Experiential Holocaust Remembrance
As part of their annual Yom HaShoah Art Project, I worked with P7 students at Calderwood Lodge Primary School in Glasgow, Scotland to explore different embodied processes of remembering victims and survivors of the Shoah.
Through a series of tangible processes, students employed multiple ways of making, observing and remembering, in order to further their understandings of the Shoah. They tasted cookies baked using a recipe documented by a teenage girl in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, and spoke words of testimony shared by Holocaust survivors. They used their hands to stitch tiny teddy bears, sift flour, and sort through jars of buttons. They looked at photographs, and searched through piles of donated fabrics looking for the perfect fit. By involving all of their senses, immersing their hands and beings into the process, they were able to connect to the idea of Holocaust memory in a deeper way.
Students studied a number of images depicting pre-war Jewish life in Europe, and used them to explore the everyday materials these Jewish communities would have interacted with. An image of a young girl with a teddy bear particularly captured the students’ interest. They decided to create their own teddy bears, as a tribute to the child in the photograph, Stephanie Bujakowski of Vienna, aged 1, who was murdered in Auschwitz only a few years after the photograph was taken. These teddy bears, lovingly cut, decorated, and hand-stitched by the students, act as a memorial, a way for the memory to live on.
Františka Quastler was deported from Bratislava to Ravensbrück in 1944, when she was 13 years old. In the camp, prisoners recorded recipes and memories from home, as a symbol of hope and resistance. Františka wrote the following recipe on scraps of stolen paper:
English cookies. Beat four egg whites with 12 dekagrams sugar for a long time. Add 12 dekagrams almonds (not blanched) and 12 dekagrams flour. Bake in an oblong pan. Slice thinly the following day.
Students re-created Františka’s recipe, and by doing so, contributed to the keeping alive of memories, to the chain of transmission of our traditions. By engaging in acts of Holocaust memory through taste, touch, sound and sight, students were able to deepen their sense of connection to this history and place themselves within it.
Image of Stephanie Bujakowski and her bear, Vienna, 1938. Image courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Scan of Františka Quastler's Ravensbruck Recipe Book, 1944. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.