MTF Community News
The USHMM selected 21 educators from across the country (and one from Poland!) to represent the 20th class of the Museum Teacher Fellowship program. The teachers came together for an in-depth, five-day experience that immersed them in historical content and pedagogical discussions. The selected educators brought a wide range of talents and experiences to the USHMM.

Day 1
As all former Teacher Fellows know, the new class of MTFs did not waste anytime and jumped right into their first session, “The History of the Holocaust in Film” presented by Laurie Schaefer. The Holocaust has been the subject of countless films, many of them controversial. From issues of historical accuracy to portrayal of graphic violence, teachers have struggled with how or if they should use these films in the classroom. Laurie showed the MTFs the progression of how Hollywood has portrayed the atrocities of the Holocaust from 1940 to the present and the rationale for using some of the films in the classroom.

  • Resources:
    • Hollywood and the Holocaust by Henry Gonshak
    • The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand

Day 2
The Fellows were given ample time to explore the Museum’s permanent exhibition and also the newest exhibit, Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust. The MTFs paid special attention to the stories, artifacts, and information regarding the Some Were Neighbors exhibit as they were to develop a lesson plan for future use by middle and high school students. The Fellows were divided into groups of three and each given a different component of the Some Were Neighbors exhibit on which to center their lesson. To incorporate more of the Some Were Neighbors information into your classroom, see the website:

One of the guest speakers was Dr. James Waller, author of Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. Dr. Waller studied and helped conduct over 200 perpetrator interviews. He stressed the importance of teaching our students to not excuse what perpetrators did during genocide, but to have a deeper understanding of why perpetrators acted in such a horrific manner. The goal is to encourage students to not only question the motivations and pressures of perpetrators of genocide, but also to question our own daily actions.

One of the more light-hearted moments of the program came when the MTFs were walking to Portals for dinner and all of a sudden it started to downpour! All of the Fellows were thoroughly drenched from head to toe. What could have been a frustrating and negative experience quickly turned around when endless laughing and giggles started to erupt amongst all. We bonded very quickly after the rain storm! The cloth-covered chairs in Portals might finally be drying out.

After the downpour…

Day 3
Dr. William Meinecke, USHMM historian, spoke to the MTF Class of 2016 about Nazi Racial Ideology. He made it clear to all the Fellows that the Nazi state was a racial state whose key concepts were blood and soil. He told the Fellows how the Nazis created policies and waged war in an attempt to fulfill their goal of a pure race with enough territory to thrive. Listening to Dr. Meinecke is always informative.

One of the many highlights for the MTF Class of 2016 was a behind-the-scenes look into the Museum’s curatorial work. Since the Summer Olympics were coming right up, the curators and conservators displayed items centering around the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. The Fellows were told intriguing stories about how people from all over the world contact the Museum wanting to donate an item, and how staff members from the curatorial department will travel the globe to try and secure artifacts to be added to the Museum’s collection. The process is quite extensive to ensure the validity of every object that enters the Museum’s various exhibitions. Authenticity is of the utmost importance to the curatorial department.

Artifacts from 1936 Berlin Olympic Games

The MTF Class of 2015 joined the crew just in time to hear Agi (Laszlo) Geva’s survivor testimony. As every year goes by, hearing survivor’s speak is an experience no MTF takes for granted. The two MTF classes then spent the evening going on a “romp” through history with a guided tour of the FDR Memorial as an introduction to the Museum’s upcoming initiative and exhibit, Americans and the Holocaust, which will open in 2018. The two classes were able to get to know each other and develop special connections.

Meeting Holocaust survivor, Agi Geva
Guided tour from the National Park Service at the FDR Memorial; prep for “Americans and the Holocaust” initiative

Day 4
The pinnacle experience for many of the attendees was having the opportunity to meet the granddaughter of legendary Olympic track athlete, Jesse Owens. Marlene Dortch gave an informative sneak peek into the life of her grandfather, Jesse Owens. Not only did she tell us family stories, both about the 1936 Berlin Olympics and back at home, but she also showed the Fellows numerous family photographs.  The Hollywood film RACE had recently debuted and Marlene shared the family’s input throughout the film process. We all know Jesse Owens as an American hero, but she gave the Fellows a glimpse into the life of the man she knew as “Grandpa”. To learn more about the movie RACE check out the following website:

Marlene Dortch, granddaughter of Olympic athlete, Jesse Owens

In recent months, virtual reality has become very popular. The MTFs were able to experience the virtual reality film, For My Son, a 5-minute piece that tells the story of an “urban refugee” living in Jordan who fled his country. Facing the challenges of finding a new life in a foreign land, he talks of the past, present, and future in a narrative format of composing a letter to his son. The Museum is excited to offer this new, immersive technology to deepen visitors’ understanding of the refugee life and to engage their capacity to care about the victims of the Syrian crisis.

MTFs and Virtual Reality Experience (VRE)

The Fellows then participated in a film screening of Salam Neighbor with one of the filmmakers, Chris Temple (also the filmmaker of For My Son, mentioned above). Chris is the co-founder of Living on One and an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Living on One is a production and social impact studio that creates films and educational videos to raise awareness and inspire action around pressing global issues. From living in a tent in a Syrian refugee camp (Film: Salam Neighbor) to working as radish farmers and surviving on $1 a day in Guatemala, Chris and Zach are pioneering a new style of documentary filmmaking, using immersive storytelling to raise awareness and inspire action. They are the first filmmakers allowed by the United Nations to be registered and given a tent in a refugee camp anywhere in the world. Many MTFs have now invited Chris to their schools, hosted a film screening for their community, and encouraged students to become actively involved. Check out the Living on One website to learn more:

MTFs (2015 & 2016) talk with filmmaker, Chris Temple, after his presentation

At the conclusion of the program, it was hard to believe how much the Class of 2016 was able to see, hear, and learn. All of the educators, without a doubt, were able to take many meaningful lessons back to their classrooms to share with their students, colleagues, and community. The Fellows went back home with new ideas, but best of all, new relationships with each other. Kristin Thompson and her talented crew did a fantastic job of coordinating this amazing opportunity for 21 educators. Please encourage the outstanding teachers you know to apply to the MTF program.

Evening reception in the Hall of Witness
MTFs (2015 & 2016) getting to know one another at the evening reception


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