Murals of the Holocaust


For over 20 years, a summer program for gifted adolescents at Western Kentucky University has offered an arts-integrated history course on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The course concludes with students working as a group to create a large mural on the Holocaust. In this way, students use the power of art to deal with their own emotions as well as to educate others. The murals from the past 20 years went on a traveling display in Kentucky to engage a broader audience in thought-provoking conversation on the topic. In this video collection, hear the stories of a Holocaust survivor and the son of a Holocaust survivor who are involved with the program, learn how students in the program decided on a theme for their mural, and learn how one teacher incorporates the arts into Holocaust history lessons.

  • Fred Gross Holocaust Survivor | Murals of the Holocaust

    Fred Gross of Louisville is a Holocaust survivor. In this video, he shares the history of his family’s experiences. He and his family fled Belgium when he was 3 years old to escape the Nazi invasion in May 1940. After traveling from place to place in France, they found refuge in a school. However, the mayor turned the refugees over to the police, who took them to Camp Gurs, an internment camp that deported Jews to Auschwitz. His brother made a daring escape and arranged for the family’s release. The family hid out until they found a haven in Italy-controlled Nice. That refuge, too, proved to be short-lived. "You had to have an amazing story to tell, because (it was) only through an amazing story that you were able to survive,’’ he says. He tells the story of his family’s struggles and survival, the moral courage of those who helped them, and their eventual emigration to the United States. He describes the lasting effects of his experiences and how he finds purpose sharing his story with young people today.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Mural Creation | Murals of the Holocaust

    Experts on teaching the Holocaust encourage educators to use art to deepen student understanding of the events of that time. This approach has been used for 20 years in VAMPY (Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth), a Western Kentucky University summer program where the Holocaust course includes a group mural project. In this video, students from the 2017 class describe how they chose the theme of liberation for their mural, and how an image from the World War II miniseries Band of Brothers illustrates that theme. They explain the meaning of the images and how they decided on a quotation to use.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Images | Murals of the Holocaust

    For over 20 years, a summer program for gifted adolescents at Western Kentucky University has offered an arts-integrated history course on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The course concludes with students working as a group to create a large mural on the Holocaust. In this way, students use the power of art to deal with their own emotions as well as to educate others.

    In Fall 2017, murals from the past 20 years went on a traveling display in Kentucky to engage a broader audience in thought-provoking conversation on the topic. This image collection shows the completed murals created over the 20 year span of the program. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Arbeit Macht Frei | Murals of the Holocaust

    Jeff Jamner is the son of Holocaust survivors. In these videos, he shares his parents’ memories with students taking a summer course on the Holocaust. In this segment, Jamner examines a mural that depicts the entrance to a concentration camp with its sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free). He explains how the Nazis tried to strip the Jews of their individuality by shaving their heads and tattooing their arms. He describes how his mother resisted those efforts when she was taken to Auschwitz at the age of 9. He also describes the differing ways his mother and grandmother dealt later with the tattoos on their arms. He shows the students a turnip and explains its significance to his mother’s story of escape.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Two Uniforms | Murals of the Holocaust

    Jamner explores contrasts as he examines a mural depicting two uniforms of the Third Reich: a striped uniform worn by Jews in concentration camps and a Nazi military uniform. He begins by telling the students about the Kol Nidre, a prayer sung the night before Yom Kippur that asks God’s forgiveness for vows that could not be kept. He describes what the song meant to his mother by sharing her memory of a moving moment of solidarity and resistance among the Jews when she was in Auschwitz. He describes the contrasting ways in which his mother and grandmother dealt with their old concentration camp uniforms.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Auschwitz | Murals of the Holocaust

    Jamner tells the story of how his mother and her family were discovered in hiding and sent to Auschwitz. He examines a concentration camp mural that in one corner shows a pile of suitcases that were taken away by the Nazis, and he describes the meaning of that image to his mother’s story. He tells the extraordinary story of how his mother and grandmother escaped the gas chamber, addressing the myth that Jews walked willingly to their deaths. He discusses a quote on the mural from Victor Frankl about what is left when everything else is taken away.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Kristallnacht | Murals of the Holocaust

    Jamner talks about a mural depicting Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), when Nazis killed Jews and destroyed their property in German and Austrian towns in November 1938. Jammer talks about the Nazi propaganda campaign against Jews and his father’s experiences leading up to that night, and how Kristallnacht prompted his grandmother to take action to save her sons. He reveals how his father was able to go on with his life and discusses resilience. He closes by discussing the quote on the mural from Elie Wiesel: “Hate is contagious, like a cancer.”

    Grades: 6-12
  • Interpreting the Mural | Murals of the Holocaust

    In the final video, Jamner discusses the imagery in a panoramic mural depicting a concentration camp and describes his interpretation of it. The mural depicts smoke from the crematories pouring into the sky, and in the smoke are the images of human faces. He discusses the inclusion in the mural of a little girl in a red coat, an image used in the film Schindler’s List to symbolize how the Holocaust occurred in plain sight and was deliberately ignored.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Teaching the Holocaust Through Art: Social Justice | Murals of the Holocaust

    Louisville drama teacher Kim Joiner of Noe Middle School incorporates the arts into Holocaust history lessons. In this video, she explains how she facilitates discussions of social justice and connects study of the Holocaust to the drama classroom. She asks students to consider a central question: When do you stand up to authority instead of obeying it? Joiner explains why teachers should not be afraid to teach the Holocaust.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Teaching the Holocaust Through Art: Interpretation | Murals of the Holocaust

    Kim Joiner describes how she prepares her students for a field trip to Louisville’s Jewish Community Center to view an exhibit of student-created murals about the Holocaust. She describes art interpretation and drawing lessons, and explains how she incorporates the performing arts in ways that focus on the emotion of the event and remain respectful of the lives lost. She describes how she guides the students to create their own art in response to the murals and reflect on their meaning.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Teaching the Holocaust Through Art: Student Assessment | Murals of the Holocaust

    How does a teacher assess student understanding of the Holocaust? How should a student’s artistic work and presentation be assessed? Joiner explains why she includes students in deciding what to assess and the importance of assessing their work and art in ways that do not stifle creativity.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Teaching the Holocaust Through Art: Classwork Timeline | Murals of the Holocaust

    Kim Joiner explains how she planned a unit on the Holocaust that included art and drama activities and a field trip. She describes the elements of the unit, from the initial overview for students to history and art lessons, field trip preparation, and the final art project and presentations.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Teaching the Holocaust Through Art: Addressing the Horrors of the Holocaust | Murals of the Holocaust

    Kim Joiner explains how teachers can deal with the emotional impact of the Holocaust in a sensitive manner with middle school students. She explains how to focus the lesson on themes such as bearing witness to trauma and finding light in the darkness. She offers advice for if, when, and how to introduce images that may be shocking to students. She also advises teachers on how to direct student research on the topic.

    Grades: 6-12

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