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Teaching the Holocaust through Visual Culture: Itinerary

Teaching the Holocaust through Visual Culture: Itinerary

Sunday, July 7

I boarded my flight to Portland, ME at 6:39am (and nearly missed it! like I ran and breathlessly asked the flight attendant to please let me on…whew). We arrived in Portland by 10 am. I had the day free in Portland (with my luggage) to walk around before heading to Brunswick for my program at Bowdoin College.

I took a taxi from the airport to the cathedral to slide in to attend mass. After that I sat down to a little rest for lunch and walking around the city. Portland is really not navigable by foot or public transportation well so I spent way more money on Ubers on this trip than I normally do.

I took the 7:25pm train to Brunswick to check into my dorm.

Read more: Travel Tips: Preparing for an Extended Summer Program

Monday, July 8

First day of school! Today was pretty laid back, just course overview and participant introduction. One of the things I love about programs like this is meeting teachers from all walks of life from all over the county. We were going to spend the next 2 weeks together and I wanted to learn as much from the program as from my fellow participants.

That afternoon we discussed using film in the classroom and screened parts of Hitler’s film Triumph of the Will (1935). Yes, we watched a Nazi film. Relax. This afternoon brought up a lot of interesting ethical topics on how to properly frame showing film clips in the classroom, especially those made my genocidal maniacs like Hitler.

After class, I went to the grocery story to pick up provisions for the week. I don’t plan out meals per se, but I do buy things that I could easily put together in a pinch. I like to balance eating in and going out with classmates (balancing budget & health).

Read more: 10 Reasons I love NEH Summer Institutes

Tuesday, July 9

This morning’s session was on John Heartfield, a communist propaganda artist’s response to the rise of fascism in Germany. It’s funny that in America calling someone a communist is almost a slur. The communist party does not have the same connotation in Europe, but as a teacher in America, I would definitely have to keep that in mind because the moment I say John Heartfield was as communist and worked with Soviet artists, my students will probably discredit his work. The power of language is so fascinating!?

In the afternoon we took a field trip to the library to talk about how to use library databases for searching for images for what will be our final project for the summer institute. And in the evening we watch the movie The Rape of Europa (2006). Phenomenal art history film that I wish I had time to show to art history classes.

By the way, on my Instagram stories I posted daily video reflections on the lessons if you want to check it out!

Wednesday, July 10

The topic for today was all about symbols and their power in popular culture: From the Swastika to the Yellow Star: Exploring the Nazi’s Visual Vocabulary of “Self-Love” and “Other-Hate”. A few years ago I did a WWII poster project with my standard students in which they picked topics to research & present. One student did the rise of Nazism and politely asked if he could talk about what the swastika represented on his poster (he wasn’t just decorating it with swastikas). His mother, saw his poster and freaked out. I get it but she threatened to throw it away and called me to apologize. I asked to look at the poster again and read it. It was then that she realized her son wasn’t a neo-Nazi but teaching the class on the power of the image.

Now, I think the swastika absolutely does NOT belong in our visual public spaces. I think anyone drawing it on walls or their clothing has evil intent. But I do think it can be appropriate, and necessary, to teach about in the classroom.

Read more: NEH Holocaust through Visual Culture Reading List

Thursday, July 11

Today was all about art (technically the last two days were too but felt more like history) – it was my time to shine! The morning we discussed “degenerate art”: Art and Artists under Fascism: The Degenerate Art Exhibition and the Great German Art Exhibition. In short, the title “degenarate” art refers to art that the Nazi’s want to expung from the face of the earth. Art that was not “beautiful,” “encouraging to humanity,” art by those with perceived mental or physically handicap, and of course art made by Jewish artists.

This is one of the reasons I recoil when I hear people today wish for a time when art was “beautiful” and want to get rid of modern art. Little do they knew Hitler wanted the same thing. Art, no matter how ugly to you, has a purpose and a place and should be protected.

In the afternoon we paid a visit to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. For a tiny school, they had a serious art collection. I chose to wander on my own for a bit to spend some “me time” with art and then we collected together in the galleries for a look at art made during Nazi Germany & World War II. I seriously freaked OUT when I got to see TWO pieces from the AP Art History 250 by total accident: The Steerage and Memorial Sheet of Karl Liebknecht. I literally squeaked in excitement, much to the amusement of my classmates. 🙂 Oh AND I got to see an original Albrecht Dürer print!! Safe to say this was the *best* day!

Not academically related, but for dinner a group of us went to Flight Deck Brewing for trivia night. We learned very quickly that the Puritan spirit is still alive and well in Maine and we were the only people cheering…or even reacting at all. lol

Friday, July 12

Today we switched from discussions of Nazis to the Holocaust which began an emotional week of images, stories, and discussions about how to teach this with empathy. Our topic today was on two individuals who documented their own experiences through art: Henryk Ross (photography) & Charlotte Salomon (painting). It was a nice change of pace from the Holocaust art you usually see, which is typically made by the Nazi’s about their victims.

