On the third day at the Ghetto Fighters’ House our students met with Madene Shachar who guided them through Yad Layeled, a children’s Holocaust museum. Madene discussed the challenges presented to the museum staff regarding children’s Holocaust education, where one of the questions was: is this museum experiential or educational? She talked about how the museum made decisions when constructing Yad Layeled, both the physical building and the philosophy behind the education.
For example, at the entrance of the museum there is a memorial space for the children who perished in the Holocaust. The circular room’s walls, with a vaulted ceiling, is covered with stained glass windows. Roman Halter designed the project; he based it on pictures children drew while living in the Theresienstadt Ghetto. Rami Karmi took these ideas and made the project reality. These children were living in two worlds: the ghetto and their imagination, an imagination only a child could live in. Most of the drawings are of plants and nature, swings and homes; they don’t depict accurately what their life was in Theresienstadt but rather what they dreamed of. As the light pours into the room, through these small windows, visitors are reminded that the children were kept from the outside world and trapped, yet the drawings themselves are beautiful and full of life. Madene shared some of the ideology behind this memorial: the museum wanted to focus on the life of the children rather than their death, and this is one of the ways the museum emphasizes their lives.
After the students walked through the museum, they were invited to see a play based on the true life story of one of the child survivors featured in the museum. The play was performed in a dome theatre just outside of the museum, where the theatre hosts audiences almost every day for different groups that tour the museum. Our play was special because it was the first time it was performed in English. The museum staff uses this play, the survivor’s testimony, and other educational tools to teach the Holocaust to children, and most often they will include workshops where children can use art to express how they feel about the survivor’s story, which will usually include drawing, music or drama.
Our students also visited the Janusz Korczak Exhibit which is located at the center of Yad Layeled. This exhibit tells the story of Janusz Korczak, who was the director of a Jewish Orphanage in Poland when the Germans invaded Poland. When the Nazis came to take the children to Treblinka, Korczak refused to leave them and went to Treblinka with them on August 5, 1942. Janusz Korczak was devoted to the children in his orphanage, and testimonies from orphaned children who survived the Holocaust relate his love for them. The exhibit has five different installations which comprise the “Circle of Life” of Janusz Korczck.
Yad Layeled recorded many interviews with survivors who were children during the Holocaust; many of these survivors are gone now. The survivor generation is almost completely gone. The question of remembrance is coming to the forefront of Holocaust Studies, Yad Layeled offers an answer to this question with the integration of testimony and artistic expression.
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