1 year ago



Herr Gartner had died.

Herr Gartner had died. In his will he had left me a silver wine cup and two silver candlesticks” (p. 219). HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 24 Sometimes survivors can tell us the story of an artefact they still cherish. Alex Brooks (1995) follows the path of his father’s wedding ring throughout the Holocaust and to today: After my father’s funeral in Budapest, on the day I saw my mother and my sister for the last time before we were all taken away to separate death camps, Mother handed me my father’s wedding ring as a symbol of family heritage. I promised myself to safeguard it as if my life depended on it. For a while I wore it on my finger. Then, in labor camp, on the day the guards strip-searched us for valuables and threatened to kill us if we withheld anything, I decided to hide the ring in the straw of the open lean-to where we had been sleeping for several months. That was a wise decision; several people were shot during the search as the guards discovered items they had hidden on their bodies. When we returned from the ordeal of the search, shaken and upset, I went straight to the straw pile to recover my ring. Sure enough, I could not find it. My whole group of friends helped me turn the place upside down. As the straw flew and the dust choked the air, we discovered that one of our comrades had used the thick layers of straw under himself for these months as his private bathroom. This was the reason he never had to get up during the snowy nights and make the trip to the outhouse like everybody else did. This was also the reason the whole place had begun to smell like dung within so short a time after we arrived. But I paid the mess very little attention, for out of the dirt and the dust and the straw rolled the ring. . . . I never let it out of my sight after that, except when I had to hide it several times in my mouth or wherever I could to prevent its discovery by the ferocious guards. It was with me on May 5, 1945, the day of liberation. It was with me throughout my stay in the DP camp. It is the ring my wife put on my finger during our wedding ceremony more than 50 years ago. It is this ring, my father’s wedding ring, that is on my finger to this day. (pp. 81–82) Fortunately, artefacts are available to us and to our children today even if we do not know any witnesses: They are exhibited in museums around the world. Herz’s (2014) poem “Waiting” helps us to think about particular objects now on display in the Auschwitz museum storerooms (which the prisoners called “Canada”), “where they sorted and stored the victims’ belongings before sending them on to the Reich” (p. 284). We’ve all seen

such items; with these poignant words, Herz brings them to life: in Auschwitz / Birkenau / among the / burned-down foundations / they called Canada, / I stumble upon / a small heap / of bent forks & spoons / & knives — / thinking — / they’ve been waiting, / rusting & waiting / for the Shabbat table / to be set, / for the candles / to be lit, / for the blessing to be recited, / for the wine / to be sipped, / for the challah / to be shared — / waiting & waiting / for seventy years now / for the Shabbat dinner / that will never come. (p. 284) The Artifacts Drawings: A Film Another way to make artefacts and their stories vivid is to film them. The renowned artist Nancy Patz, whose brilliant work is featured on the cover of the Spring 2014 issue of Yeshiva University’s publication PRISM: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators, produced such a film with the help of faculty and students from Baltimore’s Goucher College. It is available for viewing at 2 This 14-minute film, The Artifacts Drawings, makes clear the necessity of learning the history behind the artefact. A child’s white dress is just a dress until we know it belonged to Chaya, a baby girl slated for murder just because she was Jewish; a violin, just an instrument until we know it was played as a form of resistance in a wretched, overcrowded ghetto. When we learn, we need both the artefacts and their historical context to grasp the full story. Understanding artefacts depends upon a written or spoken narrative; without it, they are merely relics of a time long past and little understood. At the same time, survivor testimonies are more likely to be internalized when they are enhanced by relevant, tangible artefacts. Without such evidence, the narratives might be tales difficult to envision and sometimes soon forgotten. Yet together, the artefact and the narrative transform the mundane into the exceptional: daily items become the closest things we have left of the people who owned and valued them. The simple artefact and its story become a lens through which we suddenly see a fact, a person, a moment of the Holocaust differently, and in much sharper focus. 25 HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE Artefacts help us to feel history—the truth of a person, a place, a moment—and when seen within the context of their story, they enrich our factual knowledge, as well. Every day of the Holocaust consisted of moment-to-moment thoughts, dilemmas, and decisions of individual Jews, millions of people who lived

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