The first time I heard about the Holocaust was during 7th grade. Our school took us on a field trip to a movie theater to watch Schindler’s List. The only thing I remember from that trip? It was a long movie, but we had popcorn. After the field trip and throughout my remaining school years, the only words I associated with the Holocaust were Jews, Hitler and Germany. I literally learned zilch…well, either that or I didn’t pay attention. I knew nothing about ghettos, concentration camps, death marches, families being separated, or that other countries were involved besides Germany.
As of 2014, only 5 states in America mandate Holocaust and genocide education. Five? California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Florida. Legislation was enacted between 1985 and 1994, but during a 20 year standstill, no other state followed suit. In that 20 years, we saw Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Sudan. Pennsylvania came on board by June 2014, but the law passed only “strongly encouraged” schools to offer instruction in the Holocaust, genocide and other human rights violations. No mandate (Ziv). We are doing a disservice to our future generations. Since we are still so susceptible to genocides happening, it is so important to teach our children the warning signs. This doesn’t mean to just throw a book in front of them and tell them to read. Even as a current college student, I do better with visual learning.
My proposal for a Holocaust memorial is a traveling Lego exhibit that will tour schools throughout the United States. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, students at both the elementary and middle school levels can empathize with individual eyewitness accounts, but only those in grades six and above can “attempt to understand the complexities of Holocaust history, including the scope and scale of the events” (United). Therefore, my idea involves traveling to both elementary and middle schools while utilizing the same Lego exhibit, but limiting the scope of the materials based on the grade we are visiting.
The Lego exhibit will have a green platform to represent the ground. There will be four trees situated in each corner of the exhibit. Directly in the middle of the exhibit will be a tall column with a capital at the very top, and an abacus resting on the capital. On the abacus, will be the Star of David. The column will be surrounded with paving bricks. Sitting a few feet behind the paving bricks will be four empty chairs.
I chose the green Lego platform to represent grass. Grass symbolizes togetherness. You rarely see only one blade of grass and you cannot mow just one blade of grass. We are all connected to each other in some way, even if we’ve never met. The color green was also chosen, because green is a calming color. The trees were chosen generally as protection. I wanted the trees to protect the Star of David. Trees are also symbolic of enduring strength, which many of the Holocaust survivors had. The column in the middle of the exhibit represents victory in the defeat of Hitler and Nazi-Germany. At the top of the column, is the construction of a Star of David. The Star of David is a six sided figure symbolizing that God rules over the universe and protects from all six directions. The Star of David also serves as a reminder for those of Jewish faith…“in God we trust.” The symbol also represents the hundreds and thousands of years of struggle of Israelites. The Star of David is blue and even though blue can represent sadness, I like to think of this blue generally symbolizing strength. Surrounding the column are several brick pavers. I don’t have a general reason for including these, just using them as a barrier for the column. Finally, I included four empty chairs. The number of chairs has no significance; however, I chose the chairs based on what I learned about the empty chairs in Krakow. An empty lot paved with cobblestone was dotted with a variety of different sized metal chars. These chairs represented where the Jews waited to be escorted to the train station and deported to the concentration camps. The chairs remained empty, because no Jews returned.
Once construction is complete, this traveling exhibit would begin in Norfolk, Virginia. Ideally, I would like for the exhibit to remain in each school for 2-3 days to give enough children the chance to visit and view it. If a Holocaust survivor or survivor’s family member could accompany the exhibit, that would be even more ideal, because then they could share stories. At the elementary level, the pamphlet I would like to hand out would look like a kids menu you might find at a restaurant, but with Holocaust facts. Learning in disguise. At the middle school level, I think it is important to still present the facts in a fun way, but maybe with heavier weight. In middle school, I think educating the students about death marches and concentration camps is significant. Comparing what happened in history with current events, would really drive home the impact such acts can have on our future.
I would contact a designer at Lego headquarters in Denmark about building the design. The exhibit would need to be large scale, but compacted into smaller pieces to be placed together once inside each building. A rope would need to surround the exhibit, blocking off access. Small side tables with Lego pieces could be set up outside the roped off exhibit, for hands on building, if the children wanted to try and replicate a smaller version of the exhibit, or design their own memorial.
The intended audience for this exhibit is children, both elementary and middle school aged. I would lean more towards those in 4th or 5th grade at the elementary level. Any child younger than that really wouldn’t grasp even the emotional aspect of this tragedy. I believe my design would be an implicit design. When you think about Legos, you think of building when you were younger. Maybe you didn’t even use instructions and only your imagination. Building doesn’t require recalling specific facts.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, www.ushmm.org/educators/teaching-about-the-holocaust/age-appropriateness.
Ziv, Stav. “More States Are Making Holocaust and Genocide Education a Must.” Newsweek, 1 May 2017, www.newsweek.com/more-states-making-holocaust-genocide-education-must-472003.
Angie St. John is currently a junior, attending ODU part time. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Professional Writing. Angie has a strong passion for human rights and hopes to contribute towards meaningful discussions this semester. Her full time gig is working for Anthem as a Legal Specialist, but in her spare time, you can find her raising good humans (12 year old fraternal twins to be exact). When Angie gets a break from parenting, you can find her singing karaoke or watching some sort of sporting event, depending upon the season.