Plenary 3: Disrupting the consequences of difficult histories through education

By way of evoking your interest, we are going to post brief abstracts of some of the plenary panelists for our upcoming meeting in Toronto. Here is a glimpse of what Dr. Magdalena Gross, Senior research associate, Center to Support Excellence in Teaching, Stanford University will be presenting.

In a recent Economist article, the author of “Historical memorials are not enough” made a somewhat obvious point- memorials themselves can’t stop anti-Semitism. The author cited the size of memorials as possibly being a hindrance to their effectiveness. What was so blatantly missing in their analysis was burgeoning new conceptions of memorialization, as education, across the globe. Memorials are changing- from static enshrinements to cultural movements. A perfect example is the Equal Justice Initiative to design the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Designed by MASS Design Group, the Equal Justice Initiative’s first project was a soil collection process- a living memorial, if you will, that invited families and communities to collect soil from the counties across Alabama where racial terror lynchings occurred. The jars are on display in EJI offices and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Their larger and more permanent memorial invites every single county where a lynching occurred to come claim a tomb-like marker that lay on the ground surrounding the central memorial. Thus, according to their website: “Over time, the national memorial will serve as a report on which parts of the country have confronted the truth of this terror and which have not.”

Another prime example exists in Eastern Europe: new Holocaust memorial projects in Poland are also created “bottom up” or “from below.” While there are few Jews that live and breathe in that country, locals and organizations are working together to find every single mass grave where Polish Jews were killed on occupied territory. For example, “Zapomiane” or “The Forgotten” is an organization doing such work: After locating a grave, the organization leaves small wooden markers in a shape of a matzeva (inspired by pre-war wooden matzevot). These markers most often become a starting point for memory practice that locals shape and continue on their own. For example, townspeople worked to piece together a small memorial, often leaving candles of their own accord. In yet another location, locals have kept alive the memory of a couple that was, allegedly, shot by Nazis when they jumped off of a cattle car on the train line in an attempt to escape together in 1941. This couple died in Stara Rokitnia, and for the first few decades after the war, a local person hung a necklace worn by the Jewish woman near these tracks to remember them. After a train bridge was built, locals kept the memory of this couple alive with a makeshift memorial in graffiti saying ‘Kocham Cię’- or “I love you.”

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