Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Utilizing picture books in Holocaust studies

Three books covering separate topics related to World War II and Holocaust study can provide quick and engaging introductory experiences for students—Passages to Freedom, Baseball Saved Us, and Through Eva’s Eyes. All three have websites providing additional information and/or supporting curriculum which can save teacher-time and provide creative, cross-curricular activities for classroom use.

In her May 8 blog post, Jennifer Jenkins discussed using a short story about Chiune Sugihara, a rescuer from Japan, with her middle school students. The picture book entitled Passage to Freedom – The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki with illustrations by Dom Lee was published in 1997. It received many awards including the ALA Notable Book Award.

Sugihara’s story is told through his young son’s eyes. The focus is on Sugihara’s actions to save Jews while a member of the Japanese government diplomatic service stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1940. At risk to himself and his family (and against his orders from the Japanese government), Sugihara wrote hundreds of visas daily for about a month until he was forced to leave for Germany for reassignment. The story clearly illustrates how Sugihara and his family decided to help the refugees—how Sugihara and his wife had told their son to “think as if I were in someone else’s place.”

The afterword, written by Sugihara’s son, tells of his father’s life after the war. He was forced to resign from the diplomatic service when the family returned to Japan. He was eventually chosen to receive the “Righteous Among Nations” Award from Yad Vashem in 1985 and continued to hear from many of those he helped to survive.

Students certainly learn from this story that one person can make a difference. On the back cover above a picture of Sugihara and his young son is a Jewish Proverb: “If you save the life of one person, it is as if you saved the world entire.”

A Teacher’s Guide can be found online with suggested lessons for most subject areas (including ESL—the book is available in Spanish).

Sample Activity for Art:
Study the illustrations in the book. Why did the artist use brown (sepia) tones instead of bright
colors? What moods do the illustrations create? How do people’s hands help explain the story?

The pictures are stunning. They were created by applying “encaustic beeswax” on paper. The illustrator then scratched out the images and applied oil paint to add color.

Students can also listen to a Book Talk by the author where he discusses his process for writing the book and the theme of moral choice.

An earlier book written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee is entitled Baseball Saved Us. This story was inspired by the author’s parents’ experiences in a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. during WWII. Note—technically, this is historical fiction. A Classroom Guide provides many interesting follow-up activities to help the students process the story and its setting. (I would not use the first Social Studies activity as USHMM Guidelines for Teaching the Holocaust do not recommend comparing experiences in this way.) I used the book to pique student interest and help them generate questions about the internment camps—students were not familiar with this piece of American history for the most part. Once they wanted to learn more, we read a story entitled “Home Was a Horsestall.”

This story was included as one of fourteen in a magazine from a kit (The Shadow of Hate) which I received from The Southern Poverty Law Center – Teaching Tolerance. The major theme of the kit was intolerance found in American history. One objective was to show students aspects of our own history that may not typically be studied in depth and from which we certainly need to learn lessons. I included information about Japanese internment in a study of the Holocaust for several reasons—most importantly to show that hatred and intolerance can occur anywhere, including our own country, and that we need to know how to fight against those actions. Classroom Activities can be found here.

Sample Activity:
Choose an item that defines you culturally. Bring it to school with you. Explain to the class why this article is important to you and how you would feel if you had to part with this item for an indefinite period of time.

Phoebe Unterman began this book when she was thirteen years old. She wanted to tell the story of her grandmother’s experiences as a young girl (from age six to through twelve) during the Holocaust. Her grandmother and her family are living in Lodz, Poland, at the beginning of the story. As German soldiers occupy her town and Jewish freedoms are taken away, the story is told through the grandmother’s voice. She remembers wearing the yellow star, being forced to quit school, and eventually being sent to the ghetto. The family is ordered on a packed train to Stutthof. Eva and her mother are separated from her father and sent to work in a munitions factory in Dresden. When Dresden is bombed, they are moved to Theresienstadt where, soon after, they are liberated by the Russians. Mother, Father, and Eva are reunited.

