Written by the following 2017 MTFs~
Amy Corey (July 9), Mathy Terrill (July 10), Taylor Beal (July 11), Paul Regelbrugge (July 12), Laura Bakes-Gleissner (July 13)
July 9, 2017:
The 2017 Museum Teacher Fellowship Summer Institute brought together 19 incredible individuals representing ten states in the U.S., the Netherlands, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Ireland/Belgium (from Ireland, teaches in Belgium). They started the week as strangers, but left as a close-knit community of friends and colleagues.
As the institute opened, participants were introduced to the overarching theme of the week; Exploring how and why the Holocaust happened by examining choices made by individuals and institutions. An overview of the Museum’s guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust provided focus for creating curricula, a rubric for selecting classroom resources, and assistance in determining outreach project goals. From there, MTFs worked with new literature layers that have been added to the Timeline lesson (Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, and Gerda Weissman Klein). These new layers allow teachers to demonstrate how the stories of individuals are contextualized by events of the Holocaust and WWII. The group also learned about and discussed the Outreach Projects to be undertaken in the upcoming year and how the projects will help to bring the Museum’s mission to their local communities. A new approach this year was touring the Museum’s Permanent Exhibition (PE) only one floor each day; always framed with the same directive ~ to explore how and why the Holocaust happened by examining choices made by individuals and institutions. Day one’s programming concluded with a walking tour of selected monuments and memorials on the National Mall to reflect on how history can be interpreted, perceived, and at times, forgotten. After a full first day, the MTFs enjoyed dinner together fostering great conversations, reflections on the day, and anticipation regarding the remainder of the week.
July 10, 2017:
Day two of the Fellowship program focused on the impact that individual choices can have on others. The cohort toured the third floor of the PE before it opened to the public. This floor focuses on the years 1940-1945 and the start of the Final Solution. Following an emotional debrief about the third floor, MTFs were introduced to the lesson, “Theresienstadt: Kingdom of Deceit”. Its’ focus was the Nazi use of propaganda at this particular ghetto and individual stories, experiences, and choices that we can all learn from. The day culminated with the incredible opportunity to listen to Dr. James Waller speak about his book, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. His talk was intriguing, eye opening, and offered new perspectives regarding if/how to include the perpetrator’s voice in classroom teaching.
July 11, 2017:
Day three began with a morning tour of the PE’s second floor. The Fellows continued wrestling with the questions of how and why the Holocaust happened through the lens of decisions made by individuals and institutions. On the second floor, this meant looking at those who chose to form resistance groups, those who helped to rescue Jews, as well as liberation and justice. The afternoon included an intriguing session with Dr. Becky Erbelding that left Fellows eager to learn more about the upcoming Museum initiative, Americans’ Response to the Holocaust. Teachers were given a taste of what the new special exhibition, [to be open in May 2018], would look like. She discussed how teaching about American responses to the Holocaust would add a layer to our teaching that perhaps had not previously been utilized. Similarly, integrating a discussion about student activism on college campuses during that time drew parallels between the past and possible actions and feelings of youth today..
In addition, a case study on choices made by teachers during the Holocaust provided a framework to discuss implications of those choices on their students (Oath and Opposition: Education under the Third Reich). Finally, a clear focus on the importance of words as testimony from individuals in various roles proved invaluable to the MTFs as they strive to help their students understand the true value they have in a safe and free education.
July 12, 2017:
Day Four was thought-provoking and heart-wrenching. It linked history of the Holocaust and World War II to contemporary genocide and helped define the role of educators in teaching difficult subject matter.
Alma Zero, a member of the 2017 MTF cohort, was a young girl in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the civil war in the 1990s. She eloquently shared difficult stories of genocidal atrocities that engulfed her family as they were forced to flee. Alma played a video clip from the film, Miss Sarajevo, that shows her friends singing with others in the shell of a car while bombs and mortar fire are heard in the background. Now teaching in Bosnia, she discussed the challenges of teaching about genocide and mass atrocities in the locations where they actually occurred; when neighbors (& her students) are children and relatives of both victims and perpetrators.
