USHMM Museum Educators Provide Resources


By Brooke Estren
Cold Spring Harbor High School
New York

[ USHMM Building ]Many people from all over the world have visited the recently established United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC since it officially opened in April, 1993. What one may not know is that the museum not only contains artifacts, videos, and photographs of the Holocaust of WWII, but it also offers active, educational resources for museum visitors.

The museum's Resource Center and Education Department focus on distributing information about the Holocaust as well as conducting educational conferences and workshops for teachers. Kristy Brosius is the Coordinator for the Resource Center at the museum. Another museum educator, who is now creating educational materials for the USHMM's Web site, is David Klevan. Both educators are professional and talented creators of many programs that are held at the museum.

While working on the I*EARN Holocaust/Genocide Project, I decided to send some e-mail questions to both Kristy and David and conduct an on-line interview to help educate others about the Holocaust Memorial Museum's educational programs.

"The Resource Center was part of the original plan when the museum was designed. Dating as far back as 1979, 'The President's Commission on the Holocaust presented a report to President Carter which recommended 'that there be included as part of a Holocaust memorial an Educational Foundation dedicated to the pursuit of educational work.' At that time, our primary tasks involved gathering and producing Holocaust teaching materials, predicting visitor reactions to the exhibitions and the needs of teachers and students who would be visiting the museum or discussing the Holocaust in their classrooms. We didn't know what the number of visitors would be," said David Klevan, who joined the museum's Education Department in 1992.

Both Kristy and David's roles in developing and putting together this department were quite similar. Since Kristy was designated Coordinator of the Resource Center, it was her job to develop a program and a department that served as both a learning center as well as an informational library. The Resource Center was created from scratch, and in the beginning Kristy said, "I started combing the materials that were already in the museum's collection.... The shelves were a little empty for a while, but the collection began to take shape and grow, and now we are running out of room." David's position, in helping to formulate educational experiences, has been to "design and lead high school programs at the museum."

Kristy's background prior to becoming Coordinator of the Resource Center, is interesting. She went to Washington, DC to attend graduate school and while there, she needed a summer job. The topic of the Holocaust had always interested her and came to be a focus in many of her classes because she majored in German. While in DC, Kristy became an intern with the museum's historian. "I worked in conjunction with the Education Department on what is now the museum's Artifact Poster Set and Teacher Guide. After that was completed, I continued working for the Education Department and never left!" explained Kristy.

David enjoyed teaching and decided at a point in his life that he wanted to explore his love for history and citizen action. "The museum can be a very difficult place to work, but it can also be very uplifting to witness the work that we do here. At times, it feels like an emotional roller coaster. I've seen some students' experiences at the museum literally change their lives."

While the Resource Center does not currently conduct classes on its own, "the National Outreach Office of the Education Department holds conferences and workshops for teachers," said Kristy. Educational programs are currently offered for students in grades 4 - 12. Additionally, many teachers have attended the two, three day workshops for teachers over the summer. David mentioned that "the United States Holocaust Research Institute also provides programs for university students, professors, and other scholars."

"In order to receive educational programming at the museum, a visiting school group must request programming when they schedule their visit. As long as we have staff available to work with them, we will provide an educational program. The museum employs three full-time educators.... If a group of teachers wants a one to three day workshop at the museum, they can make arrangements through the Teacher Program Coordinator in the Education Department," added David.

There is an overwhelming amount of information and material available in the Resource Center of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. This collection includes "Curricula and lesson plans dealing with the Holocaust and related subjects, periodicals and magazine articles dealing with teaching the Holocaust, a small collection of books for teachers and students, state and organization files which provide information on organizations around the world that offer resources and/or services for teaching the Holocaust, and videotapes and other audio-visual aides available for previewing," explained Kristy. As David pointed out, this information is for viewing "on-site only," but he hopes to eventually turn some of the material into a lending library.

The Resource Center, part of the Gonda Education Center, is located on the museum's Concourse level, and currently open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. seven days a week. Many teachers visit the Resource Center and either pick up information that they can take back to their students or spend many hours doing their own research using the resources that can be found there.

"The curricula that are taught today varies from country to country, state to state, district to district, and school to school.... The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum does not offer a single curriculum for teaching about the Holocaust; rather we have produced a guideline for teaching about the Holocaust," stated David. "Several states in the U.S. have recommended teaching about the Holocaust, and five states require it: Illinois, Florida, New York, California, and New Jersey."

The educational programs that have been created by the Resource Library have been able to be disseminated to teachers, students and classes from "Alaska to Amish country," remarked David. "Our audience is broad and varied, and often expresses an appreciation for the lessons of the Holocaust. Because I believe that there are lessons for all people to learn from the history of the Holocaust, I would have to say 'yes' to your question which asked, 'Do you feel that the people who attend your classes represent the audience that most needs to be educated?'"

Most of the questions and requests that people send to the museum are received by mail, fax, and e-mail. Many memorable questions that have been asked by students have been sent to the education department. "Are you Jewish?" is a question that is commonly asked of David. "I suppose it is memorable simply because I do not get asked that question much anywhere else. I always wonder what causes a student to ask it." Kristy's favorite request and most memorable is: "Please send me everything you have on the Holocaust."

Questions and requests pour into the office each day, and Kristy and David, along with the rest of the staff, make sure that they are answered as soon as possible. "After studying the history of Nazi Germany, bigotry and intolerance, students frequently relate what they have witnessed to current issues and contemporary events," said David. "The staff at the museum generally let visitors draw their own conclusions about the relevance that this history holds for people in the world today, and we've found that if they are given the opportunity to do so, visitors will voice their opinions about whether there are connections to current events or their own actions."

Currently, there are two educators on staff and the Resource Center is in the process of hiring a third educator. There are many other staff members who help with orientations and debriefings as well as make presentations in the workshops that are held at the museum.

Today, more than ever, the Education Department and the Resource Center are very important components of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC Kristy Brosius, David Klevan, and the other staff members, have upheld the spirit of the original Presidential Commission of 1979 as they work to enhance the educational experience of the many students, teachers, and visitors who come to the museum each day. Check out the museum's home page at the following URL: <http://www.ushmm.org/>.


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