This activity is designed to help students think more deeply about what it means to be an outsider. Using quotations from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Voices on Antisemitism series, students portray their thoughts and feelings about a quotation through photographs selected from the Museum’s Photo Archive database. Some preselected quotations are provided below, but students may choose their own from the episodes on this theme.
After selecting photos, students will write an essay explaining their selections. The essay can examine some of the following questions:
How does what this person discusses in the present relate back to the Holocaust?
- What about the photos you chose demonstrates this?
Do the photos that you chose represent abstract feelings, concrete events, or a combination of the two?
- If you are matching images with emotions evoked from some of the quotations, whose emotions are you using? Your own? The victims or perpetrators? What emotions do you think the interviewee feels?
Have you interpreted something in a way that another person may interpret differently?
- Is such interpretation subjective or objective? Explain your response.
- Is it difficult to put images to words, especially someone else’s words?
Students then create a PowerPoint presentation of the quotations and photos together. See an example of such a PowerPoint using Michael Chabon’s Voices on Antisemitism episode
I really didn’t know anything about being Jewish or what that meant for quite some time. There was a silence around the idea of Jews, of Jewishness, partly because there were very few of us left in town. I think in my school there were five of us who were Jewish. We knew we had something in common, but what that was I wasn’t quite sure. There was a kind of antisemitism practiced through silence.
My original name was Andrei Perlmutter, and for some reason…the workshop wanted me to change my name to something more resounding, either more poetic or as I figured out, more Romanian….It was not possible or very hard to publish anything under a Jewish name. So we had a session to baptize me, change my name into a suitable pseudonym.
When I left Romania, I sent back some poems to a literary journal in Romania and I signed it out of a whim ‘Codrescu,’ which is a very Romanian name…I wasn’t aware at the time that I was committing an act of unconscious antisemitism, because the name Codrescu is very close to the name Codreanu. Codreanu is the name of the founder of the Iron Guard, the famous antisemitic murderous Iron Guard of Romania…weirdly enough and unconsciously, I was naming myself after a Jew-hater.
To teach Holocaust, is not only to teach about the Jewish community. I think it’s also to make the students understand that they should not be blind. They should not accept someone to speak badly of the Jewish community or any community because they are different.
So I took my students to Auschwitz because I think that it is important to show them a place that speaks about what happened during the Second World War and against the Jewish community of Europe. I wanted to show them where leads racism and antisemitism, and this place witnesses about this.
Some teachers in my school told me that it was a big mistake. They told me that our students are not ready for that, because this subject of relationships between the Jews and the Muslims, etcetera. But the other priority and objective of my program, it is to struggle against antisemitism, to make children know the Holocaust better, but also to struggle against the violent way of speaking between them.
… their change was visible, because in the class they were more kind. There was no violent attitude between them. I was really proud and satisfied because all my objectives happened. I wanted a change in their attitude. I had it. I wanted students more educated and more informed about history. I had it. I felt very useful as a teacher. Because if we educate them and we give them responsibilities in their studies, they will open their mind and search to understand and to dialogue.
People ask me, “When did you start collecting and why?” And I’ve always collected what I call “contemptible collectibles.” I collected objects that I thought would demonstrate how those racist ideas permeated our culture.
And I think the most effective propaganda is when people don’t realize that that is what is going on, when they think they’re just playing a game or just using an ashtray. When you reduce hatred to game playing, you give a level of legitimacy to it that is mind boggling.
You know, the hardest thing for me is to figure out how to present the material to people when they come in. What you discover is, is that people looking at the same thing come up with very, very, very different interpretations of what it is they’re seeing.
I mean as long as we have these “us versus thems,” and as long as people are hurt in our society and others think that’s their problem, then we undermine this nation. So the trick is, is to figure out a way to get people that are not themselves directly hurt to believe that they are a part of the same “We.”
… being influenced by multiple traditions can be a source of strength. And it can help us to define who we are perhaps even more strongly.
And the Muslim shopkeepers who had their stalls just outside the synagogue gate held hands on the day that they were worried that there would be this tension. They held hands across the synagogue gate and they said “this is a house of God and we must protect it.”
And so, we’re in a time now where we see people of different communities increasingly pitted against one another.
I think in order to move beyond this idea of a clash of civilizations, we need to understand that no religion, whether it is Judaism or Islam or Christianity, is a monolith. There is a tremendous diversity in the way that faith is practiced. I had this Muslim mother, a Christian father, Jewish grandmother; and there are different beliefs; …But my parents—all three of my parents—stressed the commonalities.
… these two strains of my family certainly don’t always see eye to eye. But again, because of my grandparents’ alliance, are tied together and are kind of forced to consider the human face on the other side of the headlines.
We felt that it was time to no longer simply be the recipient of the stereotypes that had been bestowed on us. There was a pride, a feeling of commitment to not being pushed around, not being toyed with, not being any more the nineteenth century, malleable, pitiful Diaspora Jew.
We Jews, who arrived at the end of the nineteenth century or in the early parts of the twentieth century, were already thrown into this machinery of stereotypes that had begun before our arrival…Jews: money-lenders; Jews: Christ-killers. And the community felt itself a target of all sorts of mostly verbal attacks that came from the media and maybe certain political groups.
Not knowing exactly how to react the community organized itself in a way that attempted to find tools of defense for any violence that would emerge.
The suitcase is the proof that you carry with yourself your belongings, even when you’re staying put. That, in many ways, the memory that you have of the place into which you were born and where you live is packable, is transferable, and it’s temporary. That no matter how long you stay in that place, your roots are never too deep.
I am grateful to this country. I feel involved and committed to it. But it is that aspect of Jewish Diaspora life, the transient, the globe-trotting, the geographical wanderer that remains in me.