For Educators, Parents & Students
August 13, 2020
FSWC's award-winning Tour For Humanity mobile classroom will be back on the road in the coming months with a new director at it's helm. Educator Daniella Lurion was recently promoted to Tour for Humanity Director. Through new programming, Tour for Humanity looks to expand its reach across Canada, with multi-week trips to the East Coast and West Coast planned for 2021 and beyond.
For those who are being introduced to the topic of the Holocaust, it may seem unlikely and perhaps even objectionable that art could or should be produced in respect to an event as immeasurably painful as the Shoah. When music, poetry, or visual art are created with the intention of eliciting emotions from the viewer, how or why would an individual produce something that reflected humanity’s darkest period? Many who feel this way would not be alone in this sentiment: in 1949, German-Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno was famously quoted as saying that “poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric;” when the Nazis built camps dedicated to industrialized murder, demonstrating the despicable depths to which humanity can sink, how can we claim to be a civilization who can still use creativity to produce beauty and light?
However, Adorno would later amend his stance, admitting that suffering does have it’s own right to expression. The art produced after the Holocaust would follow in the footsteps of earlier harrowing events of the 20th century: the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War, the Spanish Flu, and the Great Depression. People—soldiers, doctors, nurses, housewives, POWs—who had no formal training or previous interest in art attempted to use this form of expression to convey the depth of emotions these traumas had affected on their lives. Powerful emotions like fear, anger, loss, and even hope can sometimes be difficult to convey into speech; the versatility of art gave survivors and veterans scarred by their experiences an outlet. While it wasn’t until the years after the First and Second World Wars that medical science had a better understanding of PTSD, the use of art as therapy and to cope with trauma became important for many survivors.
Nations also used art as a way to covey the unspeakable tragedies their citizens, and especially their Jewish citizens, had faced. Public monuments and memorials were erected in the decades after the war in attempts to both commemorate the losses as well as give survivors a physical place to mourn. While these monuments were constructed to some extent to serve a political purpose, the gravity of feeling communicated in the abstract art is undeniable. While memoirs and oral testimony are critical components of the historical record in telling us the facts of the Holocaust, the emotionality of art conveys the truth of feeling in a way that a chronological recording of events simply cannot.
Today, art as therapy has been recognized by psychiatric institutions around the world as a productive tool for helping individuals cope with unspeakable tragedy. It acts as a link between the psyche of the person experiencing loss and the individual trying to empathize with their suffering. Even for those experiencing difficulties of a lesser degree, the reflective action of art can offer a creative and palliative outlet for our internal struggles.
Art has long been seen as a powerful therapy tool. Some patients find it easier to express latent emotions through drawings or poems, others find comfort through colouring. It is no surprise that adult colouring books have become mainstream hobbies. What if the patients are children? And what if the patients aren’t patients, but prisoners? I Never Saw Another Butterfly seeks to answer these questions. The book consists of a collection of works of art and poetry by Jewish children who lived in the Terezin (or Theresienstadt) concentration camp. They were created at the camp in secret art classes taught by Austrian artist and educator Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944). Terezin was known as the “children’s camp” – indeed, fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen passed through the camp; Fewer than 100 survived.
These fifteen thousand children suddenly found themselves alone, away from the loving arms of their parents, in an environment they did not understand. To help the children combat the chaos and process their feelings, the art teachers at Terezin encouraged drawing and hoarded whatever supplies they could find. A vase filled with flowers sitting on a window ledge, a large meal enjoyed with family, butterflies in the sky on a sunny day; these pictures capture fragments of daily life, illustrate the memories of home, and often represent surviving remnants of lives cut off too soon.
While the collection itself can be a very powerful teaching tool, the pedagogy behind it can be equally powerful. As a classroom teacher you will be faced with uncomfortable topics, and your students will need to find ways to express their thoughts. Journaling and drawing lend themselves easily to this task. At the end of a particularly hard lesson or hard day, ask students to take out pencil and paper and simply write down words or draw for 5 minutes. Here at FSWC we are particularly fond of exit tickets as they provide both an outlet for thoughts as well as a quick assessment tool for teachers. However it is done, allowing students to express feelings will give them a deeper connection to a sensitive topic.
Lilli Greenspoon | Clinical Social Worker
Hi there! My name is Lilli Greenspoon and I am a Clinical Social Worker who specializes in supporting children, youth and their parents cope with an array of difficult challenges. I received my Masters of Social Work (MSW) degree from The University of Toronto in 2013 and since then, have worked in clinical, legal, and educational settings; giving mental health the important spotlight it deserves. When I am not supporting my clients, I could be found at the gym, attending concerts, spending time with my soon-to-be husband, family and friends, or spoiling my 2-year-old puppy, Chip.