Andrea Gittleman of the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide (CPG), provided insight into the Museum’s work on genocide and related crimes against humanity, including forecasting potential threats, influencing policy makers, and stimulating worldwide action to confront genocide. Her session also gave Fellows an idea about the dangers and difficulties the Center encounters in its work.
Alma’s presentation provided the context for the next session on two films that depict brave actions of individuals in harrowing situations. Chris Temple, Executive Director and co-founder of Living on One, screened his film, Salam Neighbor, which depicts his unforgettable experiences living among Syrian refugees in Jordan. He also has a 360-degree virtual reality film, For My Son, that currently plays in the Museum’s Wexner Center. (For additional information about Chris Temple, his non-profit organization, Living on One, and the many educational resources available to our MTFs, visit these links: Resources and Living on One)
The Fellows then watched I’m Not Leaving, a film that tells the story of Carl Wilkens, the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Wilkens spoke to the Fellows about the choice he and his family made and how they had nowhere to turn for help. Mr. Wilkins introduced a new acronym, REI, which stands for Respect, Empathy, Inclusion; three character traits that we could reinforce among our students.(For additional information about Carl Wilkens, his non-profit organization, World Outside My Shoes, and the many educational resources available to our MTFs, visit these links: Resources and World Outside My Shoes)
To conclude, the Fellows had the great fortune to meet and hear the emotional and profound testimony of Steven Fenves, Holocaust survivor originally from Yugoslavia/Hungary. His testimony described acts of ingenuity, sabotage, chance, and his liberation in Buchenwald on April 10, 1945 by American troops. Mr. Fenves and his wife joined the 2016 and 2017 Fellows for a reception in the Museum’s Hall of Witness in the evening.
July 13, 2017:
How Does One Say Goodbye?
On the morning of July 13th, I wrote in my journal that I was grateful for: my chance to be a part of the MTF 2017 program, a good morning workout at the gym, and confidence. Normally, I would look back on what I had done or accomplished when attempting to remember a day in my life. However, my experience of this final day of our MTF program and the week itself is dominated by one word: gratitude.
Keynote speaker Deborah Lipstadt introduced the film Denial, based on her book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier. The film examines the experiences of Dr. Lipstadt and her legal team as they navigate a defense against a claim of libel by David Irving, a Holocaust denier. The film shows the challenge of proving that Irving was the deliberate liar and racist Lipstadt claimed he was in her book, while at the same time facing the risk that the truth of the Holocaust itself would be on trial. The ins and outs Lipstadt and her team faced were confounding. For those of the Fellows who had never seen the film, it was an eye-opener into the dangerous world of denial. How and why do people deny the Holocaust? In the current state of misinformation, blatant racism, and political unrest, it makes one wonder how many young people find these deplorable websites on the internet, why they are vulnerable to them, and how to combat something so insidious.
In the question and answer session that followed, Dr. Lipstadt described what ‘hard core’ and ‘soft core’ denial are. She fielded questions on navigating climates where parents are not supportive of Holocaust education and how to educate children in relation to more recent genocides, such as the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Dr. Lipstadt was both passionate and humble and made it clear that, as educators, we have a sacred duty to REMEMBER and TEACH.
As I look at the diary entries that close the day, my comments turned to the future. I find that I was nervous about my outreach project, “Will it all come together?” “How will I connect all the dots?” “What’s next?” It is beyond a doubt that many in my cohort had the same thoughts and feelings about the future. Bringing something so important into being is a cause for both excitement and alarm!
I also wrote about our amazing leaders and the experiences they were able to create for the us. But the last entries of the day were about the connections I made with the other 18 special educators and human beings that I was lucky enough to meet, eat meals with, work with, negotiate meaning with, and silently process painful moments with. There is only one word left to write: Gratitude.