In order to articulate how the Holocaust impacts each of us almost 80 years after it’s completion, I decided to create an interactive memorial to be used as an educational tool in high schools and higher education. People gravitate toward what they cannot see, so I put 18 flaps on a poster board with facts about the who, what, when, where, why and how this tragedy occurred. On top of the flaps, there are photos relating to whatever that row’s theme is. Some people are visual learners more than auditory or kinesthetic, so it was no mistake to make sure that pictures were involved. Their purpose was to invoke emotion by every viewer. I was absolutely nauseated while reading about the horrors that Jews, gypsies, disabled people, the gay community and anyone else that the Nazi regime deemed unfit faced during the Holocaust. It’s said to have occurred from 1941-the first few months of 1945, but studying the Middle Ages proves otherwise. Jewish people in particulare have been ostracized because of religious intolerance for much longer than just the 20thcentury.
When I was in eighth grade, my advanced English teacher assigned us to read “Night” by Elie Wiesel before watching “The Boy in Striped Pajamas.” Wiesel actually came to my middle school and spoke in 2010. The impact that meeting a Holocaust survivor had on me still shakes me to this day. He was in a wheelchair and had trouble speaking up, but you could feel a different kind of weight in the air around you. This man was one of the few lucky survivors of what will go down in history as one of the most tragic ethnic cleansings of all time. Fast forward almost ten years and I’m in a Holocaust and Genocide Studies class with a professor that’s very dear to me for both her dedication to the Women’s Studies Department but also to the newly formed Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding Department. Talking about tragedies like the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide and white supremacy’s prevalence today are all sickening but we cannot establish an egalitarian world without first acknowledging them. Immediately after discussing hate crimes, the Holocaust and white supremacy, the Tree of Life synagogue shooting occurred this semester. When it came time to decide which genocide to memorialize, I leaned heavily toward that shooting because it was recent, but after careful consideration, memorializing the depressing precedent to the shooting made more sense. Reflecting on the Tree of Life shooting consisted of many “why did this happen again” and “haven’t we grown as a society from the Holocaust” types of questions. The answers are harrowing because anti-Semitism is still a huge downfall in society.
Perhaps the fact that we learn briefly about the Holocaust in public schools, that’s why people are aware of what genocide is. Before taking this course, I had never heard of the Armenian or Rwandan genocides. While reading about the Rwandan genocide, a line came up about the Clinton administration not wanting to refer to it as a genocide, despite the fact that citizens were being killed at a rate that was 5 times higher than that of the death camps during the Holocaust (Jones 346). Some words are triggers and Holocaust is certainly one of them. The purpose of my interactive memorial is to trigger feelings of disgust at history and a strong desire to enact change as a result of those feelings. Misunderstanding the Holocaust in eighth grade came partially from the fluffy, dumbed-down explanations that books gave but also from the idea that Anne Frank’s diary was the end-all, be all for the Holocaust. My public school teachers could have risked losing their jobs if they told us what was actually going on in the world during World War II with emphasis on ethnic cleansings similar to what the English did to Native Americans.
For ethical purposes, I would consult with a Jewish Studies professor, Holocaust expert, or survivor if my memorial were to be turned into an educational tool. My opinion might come off as ignorant to some since I am not of Jewish heritage/faith and have not delved deeply into this world of study. In order to appeal to students, coming from a place of curiosity and remembrance was a main goal in creating the interactive memorial. If it were to be produced on a larger scale, I might ask a sculptor to create something out of wood or clay for the flaps, to make it more interesting. Having a “share your mitzvah” or “write your reflection” portion to the right of the memorial felt like a necessity after visiting the Eastern State Penitentiary last month. Fortunately for prisoners of this notorious prison, community members fought to erect a synagogue there so that their faith would not be lost in such a dark place. One of the most beautiful things that I saw in there was a wall where people shared their mitzvahs. Honestly, before going there, I had no clue what the word meant, but after reading others’ good deeds, it made sense that putting forth good deeds in the world is the only way to make it a better place. I kept a card from the penitentiary and glued it onto the reflection page. Writing how you help the world is positive reinforcement to continue on that track rather than contributing to ethnic cleansing, genocides and religious intolerance.
Furthermore, there are 18 educational flaps to lift up and read facts underneath. To some, this might sound silly but I’m intrigued by the concept of numerology and 18 has extreme significance here. Eighteen represents the welfare of humanity, tolerance, compassion and easily mixing with others (www.affinitynumerology.com). In my spare time, I philosophize about the deeper meanings of things, and 18 encompasses what we should feel when reflecting on the Holocaust: compassion to increase welfare rather than war. This aspect is certainly implicit and wouldn’t make sense if you aren’t familiar with numerology, but I’d say that the majority of the project carries an explicit impact. Looking at the pictures of children behind barbed wire and seeing possessions like gold being collected should make anyone (who isn’t a sociopath) feel like the world needs to be changed. The reflection portion on the right of the memorial in particular is an explicit design/teaching tool. Evaluations of everything from activities in class to the professsors themselves are expected in higher education, so reflecting on the Holocaust should be an easy task. If this tool could make it into an entry-level Holocaust and Genocide Studies class or even an eighth grade class who wants to know the critical truth, I would feel fulfilled.
Creating this memorial was surprisingly emotionally taxing. After visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. 3 times, reading a plethora of books on it, watching films and performing dance to a scene from the Schindler’s List, the effect of seeing images and reading about the horrors faced never becomes less daunting. White Supremacy creeps into everyday interactions today in ways that many of us are uncomfortable with calling out. I believe that if people are put into situations where they see exactly where a problem lies, they have the power to empathize and shake up society’s views about it later on. This project is supposed to make viewers/students grateful for the conditions that they were born into so that they have the emotional capacity to bring up such topics in the community. College campuses in particular don’t see nearly enough recognition for tragedies like the Tree of Life shooting. Exhaustion ensues from feeling like there are gigantic problems in the world daily that we simply can’t keep up with, but I sincerely hope that someone who views this feels revitalized to be a light in an oftentimes dark world. Thank you for viewing and learning about the Holocaust with me!
History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/the-holocaust.
Jones, Adam. Genocide: a Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge, 2017.
Meanings of the Letters, affinitynumerology.com/number-meanings/number-18-meaning.php.
Stichting, Anne Frank. “The Story of Anne Frank: Hitler’s Antisemitism.” Anne Frank House, 1 Apr. 2010, web.annefrank.org/en/Anne-Frank/Life-in-Germany/Hitlers-antisemitism/.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/liberation-of-nazi-camps.
“What Was the Holocaust?” Deportation and Transportation – The Holocaust Explained: Designed for Schools, www.theholocaustexplained.org/what-was-the-holocaust/.
All of the websites where I got the pictures for the flaps are listed below but did not have titles or proper citation information to credit the photographers.
Mikalah Lake is a senior in the Women’s Studies department, minoring in Psychology. She is drawn to Women’s Studies because of the critical thinking and awareness the assignments require. Based off the female genealogy in her family, she hopes to break the cycle of oppression through the opportunities her education has afforded her. Areas of intrigue include global studies, intersectionality, public health, body modification and sexuality. She has an Instagram page called @bodyloristsofhr that aims to enlighten through personal stories.