Touched by Tragedy Middle Schoolers' Art Reaches Back to Holocaust Victims and Shares Their Sorrow

By Phelps, Bob | The Florida Times Union, April 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Touched by Tragedy Middle Schoolers' Art Reaches Back to Holocaust Victims and Shares Their Sorrow


Phelps, Bob, The Florida Times Union


Life in middle school is tough.

It's the beginning of the teen years, the earliest stages of

adulthood. It's a time of worry about self-image and what others

think, a time of great bodily changes, new body hair, skin

blemishes and psychological struggles. It's a time when young

people begin to wonder what will become of them in the scary,

strange world of adulthood.

Amid all this turmoil, can a boy or girl really take time and

spend energy to care about something that happened more than 50

years ago to people who lived an ocean away?

At Mandarin Middle School in Jacksonville, teachers Deborah

Hansen and Jill Keifer tried linking an art project to a

historic tragedy and found that, yes, middle school kids do

care, very deeply, when they learn about the Holocaust.

"Don't let it ever happen again."

"We will never forget."

"The hurt still lives."

Such words in broad brush strokes of acrylic paint were added

to painted images of candles, the Star of David, barbed wire,

broken hearts and other products of teenage imagination to

express messages of pain. The messages were painted on 8-inch

square ceramic tiles.

The resulting display on a plywood wall is called Tile of

Tears. It so moved members of the Jewish Community Alliance that

they are displaying it tomorrow through April 30 as part of

their annual observance of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust

remembrance.

Hansen teaches a class on conflict resolution and mediation in

which students learn how to come to grips with differences of

culture, opinions and religion without resorting to threats,

insults or violence. They also learn mediation techniques to use

with students who have those differences.

"In teaching this course, it seemed to me that whenever

prejudice and intolerance is thought of, we seem to focus on the

racial issues, and of course that's important, but I found that

in teaching history that children don't know anything about the

Holocaust," Hansen said.

Holocaust refers to the period of history that began in 1938,

with a reign of terror called Kristallnacht, and ended in 1945

with the Allied defeat of Germany. Historians say that during

the Holocaust, Nazis systematically killed 6 million Jewish men,

women and children, and about 5 million others including Slavic

people, Poles, Gypsies, the mentally ill and the mentally and

physically disabled.

"The surprising thing is some of the kids who acted like they

were not listening, like they were not particularly interested,

when we gave them something like this tile to paint on, they

just opened up," Hansen said.

Julie Bolema, adult services director at the Jewish Community

Alliance, said the most moving tile she saw is a simple scene of

a tree with two swings suspended from a limb. …

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