Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mission Possible - Day Three at the U.S. Holocaust Museum

Note : This week I am participating in the Mission Possible Teacher Workshop in Washington D.C. The week is hosted by Model Classroom and Pearson.  The focus for the week is project based learning centered around learning opportunities in Washington D.C.  Projects will take place at NPR, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the United States Holocaust Museum.

Today our workshop spent the day at the United States Holocaust Museum.  we have discussed some pretty emotional topics already this week - race in American society and the Vietnam War - and today would be emotional as well.

My last visit to the Holocaust Museum was nearly 15 years ago when I brought a group of high school students to DC.  I remembered my previous experiences and knew that the museum would make me once again consider terrible and unspeakable acts of human behavior.
We started our day at the museum with an introduction by Jesse Nickelson, Director of Youth and Community Initiatives for the United States Holocaust Museum -

He said that we were not allowed to take pictures in the museum but he did encourage us to tweet as we walked through the exhibits and hoped we would use the hashtag #ushmm. It was refreshing to have a museum openly encourage you to use social media while visiting their exhibits.  Jesse later commented how much he enjoyed "following" our tweets as we took our tour and learned a lot about both what we as teachers found interesting, questions we had along the way and ideas for future lessons in our classrooms.Our theme all week has been stories.  On Monday we explored the art of interviewing and asking others to share their stories with you.  Tuesday we learned about the Vietnam War and memorial by listening to the stories of veterans who experienced the war first hand.  Today we were learning about the holocaust through the stories of the victims, the liberators and the bystanders.

The first image we saw as we started our tour was a photo taken at one of the concentration camps as it was being liberated.  It showed a group of burnt human remains with US soldiers staying in the background shortly after liberating the camp. It included a quote by Eisenhower and it really set the tone for the next two hours.  As I looked at that photo I asked myself how different this museum would be without photos.  What if the Holocaust had occurred in a time without any photographic evidence?  Would the story be the same with only text and sketches?  Would it have the same impact?  I could not help but think about the particular role that photos have in telling this story.  As I thought about more later, I think that part of the reason this story needs photographs is the sheer fact that some of these acts were so terrible it is hard to believe without any type of photographic evidence.

As I walked through the exhibits this time I also noticed that the some of the stories were even harder for me to read and hear, the stories of the children.  Fifteen years ago I was unmarried and had no children.  Today I walked through the museum and learned of these very personal stories through the lens of a husband and father.  What would happen if I was separated from my wife?  How could I have protected my children? 

A theme for the day was compliant.  Would we have made choices - sometimes risking a career, money or family - to save someone who was being subjected to a terrible fate?

The day was powerful and gave me a lot to think about, especially the importance of using visual resources whenever we can in telling stories.

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