In 2019, Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust will be observed from Sunday, April 28 through Sunday, May 5. This annual 8-day period is designated by the US Congress for commemorations and educational programs to remember and draw lessons from the Holocaust.

Teachers who include the topic of the Holocaust in their curriculum have a large and growing collection of literature at their disposal. There are well-known titles dealing with Holocaust themes appropriate for various grade levels, keeping in mind that literature for younger students deals with themes such as, Who is my neighbor?, not extermination camps.

Introducing visual resources into the classroom is more problematic. Historic photographs can be inappropriate for most groups of students. Teachers must be particularly careful when presenting disturbing images to students, who are essentially a captive audience.

In this post, I would like to present a suggestion for using visual material that may be appropriate for most secondary students. I will be referencing materials from A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust. This is a resource we created at FCIT in the mid-1990s in response to a state mandate for Holocaust education in Florida.

Twenty-three years ago, the Teacher’s Guide website was considered an award-winning model of what educational websites could accomplish, but 23 in Internet years makes it about 483 years old in people years. Regrettably, some parts of the site are no longer usable due to changing web standards, but there are still many sections that provide resources a teacher can use in Holocaust education, including the section of several thousand photographs. A few hundred are historic photos, but most are photos I took of various Holocaust sites and memorials around Europe.


Holocaust Memorials

The Teacher’s Guide includes well over a thousand photos of various memorials. If you scroll down to the end of this post, you will see all of the memorials listed.

So, what can a teacher do with this collection of memorial photographs?

Obviously, one approach would be to use them as a springboard for an art project in which the students were asked to design their own memorial—either one directly related to remembering Holocaust victims or one centered on one of the “lessons of the Holocaust.”

A different approach would be for the students to select one of the many memorials documented in the photo collection and to write a critical essay about the piece. Thirty years ago, I was a middle school art teacher. Each quarter, I had my sixth and seventh-grade students write an essay about a given artwork. Now, some of you may be shaking your heads in disbelief, but when I broke the task down and spread out the writing over nine weeks in spare moments around studio work, the results were impressive. Students ended up with a three- to five-page, printed art criticism essay that they were generally quite proud of. Since they used the very basic computers we had available at the time, they often had little sense of how much they had written until the end of the quarter when we printed their work out. I can still remember how excited many were when they saw how much they had written. For many, it was the most they had ever written on a single topic.

So how did I make that writing magic happen?


Steps in Art Criticism

A generally-acepted approach to art criticism is to break the task up into four steps:

  1. Description
  2. Analysis
  3. Interpretation
  4. Judgment

1. Description. In the description phase, have the students describe what they see on the surface. What do they see? At this point, they are basically listing off the details. Are there people? How many? How are they dressed? Are they carrying anything? Are there other objects? What is the size of the work? What does it appear to be made of?

Often I would suggest to students that they should pretend they are describing what the artwork looks like to someone over the telephone. Their job is to communicate exactly how the artwork appears. At first, students will write just one or two sentences and then claim there’s nothing else to see. It may take some prompting before they realize that they have missed many, many details. Once the logjam breaks, they can find lots of details they hadn’t noticed at first. The role of the teacher then becomes to make sure the students don’t jump ahead and begin interpreting what they are describing. A simple, “Ah, that’s a great insight, but save it for the interpretation section” may be required.

2. Analysis. In the analysis section, students describe what I used to call “the invisible stuff.” They are no longer looking at the items, but rather how the items are arranged or organized. If the student noticed that there were four people when writing the description section, now the question is about the arrangement of those people. Are they close together or separated? Do they form flowing, curved lines, or do they form jagged, angular lines? Is there anything interesting happening with scale between the figures and other elements of the memorial? How about repetition? Contrast? Rhythm? Color schemes? What has the artist emphasized? Is there a dominant element? Are there subordinate elements? Is the composition balanced or is it intentionally unbalanced? Is there a sense of movement in the work? How has the artist used negative space? Has the artist used variety? Is the composition unified or is it splitting apart? If students have been previously exposed to the principles of design in their art classes, this section will be much easier than it sounds.