Today’s lecture brought up the ethical discussion about what our role is as educators in teaching the Holocaust. Are we perpetuating the Nazi program if we only show images of the dehumanized bodies in stacks and people from the Nazi perspective? I had never thought of it that way! I want to create empathy with my students to see the millions of Holocaust victims as people, people with stories and lives and loves. Not just as statistical bodies stacked up.

Read more: 10 Reasons I love NEH Summer Institutes

Saturday, July 13

We did not have anything planned from the institute on the weekend so I took full advantage of that to travel! Four of us from the program split a rental car for the day to drive around the the postcard-cute downs of coastal Maine. I am in love!!! We first drove to Mount Battie for a short hike and amazing mountain and ocean views. It was nice to get the blood pumping in such a beautiful location.

For lunch, we had fantastic oysters and seafood (of course!) in Camden and then strolled around a little. While meandering back to Brunswick we stopped by Lincolnville “Beach.” I put beach in quotes because, come on, I’m from Florida…that was not a beach by my standards. lol

Another friend in the program posted that they were at the L.L.Bean headquarters in Freeport for a Colbie Caillat summer concert so detour was made and we spend the evening unders the stars singing “Bubbly.” Could not have asked for a better day.

Read more: Travel Tips: Keeping Active while Traveling

Sunday, July 14

I popped back into Portland to enjoy it sans luggage. I went to mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception again and walked around. There was a Sea Dog’s minor league baseball game going on so we popped into that for an hour or so then it started to rain so we went to the Portland Art Museum where I had fun teaching my companions how to really look at art.

Took the train back to Brunswick in the late afternoon and cooked dinner. It was a lovely, easy Sunday.

Monday, July 15

Our discussion today centered around the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman. To be honest, this was not my favorite topic but those who taught English & Middle School loved it. I am not a graphic novel fan, so it didn’t jive with me too much. But I do love that graphic novels are being moved from the realm of “comic books” into literature.

Tonights film was Europa Europa (1990). Ah it blew me away!!! So many ethical questions (super rated R so I would NOT show my high school students but I love the questions it brings up). I won’t spoil it – go watch it!

*Note: this NEH Summer Institute had a lot more film screenings than any other I’ve been on, and although they were all optional, I went to all of them. However, the participants suggested back-to-back film nights were a bit much.

Tuesday, July 16

Field trip day to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Main in Augusta. Even adult teachers get excited for a field trip. 🙂 Based on the title of the center you can figure out that they do more than just the Holocaust, which I love. The Holocaust is an especially horrific link in a long change of human rights abuses worldwide and throughout history.

Man’s worst enemy – himself.

The exhibit and film room were very well done for such a small place. The film of survivors made me cry. Not because it was gruesome but because waves of emotion rolled over me that we are the last generation to talk to and know Holocaust survivors. Once they all pass away we become the custodians of their memory and legacy. Growing up I lived next to a Holocaust survivor, he was my introduction to the genocide when I saw his numbers for the first time. I could not understand as a child, and still cannot image, how it is possible to harbor so much hate towards fellow creatures on this earth to want their eradication from the globe. I get teary eyed everytime I teach about this in class. It moves the deepest parts of my soul, and it should!

And on a good note, I had the best lobster rolls and Vanilla Coke of my life at a gas-station-looking place called Libby’s Market.

Tonights film was Denial (2016). Another amazing film! The premise is a true legal battle that “put the Holocaust on trial.” Is a Holocaust denier allowed to have his opinion academically published as plausible research? Such a fascinating idea that went through the process on how you “prove” what happened in history.

*Note: Holocaust deniers are disgusting, immoral people. They are totally wrong and dehumanize the pain of others, however healthy questions around how to we know history are fantastic. As a teacher I welcome those questions and it can create a fantastic discussion of how do historians know what happened in the past and how can they use artifacts and documents to create a fuller picture.

Wednesday, July 17

The lessons from here on out got a little more hopeful (thank goodness!). Our topic today was: The Muscular Jew in America and Memorialization of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was about resistance and fighting back, such a refreshing change and one our students do not hear enough about! During the afternoon we looked at different resources of survivor testimonies and the Yad Vashem’s website (the Holocaust center in Israel).

Another trivia night for dinner at Byrnes Irish Restaurant with a good group from the seminar. We did not win but it was a much more lively crowd this time around.

Thursday, July 18

Today’s lesson switched from historical lesson to more modern day, we explored how countries around the world memorialize the Holocaust. We looked at different museum exhibits, public art, and memorials. The design and implementation of a memorial says a lot about what is remembered (& in the same breath, forgotten) about the Holocaust. Whose pain is highlighted? How are people remember? What is the ethical way to celebrate their lives? Should we only focus on the horrors of genocide?

*Note, although I didn’t type it out here in my schedule we had plenty of free time to work on our NEH required lesson plans. (I will create another blog post with those)

Tonight was our farewell dinner at one of the program leader’s house. Lovely BBQ, beers, and beautiful sunset on the water. This is a trip I will never forget.

Friday, July 19

We finished our program with presentations of our projects in the morning then off to the airport. My entire adventure getting home was such a sh*tshow. You can read about it HERE and laugh.

JMF

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