1) How has COVID-19 impacted your practice?
COVID-19 has created new challenges for the work that I do. While barriers to accessing mental health support already exist, COVID-19 has added to the difficulty of supporting those who need it most. Since March, my roles in both the private school system and in the clinic were forced to move online. I have found that this has added to the hesitation already felt by people to reach out for mental health support as the element/comfort provided by face-to-face interactions in a warm and inviting space has been lost. That being said, the impact of the therapy process has appeared to be unaffected despite sessions becoming virtual. This period of time has reminded me of the impact that a positive, trusting, and compassionate therapeutic relationship can have; I have seen clients overcome new challenges, constructively process difficult feelings, and respond well to new family hardships created by COVD-19 through their continuance of therapy on a virtual platform.
2) What advice would you give to parents to ensure the well-being of their children during these difficult times?
The biggest piece of advice that I provide to parents on how to support their children? To first begin supporting yourselves! Children sense everything. If you’re worried, sad, angry, fearful, and do everything in your power to try and hide these feelings from your children, they can still sense them. Children often look to their parents to determine how they should be feeling or acting in the face of uncertainty. We’ve seen it before – a child falls onto their hands and knees and before they react to their fall, they first look up to see the look on their parents’ faces. If their parent is reacting to their fall with screams or has a concerned look on their face, only then does their child begin to cry. Now is the time for parents to 1) practice self-care strategies by engaging in activities that bring them joy or help them feel relaxed, 2) practice self-compassion by accepting and allowing themselves to experience the difficult feelings that rightfully come with a health and economic crisis, and 3) to reach out for their own support whether it’s from friends, family, or a professional like myself. Right now, the world is grieving – grieving the loss of our life pre-COVID-19. We are grieving the vacation that we needed to cancel, the wedding we had tirelessly planned, the routine and learning that school provided us as well as our social and extracurricular activities that we all enjoyed and now deeply miss. Speaking to your child about the roller coaster of emotions that we are ALL experiencing would also help them manage these feelings in a manner they would feel proud about. After all, the saying does go that we must “name it to tame it” when it comes to the big emotions that we carry.
3) How do you think being out of the classroom is going to impact children once they return back to school?
Children feel the safest when they feel in control (or have a sense of control). Understandably, School Boards must create and enforce a strict, health-conscious plan before any academics can continue in brick and mortar. Children will likely have a hard time adjusting to the new normal and navigating through the school days that lay ahead with the sole focus being on learning and socialization. We all need to feel connected to other people and to our environments. For this reason, school refusal may also be a more prevalent issue as children feel less connected to their school environments, teachers, and friends, especially if firm rules exist in how they can experience new and existing relationships. It is my hope that teachers/school personnel are provided with the education they need on how to manage the various socio-emotional responses their student will surely express in their classrooms. It is important for them to respond to what may appear as disobedience with compassion instead of discipline. We must assume a students’ best intent to follow the new rules of their environment, with an understanding of the difficulty they are likely to experience while doing so.
4) How would you suggest people cope with the uncertainty during COVID-19?
As a practitioner who is always looking to learn from others in the field, I was inspired by a mnemonic device proposed by psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma. She stated that in times of high stress and uncertainty, we all must practice the “4 M’s” of mental health: mindfulness, mastery, movement, and meaningful connection. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to one thing at a time. In a world where we feel we must multi-task in order to be productive, it is important that we set some time to engage in activities where our focus is on one thing (i.e. our breathing, music that we are listening to, the colours that we see while going for a walk outside). Mastery involves engaging in activities that help boost our self-esteem. If you think you are a great cook or have mastered a new challah recipe, take the time to increase your sense of mastery by setting some time to be in the kitchen. Developing a new skill or picking up a new hobby could also lead to a sense of mastery. Movement is especially important during this time as we are all spending more of our days at home and being more stationary than usual. Movement through exercise, yoga, biking, or using the stairs instead of your apartment elevator, will help your brain release important chemicals (endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin), all of which play an important part in regulating and enhancing your mood. Lastly, continuing to interact and connect with those who are critical in your life will also help make this difficult time feel less difficult. Connecting and having meaningful interactions with friends and family will help this time feel less isolating. Living each day with these 4 M’s in mind and having them shape your days, weeks, months to come, will allow for positive mental health to be sustained.