3. Interpretation. At last! Students will enjoy getting to this section where they finally get to express what they think the artist was trying to say. Most of the students will have already stumbled upon their interpretation as they were working on the first two steps. At this point, the teacher may choose to fund the discussion by introducing additional information about the particular setting or the Holocaust in general. The teacher may also choose to allow the students to consult other resources to assist with a context for their interpretation. For instance, it might be very helpful to students to have reference to the marking system for identifying prisoners.

4. Judgment. First and foremost, always emphasize that judgment is not about deciding whether the memorial (or any artwork) is “good” or “bad.” Judgment is about whether the artwork is successful. The students have already decided what they believe the artist’s intention was when they wrote the interpretation section. Now they need to decide whether the work succeeds or not. At this point, it’s necessary to bring in some basic aesthetic theories. There are many aesthetic theories, but they generally shake out into three groups: imitationalism, formalism, and expressionism. Students should make their judgments from the aesthetic theory or theories most appropriate to the specific work they are reviewing.

Imitationalism says a work is successful if it does a good job imitating exactly what the subject matter would look like. One could say that a highly accurate sculpture of a particular rescuer was successful because it looked very much like the person represented. Sometimes, students assume that imitationalism is the only theory by which to judge art. Looking at Holocaust memorial art would be a good experience to broaden their horizons, since very little of it is strictly imitational.

Formalism says that an artwork is successful based on the arrangement of the elements according to the principles of design. If using this theory, students will look back at what they discovered in the analysis section of their criticism.

Expressionism says an artwork is successful if it arouses an emotional response in the viewer. The emotion doesn’t have to be a happy one. Many memorials will engender a response of sorrow, anger, pity, empathy, or sadness.


The Photos

Click any of the thumbnails below to view photo galleries of Holocaust memorials available in the Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust.