The story will certainly encourage student interest and questions about Eva’s experiences. The author-illustrator’s delicate, detailed paintings are beautiful complements to the story. Have students research photos of the various ghettos and camps and compare them to the paintings in the book.

Additional information can be found at the author-illustrator’s website.

The book was created as an entry in the 2006 National Kids-in-Print Contest for Students sponsored by Landmark House, Ltd. in Kansas City, Kansas. This contest was inspired by David Melton, author of Written and Illustrated by . . . . I could not find any information about the contest existing beyond 2010, but information for 2011 just may not be posted yet.

Written and Illustrated by . . . is a fun, step-by-step guide to helping students write, illustrate, and bind their own books. The finished products created by my students always amazed me. While none of my students ever won the Landmark Editions contests, the librarian always purchased the winning books each year so we could enjoy them in class. Writing and illustrating a book can certainly give a real-world audience and purpose to not only a fiction creation, but also a well-researched non-fiction book such as Through Eva’s Eyes.

All three books present interesting situations and people to discuss in relation to the universal theme of “man’s inhumanity to man.” The artwork provides an additional avenue for visual understanding and discussion.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

art:21 - Classroom Resources

The PBS series, art:21 (art in the 21st century), provides excellent teaching resources for several themes associated with Holocaust education. Free educators’ guide pdfs are downloadable from the website. Hard copies are available, by request, for seasons 3-5. The website is rich with short theme-specific video clips of the artists working and talking about their creative process; artists’ interviews; complete video features; an educators’ blog; and hundreds of lesson plan ideas. As with all video, please be sure and preview for content appropriateness before showing to students. Here are just a few examples of artists and subjects related to Holocaust studies:

Krzystof Wodiczko – Monuments, Collective Memory, Peace, Power
Wodiczko projects live feed, victim video testimony on buildings and monuments. He hopes to promote peace by publicly protesting violence and aesthetically reflecting collective memory. Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1943, Krzystof explains: “My mother, being a Jew whose entire family was killed in Poland during [the] ghetto uprising, gave birth to me in the midst of all of this – my childhood was on the ruins of war; physical, political, and perhaps moral, definitely psychological.” Much like Margaret Bourke-White’s camera while photographing the horrors of concentration camp life, Mr. Wodiczko’s sketchbook acts as a buffer between him and his subject matter. Krzystof admits he cannot relive each story as he hears it, because of the trauma it might trigger. So he sketches, and re-sketches, designing his video installations. Wodiczko’s work has received many awards and honors including the Hiroshima Art Prize for contributing to world peace.

Layhal Ali – Political Resistance, Bullying, Racial Inequality, Protesting Violence, Power
A person of color growing up “in an all-white school,” Ali creates abstract human-like figures in poses that are evocative of victimization, dominance, subservience, resistance, and protection. Her series of brown-skinned, gender-neutral figures named Greenheads engage the viewer in identity questioning with their stylized masks, weapons, wounds, and armor. She talks about how cruel the game of dodge ball is on a school playground, and asks intriguing questions about the physical properties of color and perception with regard to racism. In the video clip about characters and color, she ventures “Sometimes I wonder, is that what it is about . . . dark-skinned people? - their face absorbs more lights so you have to look into them more? They are more mysterious? I mean . . . what is it?? . . . Could racism be just attributed to bizarre visual phenomena, you know? . . . There’s a question!”

Jenny Holzer – Censorship, Media, Government’s Role
Holzer’s work, she confesses, “ focuses on cruelty in hopes that people will recoil.” She creates moving typography projections; word and image installation pieces; and signage that make people think about what they are NOT seeing, reading, and hearing. He artwork publicly questions authority and proclaims aphorisms such as “abuse of power comes as no surprise.” One of her studio projects recreates a series of redacted government documents, enlarged and presented in lovely, colored, jumbo silkscreened prints.

