As part of Wilton High School’s Senior Internship Project, some students have been able to work alongside teachers, news website editors, attorneys, doctors, and more. One student’s experience has her reflecting on a very dark period in human history.
Senior Natalie Arbogast has been interning with Memory Project Productions, a foundation which strives to preserve and honor the stories of Holocaust victims and survivors through art and other media. Participants in Memory Project programs hear stories of Holocaust victims and survivors, and then draw portraits of those they’ve learned about as a way of humanizing the many people whose stories were never told. The portraits are then uploaded to a database as part of a Remembrance Gallery, in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Museum. Many of the programs take place in schools⎯including a recent one at Wilton High School, when WHS teacher Rusty Hurd‘s AP Drawing students participated in a Memory Project workshop, creating their own connections with the survivors and victims they learned about.
The subject matter is definitely weighty, and Natalie has had to learn how to strike a balance, especially when working on how to present such difficult information about the Holocaust, especially to students.
“It is important to learn about the history of the Holocaust and to honor the victim’s stories by telling them truthfully, but many unbearable atrocities were committed during the Holocaust and that must be kept in mind when are working on a curriculum for schools,” she says.
There has been something powerfully positive that she’s discovered in the way the foundation prompts personal connections; it’s her favorite part of interning with the Memory Project.
“Most of the people I have talked to after their involvement with the Memory Project bring up how it made them wonder about their own family’s past and the hardships that their ancestors faced and sparked a conversation at home about their family history,” she says.
Being a part of the project has also impacted Natalie’s own outlook.
“The main thing I will take away from this experience is to ask my elders more questions. I want to know things as simple as my grandparent’s favorite songs. The Memory Project is about remembering and honoring the lives lost and their stories and preventing this kind of tragedy from ever happening again. It has also really made me think more generally about family and how important it is to get to know the elders in my life while I can. Everybody should know his or her family history.”
Natalie wrote a description for GOOD Morning Wilton about Nan Lenore, an art teacher at Stamford’s Spire School, who brought the Memory Project to her students, encouraging them to reflect on the victims of the Holocaust by drawing portraits of those whose lives were affected by the atrocity.
“In the central lounge of the Spire School among the hustle and bustle of students, hang portraits that make one stop for a moment and reflect. The portraits of Holocaust survivors, accompanied by their stories, are proudly displayed here for the school to see and remember. This January Nan Lenore, a registered art therapist and current art teacher at the Spire School, led a Memory Project Productions workshop with all of her high school students, from sophomores through seniors. For 45 minutes she watched her kids work hard and get very involved, a ‘wonderful’ experience. Every one of the students completed a portrait and according to Nan, ‘they were really inspired by the project.’
“When she first asked her students about the Holocaust, she was surprised at how little they knew. So, in doing The Memory Project, which invites students to make portraits of Holocaust survivors and victims based on photographs, her students ‘really thought about the Holocaust.’ But she says that was not enough time, and wants to have an entire day devoted to remembrance at the school.
“‘They’re amazing stories and it’s a great idea. Art eases you into dealing with difficult topics,’ Nan says.
“All the teachers who saw the project were impressed and wanted to get involved, so Ms. Lenore hopes next year to ‘expand the relationship between the student and the subject’ in a schoolwide project involving all of the departments. Just a few of the many ideas Nan and a participating student of hers, Kim, had were, ‘to write a letter to the survivor introducing yourself and to explain why you were so glad to be aware of who they even are and have them become real, or to write a poem, song, or rap.’
“She says her students gained a lot of confidence and each student was proud. Ms. Lenore did not face a single complaint about hanging the portraits in an area where they would be seen by the entire school. Kim, a student who cannot wait to take her portrait home, was initially overwhelmed by the task of drawing a portrait. As a perfectionist, she normally avoids this type of art because she wants her portrait to look exactly like the picture, which can be an impossible task. Once she completed her portrait, however, she thought it looked like ‘my own perspective of what I saw.’ Kim said, ‘I felt like I had to keep him alive… I owed it to him.’ “