Auschwitz Memorials and Displays. Photographs of exhibits taken spring 1999. (15 photographs)
Bergen-Belsen. Views of the mass graves and other memorials. (25 photographs)
Breendonk. Views of the shrine and other memorials at Fort Breendonk in Belgium. (8 photographs)
Buchenwald Memorial, I. Entrance gate and seven stelae record periods of suffering and resistance in Buchenwald. (29 photographs)
Buchenwald Memorial, II. The "Street of All Nations," the sculpture group by Fritz Cremer, and bell tower were designed as an impressive backdrop for East German ceremonies. (19 photographs)
Dachau Concentration Camp. Photographs taken spring 1999. (12 photographs)
Dachau: The Jewish Memorial. (8 photographs)
Dachau: The Protestant Memorial. (7 photographs)
Dachau: The Roman Catholic Memorial. (4 photographs)
Drancy, France. A monument by Shelomo Selinger marks the location of this deportation camp site. (18 photographs)
Ebensee. Various memorials at the site of the former forced labor camp. (19 photographs)
Majdanek Camp. Photographs of monuments at Majdanek Camp. (14 photographs)
Mauthausen Camp, I. The memorials of the nations including: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, and the Gypsy (Roma and Sinti) memorial. (28 photographs)
Mauthausen Camp, II. The memorials of the nations including: Hungary, the Jewish memorial, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, the Spanish Republican Army memorial, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. (27 photographs)
Mauthausen Camp, III. Other monuments and memorials at the camp. (11 photographs)
Mittelbau-Dora. Views of the commemorative sculpture by the crematorium, the relief sculpture by the roll-call square, and the death march memorial. (19 photographs)
Neuengamme Camp. Photographs of monuments at the Neuengamme Camp including the memorials of the nations and the Commemorative House. (23 photographs)
Ninth Fort. The memorial to the victims of fascism at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, was designed by sculptor A. Ambraziunas. Erected in 1984, the monument is 32 meters (105 feet) high. A brochure issued by the Ninth Fort Museum states that the monument "symbolizes pain, sorrow, tortures, and eternal remembrance." (30 photographs)
Plaszow Camp. Photographs of monuments at the Plaszow Camp. (9 photographs)
Ravensbrück Camp, I. Photographs of sculptures at the Ravensbrück Camp including Burdened Woman, Frau mit Abgeschnitten Haar, and Frau mit Tuch. (22 photographs)
Ravensbrück Camp, II. Photographs of memorials at the Ravensbrück Camp including the rooms of the nations and other exhibits. (17 photographs)
Ravensbrück Camp, Figuren wider das Vergessen Exhibition. Stuart N. R. Wolfe's installation of Figuren wider das Vergessen (Figures against Forgetting) at Ravensbrück Women's Camp. (8 photographs)
Ravensbrück Camp, Frauen Bilder Exhibit. A special exhibition of ten photographs of former Ravensbrück Camp prisoners. (10 photographs)
Ravensbrück Camp, Müttergruppe. A memorial sculpture by Fritz Cremer located on Dorferstrße on the way to the camp. (18 photographs)
Ravensbrück Camp, Street of Nations. Photographs of the newly installed memorial on the road to the camp. (13 photographs)
Ravensbrück Camp, Verwoben & Verstrickt. Two fabric installations by Dorota Krakowska and Wolf Lee. (12 photographs)
San Sabba: Memorials. (12 photographs)
Terezín. Photographs of the memorials at the Small Fortress and at the cemetery at Terezín. Also included in this gallery are reproductions of three commemorative postage stamps. (15 photographs)
Treblinka. Photographs of the memorial site taken in the spring of 1999. (36 photographs)
Wernigerode Camp. Photographs of the memorial site taken in the spring of 2001. (13 photographs)
Westerbork Transit Camp. Photographs of the memorial site taken in the spring of 2001 including a monument at Strafbarak 67, a punishment block where Anne Frank was housed. (24 photographs)
Westerbork Transit Camp. Memorials at Camp Westerbork including the National Memorial and the Appèlplaats or roll call area. (26 photographs)
Amsterdam: Various Memorials, I This gallery includes the Ravensbrück Memorial, the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre), and a monument to those who protected Dutch Jews during the occupation years. (23 photographs)
Amsterdam: Various Memorials, II This gallery includes Nooit Meer Auschwitz by Jan Wolkers, Heleen Levano's Gypsy Monument--Memorial of War, the monument to Jewish resistance, Mari Andriessen's Dock Worker, and others. (27 photographs)
Antwerp: Deportation Monument. This memorial to the deportation of Jews is located in the Jewish quarter of Antwerp. (27 photographs)
Berlin: Bebelplatz. A Nazi book burning site is now commemorated by a memorial representing an empty library. (10 photographs)
Berlin: Berlin Junction. The sculpture, Berlin Junction by Richard Serra, is a memorial to those who lost their lives to the Nazi T4 "euthanasia" program. It stands on Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin. (14 photographs)
Berlin: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Memorial at Zionskirche for the pastor who was murdered in the Flossenbrück concentration camp April 9, 1945. (9 photographs)
Berlin: Grunewald Bahnhof. Two memorials to mark the deportations of Berlin's Jewish population to concentration camps. (37 photographs)
Berlin: Jewish Museum Exterior The building was designed by Daniel Libeskind and completed in 1999. (11 photographs)
Berlin: Jewish Museum Interior Libeskind's unusual structure tells a story even before the exhibits are installed in it. (15 photographs)