Matthew Ritchie – The Individual in Society, Conformity, Hope
Ritchie works with line, and large-scale graphic installation, to make ideas tangible. His sculpture piece which he refers to as a “human cell,” shows how people often imprison themselves; in their own thoughts, words, ideas, or even possessions. It is formed from a series of intricately designed and elaborately cut metal plates that interlock and intersect to create a void in the middle, just the right size for an adult human body to slip in and be visible, but immobilized. The cell evokes a type of cocoon or globe that completely traps an individual. Ritchie fashioned the husk, or human shell out of drawings that he enlarged and then transferred by computer to a metal smith, who in turn, cut them with a high-power jigsaw. Marks become monumental as these large, round, flat metal planes meet at the x, y, and z axes, creating a massive globe-like structure at least ten feet in diameter. The video features several of his other animated, but flat, calligraphic linear creations. Some of them are only inches thick, but sprawl all over a gallery at different levels off the ground. What Mr. Ritchie manages to accomplish is to make tangible what typically falls into the realm of pure emotion, mark-making, movement, and flow. Thinking takes on form and ideas become concrete. What if ideas about combating indifference and intolerance could take on form and become REAL enough that students could better “deal” with them? How could we motivate students to name and make real the aspects of human behavior that lead to marginalization, hatred, bullying, and we/they mentality? Once concrete, could these ideas then be destroyed, or publicly displayed in protest, for healing, hope, and re-creation?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Banned and Burned Books

Last Tuesday night I had the privilege of viewing the traveling exhibit from USHMM called Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings at the Wyandotte County Historical Museum. If you’ve never seen this exhibit it’s sobering to say the least. The primary source photos and text focus on the book burnings of May 10, 1933 and America’s response to this tragedy. I overheard someone at the viewing say “It’s too bad America wasn’t as upset about the people burning later as they were when the Nazis burned the books!” How sad but true. However, my part in the evening, as a middle school librarian, was to speak about book burning in America today and comparing it to the Nazis destruction of eventually 100 million books throughout Occupied Europe in their 12 year reign.

I work with my 6th – 8th graders every year through our “Right to Read” lessons in September. So I had lots of insight into challenges and bannings that go on in this country. I also teach my students why these books are offensive to some people. These same people then work to have these books removed from libraries not just for their own children but for everyone’s! Thankfully these folks are rarely successful but that’s because we have a 1st Amendment and the ALA (American Library Association).

Preparing and delivering this presentation, I was struck by the similarities between the Nazis and their reasons for burning books almost 80 years ago and our reasons today: Homosexuality/sexual content and profanity, Un-German/Un-American, not age appropriate/degenerate. I was also amazed at how shocked most of my audience was when they saw the ALA’s Top 10 List of most challenged books in 2009. The titles and reasons were absurd in many cases and people’s nervous laughter made me realize the importance of my words that evening.

Awareness is everything and avoiding book burnings in our own country takes our vigilance and constant attention. As the Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, once said, and it can’t be said enough, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dr. Seuss' Political Cartoons

Rebecca Parker’s blog of 3/11 about using Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel reminds me that I created a word and image activity to use with high school students relating to this same book. Basically, I had them match the captions from the cartoons, to the images. It took longer than I thought it might, perhaps because students had to really look at what Geisel drew, to figure out the best match. The activity can be arranged in any of a number of ways. Either project just the images, and pass out the words in a list, or on little slips of paper. The class can work as a group, or compete in teams, for points. Or a power point can be designed with 6 or 7 captions to choose from on one side of a slide, and one image on the other side, or arrange several images and one caption, having students select the best image. Use clickers to see which team gets the correct answer first, the most answers, or have individuals raise hands. If they are close, but not right on, see if someone can find a better caption and then award points for the specific things in the picture that show this is a better match.

Once the images are matched correctly, the class can group the cartoons into categories such as:
  • Anatomy of a Dictator(ship)
  • American Isolationism
  • Europe Falls Prey to the Third Reich
  • (Un)equal Rights for Who?

Another way to encourage students to look more closely is to have them do a series of searching activities. For example, project a cartoon and its caption, and have students take 60 seconds just to look, and try and see as many different details as possible in the image. Or have them look and list as many things as they can see. As a way of checking what they saw, have them pair up. One person in the pair faces the image, and the other backs it. Have partners trade off and quiz each other. “How many ostrich heads did you see?” “What is Hitler holding in his hand?” “Which countries are listed?” “What was the longest word in the caption?” Do a ‘stump the teacher’ round. Turn off the projector and have students take 3 minutes to list what they saw. Encourage them to write as many things as possible. Or break it down into specific categories like “list what is visible in the top half of the cartoon, behind the statue, in front of the jeep, to the left of Hitler, etc.”

