg Trials in their classroom. At Towson University, Dr. Nicole Dombrowski gave a presentation where she shared information about an archival collection housed at TowsonUniversitythat includes extensive primary sources from the Trials gathered by Paul Gantt, a member of the US armed forces who was worked with Nuremberg prosecutors. (To access the Paul Gnatt Collection and to make use of the lesson plans developed by Dr. Dombrowski and her students, check out http:///wwwnew.towson.edu/nurembergpapers/)

Teacher response to this day of our Institute was overwhelming as evidenced by the following comments on program surveys:

  • Thank you for the dedicating the last day to the Nuremberg Trials. It was great to examine one facet in depth at the end.
  • All of the information on the Nuremberg Trials was great. It was a lot of information but it definitely needs to be seen, heard, and remembered
  • Thank you, this was wonderful. This is my second year, and I think what you are doing is fabulous. I promised last year to incorporate what I learned into my classes, and I have. I will keep working…
  • Liked the theme of the day. Excellent speakers. Knowledgeable speakers.
  • A wonderful experience for me!
  • I am learning so much…so much information to explain in such a short time. Again, I wish we had more time. I have a much clearer understanding of how these trials evolved and their importance in the international courts even today.

The establishment of a permanent international tribune with an independent prosecutor is a legacy that has endured to the present day. Furthermore, the charge of “crimes against humanity” has been used as justification for trials in more contemporary instances of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia.

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Lives Lost, Lives Found and Chapter Two

Posted on May 27th, 2011 by

Chapter Two is an educational program of the Associated, designed for women. Participants learn about themselves, are educated about the Associated and its agencies, and take part in experiential learning and hands-on social action.  Today our group visited the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  We had the opportunity to participate in an educational program (usually offered to school groups) based on the JMM’s past exhibit, Lives Lost, Lives Found.

Herta Griffel and her foster family, 1942. Courtesy of Herta Griffel Baitch, L2003.75.14

We examined reproductions of photographs that had been on display in the exhibit.  We were asked to use critical thinking skills to make educated guesses based on what was observed. We had time to observe a photo and answer questions regarding it which included the setting, the individuals and the story.  We concluded by writing a caption.

While stationed in Europe, Max Knisbacher visited relatives who had survived the Holocaust, 1945. Courtesy of Jeffrey Knisbacher, L2003.64.4

In total, five photos were presented.  We were told that there were no wrong answers, to be open minded, and look carefully at the images.  Clearly, we made some wrong guesses but the exercise was stimulating and enjoyed by all.

Relatives saying goodbye to members of the Cohen Family as they leave Holland, July 1939. Courtesy of Rudolph Cohen, L2003.63.3

We met the Weil Family of Freiberg, Germany in 1925.  We observed a photo from the US Holocaust Museum that showed Jews being forced to scrub the street in Vienna while crowds watched in 1938.  We saw relatives saying goodbye to members of the Cohen family as they departed by ship from Holland in 1939.  There was a picture of Herta Griffel, a child whose mother sent her to America by herself at the age of 7, with her foster family.  Lastly, we witnessed Max Knisbacher, a survivor of the Holocaust, who became an American soldier, and while in Paris in 1945 he was reunited with his half sister and niece.

 

The Weil Family of Freiberg, Germany, on vacation in 1925. Courtesy of Julius Mandel and Brenda Weil Mandel,L2002.103.1152

One of our group members’ mother was featured in the DVD that we viewed following the exercise and the mother of a friend of some members was also featured.  Someone else was known to others as a fellow synagogue congregant.  We learned not only of individual stories of the Holocaust but were reminded of how far reaching, personal and local the survivor’s stories really are.

 

A blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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