The International School for Holocaust Studies
The Holocaust-Keeping the Memory Alive
- Raising students' awareness of the existence and strength of the Holocaust as represented through art.
- Discussion of 5 posters from the project; The Holocaust-Keeping the Memory Alive.
- Opening the discussion on representation, meaning, and commemoration of the Holocaust, and the pertinence to our life today.
- 5 Posters from the project, The Holocaust-Keeping the Memory Alive; including Caitlin McGinn from Canada, Carling Hind from Canada, Vicky Lench, Max Mclean, Josh Cunningham, Ran Stallard from UK, Marko Watt Kunst-Slovenia, and Veronika Siskova from Czech Republic.
Note to the teacher:
You can choose one poster or work with all five. The timeframe of the full plan is for 2 lessons, but it can be concentrated into one.
- We suggest starting your lesson with examining memory- and why it would be considered important to "Keep Memory Alive." The facilitator could begin with basic questions: What do we remember? Who do we remember? Why do we remember? Why is it important to remember?
- Brainstorm with students any associations they have to the word "Holocaust". To what does it refer? To which period of time is it related?
- In order to familiarize your students with the definition of the Holocaust, the teacher can provide Yad Vashem's official definition of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was unprecedented genocide, total and systematic, perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, with the aim of annihilating the Jewish people. The primary motivation was the Nazis’ antisemitic racist ideology. Between 1933 and 1941 Nazi Germany pursued a policy that dispossessed the Jews of their rights and their property, followed by the branding and concentration of the Jewish population. This policy gained broad support in Germany and much of occupied Europe. In 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis and their collaborators launched the systematic mass murder of the Jews. By 1945 nearly six million Jews had been murdered.
Sixty-nine years after the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the World War Two, which challenges do we face in remembering the Holocaust?
Ask your students to choose one of the 16 posters to represent challenges we face in remembering. Alternatively, students can choose a poster that they feel connects them to the memory of the Holocaust.
After they've chosen, ask them to write down why they chose that poster. This should be followed by a discussion on their choices and representations.
Five Selected Posters: Points for discussion
Poster 1: Caitlin McGinn - Canada:
What do we see here? What do these documents represent? Who is the person in the picture? The poster displays many documents of people's journeys, and someone who is presented as an inmate in a concentration camp. The documentation at the bottom of the poster can be read, but the further we look up the page the more blurred it becomes. All of the documents used on the poster are archived copies of the documents of inmates from Auschwitz.
Why Auschwitz? Auschwitz became the symbol of the Holocaust since it served as the industry of death during the Holocaust; approximately 1.3 million victims, a million of them Jews. The date of Auschwitz's liberation, January 27 was chosen as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. What message does the artist try to pass on? On one hand the poster stresses the anonymity of the victims, on the other hand, we see from the multitude of documents how people can use the Bad Arolsen Archive (International Tracing Service) and other search mechanisms to track the stories and fates of the victims and the survivors, and find out their personal stories.
Who searches for information? Why are they searching for information? Survivors, and descendents of survivors, who try to trace their own stories and those of their families. For some, it is reaffirmation of what happened to them, or they may want to find out the fate of their family members. Further, researchers use these services extensively to gain more information.
Note to Teacher: It is important to stress that while on this poster we see, even if partially, documentation of former Auschwitz inmates. It should be noted that such documentation was only created for those who were actually registered as prisoners in the camp, while the majority of those transported there were taken directly to the gas chambers upon arrival. For them there is no documentation of theirs from the camp.
Should you wish to juxtapose this with another work, the work of Josef Szajna is appropriate here. Presenting on the one hand the dehumanization of the inmate in Auschwitz through their identical striped uniforms, and on the other hand the retrieval of their identity through their heads which are thumb prints- the most identifying stamp of each the individual. The missing part of the page represents the inmates which will remain unknown.
What challenge do we face in examining archives and broadening our knowledge about the Holocaust? There are inestimable amounts of archive materials in thousands of square kilometers that have yet to be accessed; some are still closed to the public. As such, there is still much to learn and discover. Even though it is almost 70 years after the Holocaust, there is still much work to be done and much information to reveal.
Poster 2: V. Lench, M. Maclean, J. Cunningham, R. Stallard-United Kingdom:
What was the fate of this family? How many survived? What does it show us about the chances of survival during the Holocaust? We see that some perished in 1945, the year of liberation- did they perish at the last moment? Or did they remain alive up until the day of liberation and perish afterwards, due to the conditions during the Holocaust? Simultaneously we see those born in 1945. What can we learn from this? We can see the struggle to live and establish families in spite of the Holocaust and to fill in the gap.
Abba Kovner wrote:" These people could have settled there, reconciled themselves to their helplessness, and tried to rebuild the ruins on the spot. Nor would I have found it surprising if they had turned into a band of robbers, thieves, and murderers, in which case they might have become the most humane and most justified of their kind in the world. They had come forth hungry, dressed in tarred rags, broken and defeated, and the first thing they wanted was to seek the basic things: bread, shelter and work. All this could have deteriorated into the misery of their so called rehabilitated lives."
