June 2021

I just returned from Chicago and the culmination of our year-long project with 8th graders (yes, I really did say 8th graders) at the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet School. I will describe the project briefly below, share panels they created—and thanks to the school, you can click on links to see (and hear) the kids’ artist statements and excerpts of their Holocaust interviews.

The exhibition catalog

This project, titled IMAGE AND MEMORY: YESTERDAY AND TODAY, was conceived by Dr. Jeff Ellison, History teacher, whom I met many years ago at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where we were both presenting lectures. The art teacher, Gili Sherman, was also instrumental in this project, as was the technology teacher, Beth Sanzenbacher, together with the enormous support and encouragement of the school, especially the principal, Stephanie Bloom, and the generosity of the Lucas and Arkes families.

Here is Jeff Ellison preparing the students for our guests

The project in brief: Introducing students to photos, stories, and research in my book, THE LAST ALBUM: EYES FROM THE ASHES OF AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU; teaching them how to interview and photograph survivors (or their relatives, if the survivor was deceased), and creating their own exhibition.

Students learned how to ‘read photographs’, that is, how to study photos very carefully for clues that can be gleaned from photos alone (This seems especially relevant now with Wendy Lower’s new book, The Ravine, which is based on ONE tragic photograph. Unlike hers, the photos in my book depict moments of LIFE, not the moment of DEATH). In addition, students learned how to research the history of that specific survivor’s story, and how to translate those personal narratives into one seminal exhibit photo.

Student team who studied Survivor Magda Brown z”l, with the help of her daughter, Second Generation Rochelle Brown Rainey

As if that wasn’t enough, together with the photo of the survivor, these 8th-grade students also took very personal ‘response photos’ of their own individual reactions to the survivor’s history—and these too are a poignant part of the exhibit. Premiering on June 3rd (for special guests, including the survivors) and June 4th (for the 8th-grade parents), it will be on exhibit throughout the summer and into the start of school year September 2021.

Noah and his grandfather, Michael Tennenbaum

Here is Noah Tennenbaum with his grandfather (Saba, in Hebrew), Michael, whose essential message to the students is: “Tell your parents you love them.” As an homage to Michael, seen laying t’filin (putting on phylacteries), Noah chose to echo his grandfather’s actions and pictures himself laying t’filin as well. Mathew Azulay, another member of the team who interviewed Michael, chose to feature himself holding a photo of his family, taken at his recent Bar Mitzvah. As he explained, “I am showing how I love my family and my pride in Judaism.”

Mathew Azulay, holding a photo of his family

I invite you to hear the students’ own artist statements (in their own voices) and their survivor summaries. If you were standing in front of the panels at the school, you would simply point your phone to the QR codes, located below each panel. Since you are in remote locations, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet School has arranged that you can CLICK HERE —and you, too, can feel as if you are right here with us, and with these extraordinary students, teachers, and school!

A sad note: Even in this brief time between the premiere of the student exhibition and this writing to you, one of our interviewed survivors has died (Leonie Bergman). Our 8th graders are the very last students she taught, and now, these students will become part of her legacy. May her memory be for a blessing.

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