Recently I had the privilege to work with 7th grade students who were studying the Holocaust. The students rewrote poems (in verse form) from testimonials by Holocaust survivors. They were then asked to create visual interpretations from the poems. Their teacher recognized that some of the children would struggle with a typical drawing representation and she wanted to do more, so I was asked to help. I set up an Atelier with tables of loose parts, clay, moon sand, Legos and blocks. Each space had invitations to create.
Once the students arrived, I gave them a tour of the room. I explained they could use anything but paint, markers or glue. Taking a page from my friends at Thinkined, I told the students they must respect the materials and once the visual was complete, all materials must be returned to their original place. This was an exercise in process and not product. The use of materials was just another way for the students to gain a deeper understanding of their testimonial interpretations. Conversation involving the process would be the method in which these children understood the lessons of the Holocaust and its lasting effect. An extremely difficult subject matter to convey to 12 year olds.
The students did not waste time, they were excited to use the materials and surprised at all that was available to them. Most wanted to do clay. I gave it out freely. Several asked for rolling pins, I denied access. Some wanted markers to depict eyes, I denied and asked them to think deeper , to find another material instead of markers, which they did easily. By not using paint or glue I felt they would think harder and stretch their imaginations to truly show their thoughts..and they delivered. The final results were incredible. I am amazed and in awe at the level of depth and creativity these kids showed in these visuals.
Please note on some I have printed testimonials, while others I have included the link. The true power of the testimonials combined with these visual interpretations will make a lasting impression that shall never be forgotten.
Testimony of: Gerda Weissman
A strange car coming down the hill
Not bearing the swastika
But a white star.
I’ve never seen a star brighter in my life.
Two men sort of jumped out,
Came running toward us.
One came toward where I stood wearing battle gear.
He spoke to me in German.
“Does anyone here speak English or German?”
I said, “I speak German.”
I felt that I had to tell him we are Jewish.
I didn’t know if he would know what the star means.
I was a little afraid to tell him that but I said to him,
“We are Jewish, you know.”
He didn’t answer me for quite a while.
And then his own voice
Sort of betrayed his own emotion
And he said, “So am I.”
The following are two different representations of the same testimonial;
Testimony: Eugene Black, survivor of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen
I never spoke until 1997
And from then onwards, I haven’t stopped.
Wherever you turn to, innocent people are being killed.
And that really hurts, when you experienced all those things,
and you survived.
And to see it repeat itself, it lets humanity down terribly.
I don’t know why I survived
And only the few of us who are still alive thank God that we exist.
All those six million fellow Jews perished.
We were deprived of our identity
Us humans are worse than animals.
The following two interpretations represent “The Sunflower” by Simon Wiesenthal.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp with barbed wire and showers from the testimony of Alexander Feuer.
Also from the testimony of Alexander Feuer;
The Arrival from the testimony of Olga Albogen
Throughout this project I was deeply moved by the visual interpretations and connections these 12 year olds made. Their representations and their respect for the materials proved how documenting deeper learning and understanding can be achieved at any age, no matter how powerful the subject matter may be. To honor the testimonials and integrity of the work I end this post with profound gratitude and respect to these 7th graders, their teacher Helen Fleischmann and Sara Losch for including me in this incredible project.
“For the dead and the living we must bear witness.” Elie Wiesel