To learn more and get into touch with Lilli, visit her website
Many of us have fond memories of stories being read to us as children. From nursery rhymes to counting books and the Berenstain Bears to the Little Golden Books, we had our world opened up to us from the comfort of our living room couch. Picture books have long been associated with young children. Their brightly-coloured, attention-grabbing illustrations combined with simple text, often held a moral or message that the reader could take away with them.
As time has progressed, however, the face of picture books has shifted, becoming more complicated over the last couple of decades as the genre has expanded into telling stories of trauma – or as researcher Lawrence Langer identifies, “literature of atrocity.” The whimsical Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak can now be found on a bookshelf alongside the dramatic The Magician of Auschwitz by Kathy Kacer. These sophisticated picture books, aimed at an older audience, address events like the Holocaust and deal with sensitive issues in a manner that provides both historical context in addition to a means of connecting with the human element of history.
The weight of writing this literature in a meaningful, authentic and safe manner is not lost on the authors who tackle this new genre. The challenge is to present these difficult histories in a factual and real manner without being too violent, too horrific, too depressing, or too traumatic.
When selecting this literature for your classroom, one also has to remember that each book represents one story and one perspective from an event in history. One story cannot shape an entire experience like the Holocaust. However, this one story can become an incredibly powerful window into a period of history that has shaped our lives today. Important discussions, meaningful activities and impactful modern-day connections all result from incredible stories like those told in the picture books listed below:
Picture books can open a door to difficult events in history. These stories ensure that the memories of these events are not forgotten. They also have the potential to build an interest for readers that will lead to future studies. Who knows . . . maybe the lessons that emerge from this genre have the potential to shape our future world leaders, encouraging them to lead the charge that stop acts of hate and intolerance under their watch.
As we navigate ourselves through these uncertain times, many people have relied on the return of sports to give them a sense of normalcy and entertainment. Over the past few weeks, we have seen the return of some of Canada’s favourite sports franchises. Although the stadiums may be empty, each night, thousands are tuning in to see their favourite teams compete a little bit differently this season. While major league athletes have a long history of advocacy work, this year proves to be unique as players are increasingly using their platform to spread awareness about social justice, human rights, and acceptance.
Before the Holocaust, Jewish people in Europe engaged in sports, competing in a variety of athletic activities. As the Nazis began to exclude Jewish people from German sport and recreational facilities, they created separate Jewish athletic and recreational associations, but they lacked resources and funding. During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jewish people who participated in the games feared for their lives as they competed in the Adolf Hitler stadium. Margaret Lambert recalls her experiences, “they didn’t have very nice thoughts about me. What is this Jew doing there?” Other Jewish athletes have reflected on periods that they were unable to participate in the game because of antisemitism. As the Nazis took power and began expanding their regime, Jewish sport perished. Outside of Europe Jewish sporting became more public with the advent of modern professional sports.
While many recognize the power that sports have in bringing people together, antisemitism in the sports world remains prevalent. Historically and presently sports stadiums can serve as a fertile ground for hate groups. In the 21st century, antisemitic prejudice has only become more accessible with the rise of social media, 24-hour news, and smart devices. Representatives for major leagues such as U.S. Soccer have recognized that neo-Nazis and other members of the far right have successfully infiltrated fanbases. In response to acts such as these, the Chelsea Football Club, former players from MLS, and more, have made significant efforts to raise awareness about the importance of Holocaust memory, antisemitism, and intolerance in sports. Award-winning soccer journalist and author, Anthony Clavane noted at the Global Symposium on Sports and Society in 2019, “education is more than just banning people.” Holocaust survivors have advocated for proactivity among athletes, sports clubs, franchises, coaches, and administrations to breakdown antisemitism within sports. Yael Averbuch, Executive Director of the Woman’s Soccer League Players Association and Former Team USA player spoke out about how she was always deemed to be different as a Jewish athlete. As she felt the power of sport to allow her to feel comfortable to explain her identity and have those conversations.
While it is evident that athletics does so much to bring people together, especially during turbulent times, it is imperative that through empathy, inclusion, and understanding, sports continue to unite people and use their platform and large audience to promote diversity, and education for a more inclusive future.
FSWC educators will facilitate one-hour programs via Zoom. Public workshops take place from 3:00pm - 4:00pm EST Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Contact email@example.com to register today. Zoom invitations will be sent out prior to each workshop.
FSWC's Education Team is constantly working to broaden their collective knowledge. Here's what we've recently been reading and watching:
Although FSWC's Education Team is practicing social distancing for the health and safety of themselves and those around them, you can reach us remotely at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org