Berlin: Jewish Museum Garden of Exile and Emigration Forty-nine concrete columns stand at an incline, with trees planted inside. Forty-eight columns, filled with Berlin earth, stand for 1948, the year the nation of Israel was born. The 49th column, filled with earth from Jerusalem, stands for Berlin. (11 photographs)
Berlin: Käthe Kollwitz Pietá. This memorial to the victims of fascism and militarism is located in Berlin. (10 photographs, 1 object movie)
Berlin: Levetzowstraße, I. The memorial grounds at Jagowstrasse in Berlin stands at the site of the Liberal Synagogue, Levetzowstraße, one of the largest synagogues in the city. (38 photographs)
Berlin: Levetzowstraße, II. Metal tiles representing the destroyed synagogues of Berlin. (38 photographs)
Berlin: Lindenstraße Synagogue Memorial. Description. (14 photographs)
Berlin: Resistance Memorials. Two memorials to resistance groups in Berlin. (12 photographs)
Berlin: Rosenstraße, I. This group of sculptures is located in a park within the old Jewish quarter of Berlin. It commemorates the protest of women whose husbands had been arrested. (22 photographs, 1 object movie)
Berlin: Rosenstraße, II. "Block der Frauen," by the East German sculptor, Ingeborg Hunzinger. (28 photographs)
Berlin: Spiegelwand. The Die Spiegelwand ("Mirrored Wall") is a memorial to the expulsion of Jews from Berlin-Steglitz and for the former Synagogue "Haus Wofenstein" on Düppelstraße. The names of the Jewish community in Stegliz are engraved into the mirrored wall as well as their history and pictures. (22 photographs)
Berlin: Various Memorials, II. Adass Yisroel and the Jewish Culture Federation Theater in Berlin. (24 photographs)
Brussels: National Memorial. This memorial is dedicated to the memory of the Jews of Belgium. (49 photographs)
Budapest: Various Memorials. Carl Lutz and Raoul Wallenburg memorials and the Dohány Street Synagogue. (18 photographs)
Budapest: Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park. Wallenburg was a Swedish diplomat who issued thousands of "protective passes" for Hungarian Jews. (19 photographs)
Anne Frank Memorials. Views of the house where Anne and her family hid, a memorial statue in Amsterdam, and her barracks at Westerbork transit camp. (10 photographs)
Gdansk: Cemetery of the Lost Cemeteries. The Cemetery of the Lost Cemeteries in Gdansk, Poland commemorates the cemeteries that have been lost. (14 photographs)
Hamburg: Holocaust Memorials. Monuments including Here & Now, the Heine Statue, the Black Form--Dedicated to the Missing Jews, the Joseph-Carlebach-Platz Synagogue Monument, and the Square of the Deported Jews. (15 photographs)
Memorials to Homosexual Victims of Fascism. Monuments in Amsterdam, Berlin, Sachsenhausen, and Neuengamme. (11 photographs)
Jerusalem: Yad Vashem Memorial. The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, Israel. (11 photographs)
Kaunas: Various Memorials. Monuments to the former ghetto, Sugihara, and the child victims of the Holocaust. (16 photographs)
Janusz Korczak Memorials. Sculptures commemorating the man who chose to accompany the orphans in his charge to the gas chambers of Treblinka. (8 photographs)
Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial: Tour. View the components of this memorial in the order a visitor experiences them. Included are: the beginning sculpture, the arbor of history, the dome of contemplation, a sculpture of love and anguish, the memorial wall, and the final sculpture. (21 photographs)
Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial: A Sculpture of Love and Anguish Details of the central sculpture group at Kenneth Treister's Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial. The sculpture group consists of a monumental raised hand covered with figures and surrounded by additional free-standing figures. (27 photographs)
Paris: Holocaust Memorial. The Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation is dedicated to the memory of the 200,000 individuals deported from France to German concentration camps during World War II. (10 photographs)
Salzburg: Euthanasia Memorial. Salzburg memorial to the victims of euthanasia. (5 photographs)
Memorials to Sinti and Roma Victims of Fascism. Monuments at Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Munich, and Ravensbrück. (24 photographs)
United States: Holocaust Memorial Museums. Photographs of museums in New York and Washington D.C. (10 photographs)
Venice: Arbit Blatas' Holocaust Bas-Reliefs. A series of seven bas-relief wall plaques depicting deportation, Kristalnacht, the quarry, punishment, execution, the Warsaw Uprising, and the final solution. (31 photographs)
Venice: Arbit Blatas' Deportation Memorial. A bas-relief plaque set into a wall with the names of those deported from the Venice ghetto. (18 photographs)
Vienna: Jewish Museum. A display of looted and rescued ceremonial objects from Austrian synagogues. (11 photographs)
Vienna: Judenplatz. Rachel Whiteread's Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust at Judenplatz in Vienna. (12 photographs)
Warsaw: Ghetto Monument. This memorial in Warsaw commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (8 photographs, 1 object movie)
Warsaw: Memorial Route of the Jewish Martyrdom and Struggle. This memorial begins at the Warsaw Ghetto Monument and leads the visitor along a path of markers ending at the Umschlagplatz. (13 photographs)
Warsaw: Umschlagplatz. This monument marks the site of the deportation station for the Warsaw ghetto. (7 photographs)
Warsaw: Uprising Memorial. This monument is located on Krasinski Square, Warsaw, a site of fierce fighting during the uprising. It consists of two groups of figures. (7 photographs)