Seminars, Special Tours

Our Visit to the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum: Children and Holocaust Education

This is part three of a series about our four day seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House. You can read about the first day of our visit here, and our second day here.

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.

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Memorial to the Children of Theresienstadt

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.

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Theatre in the Round, Cohort V on the way to see the play

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.

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At the Janusz Korczak Exhibition

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. 

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Cohort V students at the Janusz Korczak Exhibit.

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.


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Seminars

Seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum: Yad Lalayed

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In early December the students of the Weiss-Livnat MA in Holocaust Studies program enjoyed a weeklong seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum.  The seminar was comprised of inside perspectives on the museum’s mission, creation, and various exhibits and activities. One of these days was spent in the museum’s exhibit for children, yad layeled.

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The main exhibit was designed for children to touch and feel, encouraging them to engage with the content in whatever way is comfortable.  The narrative of the exhibit is comprised of various mediums of authentic testimony from survivors who were children during the Holocaust.  These real accounts become more accessible for children as they are relayed through the voice of a child, or presented as a video of an elderly survivor in a comfortable corner of the exhibit.

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Our students explored the museum as children would, with the contextualization of the curators aims coming only after they had finished walking through.  Many of our students implored the techniques they had developed in their course on Visual Culture and the Holocaust with Dr. Rachel Perry.  Being able to identify the different methods the museum utilized was a new experience for many of our students.

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After the exhibit the students had the opportunity to discuss the content and creation of such an exhibit with the professionals working in the museum today.  The discussion consisted of many important questions of how to form age-approporiate Holocaust education, and what the aims of such education should be.  Many of our students are taking a course on The Holocaust, Memory, and Education, with Dr. Sharon Kangisser-Cohen, so this exploration of pedagogy was especially exciting.

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Tucked away in the middle of Yad Layeled is a special exhibit about Janusz Korczak, the Polish educator, author and physician who is famously remembered for the orphanage he ran in Warsaw before the Holocaust.  This exhibit is a bright contrast to the main exhibit, and serves as historical context for the life of some children before the Holocaust, a nod to the pedagogic approach of the institution, and a memorial to the incredible educator it is based on.  Being able to hear about his narrative from Beth Dotan was a special treat.

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We are grateful to the museum for providing us with such a rich seminar.  Each day provided something meaningful, and our time at Yad Layeled allowed the students to explore the practical application of many things they have learned this past semester.  It was an inspiration to see the important work our friends at the Ghetto Fighters’ House do, and we can’t wait to go back.

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