by George J Elbaum
For several years I’ve been speaking at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) as part of their program of student tours organized around a current exhibit and paired with talks by Holocaust survivors, which were arranged by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) Holocaust Center. These talks offered the students an opportunity to connect art, architecture, and history, to humanize historical events and cultivate empathy, and to strengthen links between past and present. This year Covid-19 has prevented conducting museum tours and this program, so CJM’s Educator & Tour Coordinator Ron Glait organized a virtual program called Holocaust & Resistance, including a virtual tour for students, focusing on the Nazis’ rise to power and on the work of particular artists who were engaged in resistance. The CJM virtual tour brings students through the artists’ photographic journey, showcasing the work of Claude Cahun, Roman Vishniac, and others, as a way to learn about Holocaust history. These students would also attend a virtual presentation by a Holocaust survivor, such as mine.
My presentation via Zoom was to 60 9th-grade students from the Bentley School in Lafayette, CA, taught by English Instructor Melina Mamigonian. The students have previously studied World War II in their World History class and will read both Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman as a literary complement to that instruction. Later, students will read Macbeth and Kindred by Octavia Butler. Last year, students staged a dramatic production of The Diary of Anne Frank and mounted a campus-wide, interactive historical exhibition in remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. Students will also be interviewing their own adult subjects who have made significant impacts on their own lives in order to produce comics of their own in emulation of Art Spiegelman’s project. In the past, these projects have also borne witness to the experience of genocide and internment, providing students with means of resistance to hatred and discrimination.
Bentley School is a highly rated private K-12 independent day school celebrating its 100 years of quality teaching, with campuses located in Oakland (K-8) and Lafayette (9-12) Arrangements for my presentation today were made by JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator Penny Savryn in partnership with CJM’s Ron Gliat.