How does this quote add to our understanding of liberation and returning to life in the shadow of loss?
Look at the background upon which the family genealogy is placed. What is it? The semblance of half ripped, inmate uniforms, striped pajamas; begging the question: Can you really be liberated and return to life? Discuss this question with your students.
There is an attempt to depict a normal family tree in this poster, but is it possible? So can one be normal again? Build a normal family? Or does the trauma pass from one generation to the next? It is important to stress that we are aware today of the phenomena of second, third and even fourth generation trauma from the Holocaust. So how can one be liberated and return to life?
Poster 3: C. Hind - Canada:
What is the meaning of a name? Why is it so important to collect the names?
In Judaism there is a belief is that the name carries the essence of the person. The name is the most unique characteristic of each person-this is what the Nazis tried to erase. Not only to eliminate the physical body, but the fact a person ever existed, by erasing the name. This is why gathering the names of the dead remains so important. Why is it so difficult to grasp the Holocaust? One of the reasons is it is hard to connect with numbers; connecting to the Holocaust will become more and more difficult with time and distance from the events.
Benjamin Fondane, a Jewish Romanian poet that moved to Paris, and from there was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944, where he perished wrote this poem:
“Remember only that I was innocent
and, just like you, mortal on that day,
I, too, had had a face marked by rage, by pity and joy,
quite simply, a human face!”
Why is it important to individualize the memory, to speak through personal stories and not just through numbers?
In order speak through personal stories we must first collect and commemorate the names. This is the essence of Yad Vashem's activity, which can be found in the book of Isaiah, from which the museum's name is taken:
“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a ‘Yad vaShem’)... that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)
See Yad Vashem's Victims' Names Database which strives to collect all the names of Shoah victims. Today it has approximately 4.3 million names; but unfortunately we will never be able to collect all of the names. Why? This is because there were whole communities, not just families, which were totally wiped out with no one left to give testimony of their identity.
How can we take part in telling the individual story? We can interview survivors that we know or meet, research our local history, and retrieve the stories of the Jews that once lived there.
Poster 4: V. Siskoca-Czech Republic:
This poster presents an interpretation of the question "What happened during the Holocaust?" while the previous three posters are in a way a response to this question. What is depicted in the poster? The huge black swastika is dismembering the Stars-of-David (representing the Jews) into a pile on the ground. As per this poster, did the Jews have any way out? What was the Nazi ideology and policy?
Nazi ideology, which was based on a racist-antisemitic world view, saw the Jews as a destructive race that poisons and undermines the foundations of human existence. In the Nazis’ eyes Jews and Judaism were a satanic force seeking world domination, fomenting social revolutions, and abetting communist Bolshevism, capitalism, and the democratic states. The Nazis considered the Germans to be the master race and sought to create a new world order under their leadership, a world without Jews.
The unprecedented nature of the Shoa is characterized by the global intentions of its architects (i.e. killing all the Jews all over the world, not only of a specific area) by its totality (every Jew was sentenced to annihilation, with the idea that not a single one should remain alive anywhere in the world) and by its anti-pragmatic ideology (even where Jews could contribute to the war effort – e.g. laboring in camps- they would still then be murdered because the ideology remained paramount).
To juxtapose this to a survivor's work:
How is this a mirror image? What does it say about the biography of the survivors?
Another possibility is to go back to Fondane who wrote in that same poem quoted above:
“A day will come, surely, of thirst appeased, we will be beyond memory, death will have finished the works of hate.”- Fondane, Benjamin, L’Exode: Super Flumina Babylonis, La Fenetre Ardente, 1965, p. 13
What can be done to overcome such hatred and ideology?
Poster 5: M. W. Kunst- Erinnern Macht Frei (Remembering Makes One Free)
The famous quote connected to the camps and the Holocaust is the one that can be found at the entrance to Dachau, Theresienstadt prison and Auschwitz: "Arbeit Macht Frei"- Work Will Make You Free. That quote was of course mocking the inmates, who knew that working would not be their way to survive, rather the contrary.
The designer here has changed it to "remembering". How do you understand this statement? Do you agree with it? What should be done in order to remember?
Optional: read the poem by Yehuda Amichai, What is the challenge and what is it obligatory to remember?
How do you think that you can remember the Shoah? What can we do in order to preserve and cherish the memory so it would not be forgotten?
 (1918-1988), Underground leader and Partisan commander; a leader of the Beriha movement; and Hebrew poet and writer. For more information see: http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%206451.pdf
 Abba Kovner, Mishlo ve-alav, Moreshet and sifriyat Poalim, 1988, p. 40-41.
 Rabinowicz, born in Sosnowiec. Between 1941-1945 survived 9 different concentration camps ending at Buchenwald. Following his liberation moved to Switzerland and studied there Judaism and iddish literature. Completed his studies in Graphic design in Zurich and Paris.