018~ Teaching Photography on Holocaust Memorial Day
Updated: Jul 27
In Israel, I used to teach for many years in "Gifted Children Centers." 15 years ago, on the day of the Holocaust Memorial Day, I had the option to either take a day off from teaching or come up with a photography-related lesson to deal with any aspect I wished to explore with the kids. I immediately seized the opportunity and created a few lessons for the school principal to decide where she thought would be the best direction for the experience. This opportunity came my way in perfect timing with my first visit to Berlin just 2 years earlier and helped me focus (pun intended) the content of the photography workshops as a tool for further discussion in, out, and around this colossal event.
I begin the workshop by discussing the emergence of a new influencer in the field of war - photography documentation, which, although rare, was more accessible than during the Great War and earlier conflicts. However, bringing a camera to the war zone was no easy task, and documentation remained scarce. Moreover, photography was not only a complex craft but also an expensive hobby, resulting in limited documentation of 'small' and 'insignificant' events. These are the very moments that can trigger the workshop participants' imagination and unveil ordinary daily musings or actual memories!
I have organized numerous workshops over the years, exploring various aspects and facets of the discussed period. I named this collection of workshops the 'Holocaust Kit,' and it continues to grow with new materials and activity ideas. However, the direct engagement with the participants is always the highlight! I never know what they might come up with. Some individuals may find it challenging to express themselves through photography or may not have given much thought to the Holocaust. It's possible that, like me, they have compartmentalized those thoughts and stored them in the recesses of their minds, much like a dusty attic.
But anything they bring can be a good starting point for a fruitful lesson or discussion. This image, for example, is always taken, and I always see at least one yellow flower.
When we discuss the images, the photographer will usually say something about the yellow color resembling the yellow "Juden" badge. Sometimes the issue of the flower's short life is brought up, which can remind us of the victims who passed away in the camps or on the way to them.
We observe the flower and realize how fragile it is, and we understand that life itself for the victims was just as fragile, suddenly turning into total turmoil.
Yellow Flower in the garden - photo by anonymous participant
And it's true...of course, many innocent people perished in this system. However, many of the participants in my workshops in Israel, especially the young ones, often focus on the Jewish victims.
I have noticed two interesting phenomena regarding the image above:
1. It is quite intriguing that our 'Holocaust image bank' is quite limited, and the images the local participants create are usually quite typical, such as barbed wire, yellow flowers, train rails, and shoes.
However, every once in a while, something special emerges: a participant who, for whatever reason, contributes an eye-opener to the discussion, ultimately broadening the scope and scale of understanding and prompting deeper questioning.
2. I often observe that the group typically possesses knowledge limited to the yellow badge, indicating that our educational system and, consequently, many Israelis have primarily associated the badge system with the Jewish people, thereby appropriating its significance.
So I seize this opportunity, for example, to broaden the scope and scale of our discussions and present the next image for further exploration.
Nazi segregation badges scheme
This table of segregation badges usually surprises most of the participants. Only a small percentage of them are already aware of the various groups that were segregated and targeted, while others take some time to reassess the information. It's a beautiful moment where I can almost hear their understanding expanding, realizing that this issue goes beyond the "Jewish prism".
There is a beautiful Hebrew proverb that says: "Tzarat Rabim - Hatsi Nehama," which roughly translates to "When many people share the same trouble, you may already feel half comforted." We realise that evil is evil, and it can appear anywhere. victimhood can be anywhere, sufferers are usually not in the state of mind to notice others in the same state.
The "divide and conquer" method is what allows many social disasters to occur. If we can look beyond the obvious differences, we will find similarities all around us.
...After all, 96.2% of the human body is composed of just four elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The rest are layers upon layers... which we all hide behind.💚🌻