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2kNreeJ

2kNreeJ

HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN

HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 20 Artefacts hold stories—gifts from those who can no longer speak to those who will never have known them at all. These narratives give life to an object that would otherwise be wordless. For me, three small, nowtarnished silver spoons I found in my mother’s kitchen drawer would have had no meaning had I not known that these were the spoons she used when she fed hot rice cereal to me in my infancy, and then, years later, to my own baby daughter. For my husband, a small, plain, blue metal Chanukah menorah might have been of no consequence had he not known that his mom bought it some 50 years ago in the Old City on her very first visit to Jerusalem and loved to tell the story of her first encounter—and success!—with Middle East bargaining. We no longer have our mothers, but we have a few of their things, and their things tell stories that help our mothers and their history to live on—in our hearts, and in our families. Witnesses and Their Possessions Survivors, and those who did not survive, also have stories about objects—about, for instance, the things they wore or carried with them when they were displaced and forced to move unceremoniously from city to ghetto, from ghetto to camp, just as the woman who owned the rose brooch found at Treblinka wore or carried that pin, precious to her. The historian Michael Berenbaum (2006) tells us that “29 storerooms [of Jewish possessions] were burned before the liberation of Auschwitz.” Six other storerooms remained. In them were, among other items, “348,820 men’s suits, 836,255 women’s coats . . . and even 13,964 carpets” (p. 185). These mute possessions teach us a great deal, including the fact of the large-scale Nazi deception that made the Jews believe that they were going to be resettled in the East. The poet Stephen Herz (2014) illustrates this in a poem he called “Whatever You Can Carry,” reprinted here with permission. Using Berenbaum’s statistics as an epigraph, he continues: “You will work in the factory, work in / the fields, you will be resettled in the East,/ bring whatever you can carry.”

So our dresses, shirts, suits, underwear, / bedsheets, featherbeds, pillows, tablecloths, / towels, we carried. We carried our hairbrushes, handbrushes, / toothbrushes, shoe daubers, scissors, mirrors, / safety razors. Forks, spoons, knives, pots, saucepans, tea strainers, potato / peelers, can openers we carried. We carried / umbrellas, sunglasses, soap, toothpaste, / shoe polish. We carried our photographs. / We carried milk powder, talc, / baby food. We carried our sewing machines. We carried / rugs, medical instruments, the baby’s pram. / Jewelry we carried, / sewn in our shoes, sewn in our corsets, / hidden in our bodies. We carried loaves of bread, bottles of wine, / schnapps, cocoa, chocolate, jars of marmalade, / cans of fish. Wigs, prayer shawls, tiny Torahs, skullcaps, phylacteries we carried. / Warm winter coats in the heat of summer / we carried. On our coats, our suits, / our dresses, we carried our yellow stars. / On our baggage in bold letters, our addresses, /our names we carried. We carried our lives. (pp. 105–106) What did the Jews do with the things they could not or did not want to carry, limited as they were by the Nazi decrees of weight restrictions on their suitcases, and often fearful of taking their most valuable possessions, believing, as most did, that they would return to their homes at the end of the war? Elie Wiesel (1970/2011), in a short story called “The Watch,” writes about the objects his family buried for safekeeping in late April, 1944, “in the early morning hours” of the day they were to be deported: 21 HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE After a sleepless night, the ghetto was changed into a cemetery and its residents into gravediggers. We were digging feverishly in the courtyard, the garden, the cellar, consigning to the earth, temporarily, we thought, whatever remained of the belongings accumulated by several generations. . . . My father took charge of the jewelry and valuable papers. His head bowed, he was silently digging near the barn. . . . My mother, crouched on the damp ground, was burying the silver candelabra. . . . As for me, my only possession was my watch. It meant a lot to me. And so I decided to bury it in a dark, deep hole, three paces away from the fence, under a poplar tree whose thick, strong foliage seemed to provide a reasonably secure shelter.

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