Keeping Tabs

tabsHave you ever seen six million…anything? I haven’t. But like countless others, I’ve wondered what six million would look like. If someone were to say, give me six million dollars, how much space would it take up? I have no idea.

And I’m sure I never will. :-)

You may remember that one of my (new found) heroes is a man by the name of Moshe Baran. He is on my short list of who I’d most like to have dinner with (you can read about it in “3 Dinner Guests List“). Moshe is a survivor of the Holocaust, having fought in the resistance. His entrance fee to join a partisan group in the woods? To bring a gun.

Now 92 years old, he has his own blog (!) where he inspires us to think about what we say, for he knows–all to well–the horrors hateful speech turns into.

As it turns out, he raised an amazing daughter as well. Avi is head of a Jewish Community Day school in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburg. It seems one of the teachers at her school, along with some students, wanted to see what “six million” looked like too. So they began collecting soda tabs. But then, what were they to do with them? They figured it out, and just finished the project that took eighteen years to complete.

What follows are some excerpts of the story, taken from the dedication brochure, and some great photographs of the dedication event, taken by Ruth Hendricks.

Learn And Remember…

teacherMeet Mr. Bill Walter, an eighth grade history teacher at Community Day School, a Jewish day school in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. Teaching the Holocaust is an important part of his curriculum. His students are both intensely interested in and horrified by the history of the destructive Nazi power that seized Europe between the years 1933 and 1945. One of Mr. Walter’s greatest challenges as a teacher is to help the students grasp the enormity, the scope, and the tragedy of the government sanctioned, systematic murder of millions of people.

Twelve million victims. Six million Jews.

Count And Remember…

6 millHow can a teacher help students understand that one by one, men, women and children were dehumanized, removed from their homes and communities, tortured, abused and killed? How can a teacher inspire students to make the leap from one to six million? Mr. Walter’s challenge was to find a meaningful way to visualize six million. Beginning with the class of 1996, he encouraged his students to grasp the number, one pop-tab at a time. Could they collect six million? One by one, students, teachers, parents, and community members began collecting aluminum tabs from soda cans. Each pop-tab took on a powerful significance as students learned that each one counted.

Art Transforms History… See It And Learn… See It And Remember… 

805 mgMr. Walter’s history classroom at Community Day School began to swell with pop-tabs. One hundred… one thousand…one million…two million…three million…four million… five million…six million! The walls were lined. The floors heaved. The number came alive.

Another challenge faced Mr. Walter and the students of Community Day School: What could they do with six million pop-tabs?

Elena Hiatt Houlihan. . .Pennsylvania Arts Council, was commissioned to work with the students to create a unique design. Architect Alan Dunn and art teacher Judi Murray, assisted the artist and students in designing the sculpture and in projecting its cost.

starCommunity Day School middle school students envisioned a Star of David made from glass blocks. They wanted a sculpture that would allow visitors to see each pop-tab. The sculpture, made up of 960 glass blocks, would stand 7 to 9 feet high and span 45 feet, creating a segmented Star of David. The Nazis twisted this symbol of Jewish identity by forcing their victims to wear it as a means of separating and condemning them. The students wanted this star to be restored to a symbol of pride.

Dedication Event

Sunday, November 3, 2013 / 30 Heshvan 5774




Click to read Moshe’s Blog

Click to see more of Ruth Hendricks dedication pictures, including here for some night shots.

10 thoughts on “Keeping Tabs

    • Hi Anisavta,
      Yes, “Paperclips” is a very good movie with similar theme.

      The poignant thing about that movie is how these white Protestant children in TN, who’d never known any Jewish people, became sensitized to the horrors of the Holocaust and eventually were visited by several survivors.

      Not to mention I LOVE Alison Krauss’ theme song “Jubilee.” (Click on ‘Jubilee’ to listen) :-)

  1. Such a powerful teaching illustration leading to a powerful work of art.
    Even the period it took to complete the exercise is a reinforcement of the enormity of the murder toll.

  2. Pingback: Art at its Best | Onesimus Files

  3. Thank you so much for sharing Keeping Tabs with your readers. We are honored to be in the company of such school projects as Paper Clips and other student efforts that leave an indelible and generative impact on all those that encounter them, especially on the children involved.

  4. Amazing what a big lesson a small idea can turn into. Thank you for sharing this, Ruth, as it is a highlight in what seems to be an ever-diminishing casting of light to create awareness of the historicity of the Holocaust in Western classrooms (nevermind Arab classrooms in much of the Arab world where Holocaust denial is standard in curricula from grades K-12).

    Increasingly in the West, the subject of the Shoah is used to achieve a number of peripheral, sociological objectives these days in our schools and universities, but less and less as a subject of history. As Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum writes:

    “As the Holocaust enters the American classroom, it is being Americanized, seen through the prism of American categories and asked to play an important role in the needs of twenty-first century society. It is used as a means to teach issues of racism, pluralism, tolerance, and democracy. Some properly complain that this American representation of the Holocaust fails to deal with some basic aspects of the Holocaust.”

    In support of Berenbaum is a study conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: “The National Study of Secondary Teaching Practices in Holocaust Education,” which concludes that a significant portion of teaching about the Holocaust is done in English or language-arts classes, wherein it is more often approached in a thematic manner (e.g., intolerance) than in an historical (or chronological) manner.

    This makes the subject of the Holocaust more tempting prey for the deniers out there and all those who would just love to find another reason to malign the Jewish people and/or the Jewish state, Israel. We are losing almost an entire generation of youth, not to the perfidious propaganda campaigns of the Holocaust denial movement (we lose college-age youth to them), but also to the vacuum being left in our secondary schools right here in America created by the neglect of educators and all those who remain silent – that is, most Americans – as this neglect expands and infects like leaven throughout the loaf.

    Thanks for taking the time to post this, Ruth, you are one of those rising voices answering the call to refuse to be silent and confront the ongoing assault on human memory. We must do what can be done with but a spark, believing that HaShem can take the breath of one individual to blow the spark into a wildfire of awareness.

    • Ahh, Dan…thank you.

      I know I’m “preaching to the choir” when I say that it gets discouraging at times to see the lack of awareness- and compassion- that this issue should bring.

      I was very happy to post this wonderful story, and I cannot wait to hopefully go see the memorial some time in the near future!

  5. By the way, the monument is visually stunning! It reminds me of the New England Holocaust Memorial on the Freedom Trail in Boston (right across from HENNESSY’s Pub, of course!) From the website:

    “The Memorial is designed around six luminous glass towers, each reaching 54 feet high, and each lit internally from top to bottom. The number six has many meanings here: the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust; the names of the six main death camps; a row of memorial candles; and the six years, 1939-1945, during which the infamous “Final Solution,” the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, took place. In addition, six million numbers are etched in the glass, representing the infamous tattoos inflected on many of the victims’ arms.”

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