If you do this with teams, scratch off the items included on both teams’ lists and see who has the greatest number of unique responses. Expand student responses by having them write what this reminds them of or makes them remember. Is there a book, song, poem, story with the same message? Have them list three things in the cartoon that interest them. Show them 5 different cartoons and have them make a list of three different things they think were important to Geisel.

As a follow up, have the class collect contemporary political cartoons and see how these might compare to Geisel’s. Are there any with similar messages, using different circumstances? Follow up with students making a list of what they think needs to be changed at their school. Have students create their own political cartoons, exhibit them in the hallways, or see if the school paper will publish any of them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Lesson Plans

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education is pleased to announce the addition of several new lesson plans to it's website at www.mchekc.org/lessonplans. Written by members of the Isak Federman Holocaust Teaching Cadre, these lessons explore relevant connections between the Holocaust and at least one other modern genocide. The lessons added to date are:

·         Bystanders in the Holocaust and Rwanda
This lesson explores testimony of bystanders to the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. It encourages students to understand what it means to be a bystander and to refrain from being one in the future.
·         Document Based Question on Resistance in the Holocaust and Rwanda
This document based question explores resistance in both the Holocaust and Rwanda. It is designed to allow students to practice all the necessary DBQ skills while learning about the Holocaust. Approaches to deconstructing the DBQ and utilizing the documents in other settings are explored.
·         Children's Genocide Diaries - Bitton-Jackson and Zlata's Diaries
Utilizing the memoir I Have Lived A Thousand Years (Holocaust) and Zlata's Diary (Bosnia), this lesson plan allows students to analyze and explore the impact of genocide on children.
·         Children's Genocide Diaries - Sierakowiak and Zlata's Diaries
Utilizing The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak (Holocaust) and Zlata's Diary (Bosnia), this lesson plan allows students to analyze and explore the impact of genocide on children.
·         Children of Genocide: Communicating Through Art
This lesson plan helps students analyze art created by children during the Holocaust and the genocide in Darfur.
·         Connecting a Holocaust Memoir Study to Modern Genocides
This lesson plan helps students make relevant connections amongst genocides by utilizing first hand testimony of genocide survivors and witnesses at the conclusion of any Holocaust memoir study.
·         Propaganda in the Holocaust and Rwanda
This unit explores propaganda utilized by a variety of media outlets in both the Holocaust and Rwanda. It was specifically designed to help middle school students learn about the elements of propaganda and their effective use, but has wide applications in high school and history settings.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda

In a recent class (one of a series sponsored by MCHE entitled Relating the Holocaust to Other Genocides: A Seminar Series for Educators), a fellow cadre member Dianne O’Bryan shared drawings from Witness to Genocide. I had been preparing a lesson for the class comparing/contrasting the artwork of children from Terezin with the artwork of children from Darfur. I decided to explore the children’s art from Rwanda as shown in this book.

As a middle school English teacher, I looked for resources that were engaging, historically relevant, and easily adapted for use in one or two class periods to enhance our study of the Holocaust. Witness to Genocide provides two short introductory pieces, one by Hillary Clinton and one by Richard Salem, that can be used to generate student discussion about the importance of sharing the story of the genocide in Rwanda and to show how art can be used as testimony and healing.
The three main sections in the book (The Genocide, The Children, and The Future of Rwanda) tell the history of the genocide the effects of trauma on children, and the importance of remembering as these children face the future. The captioned artwork supplements the text and acts as witness testimony and a healing process for the children. The simple, yet powerful drawings will engage those who see them and will encourage students to learn about the past and ways to help secure a better future for these children and other victims of traumatic experiences.
Witness to Genocide is available in the resource center at MCHE. Supporting lesson plans can be found at http://www.mchekc.org/lessonplans.