Grades: Middle and High School
Duration: 1.5 hours
This lesson plan focuses on the winning design of the 2013 National Holocaust Remembrance Day Poster Competition, "Designing Memory," held by Yad Vashem and Israel's Ministry for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs.
The poster was chosen from more than 100 submissions. It was designed by Dea Giladi, a graduate of graphic design courses at Jerusalem's "Lomda" Institute. The judges explained that Dea's design was chosen for its original and unique idea that demands no explanation. Furthermore, "the inverted family tree creates an individual and collective void, thus expressing the great difficulty in speaking of what is not."
The winning Holocaust Remembrance Day poster will be distributed to every high school in Israel, IDF bases, youth movements and Jewish organizations in Israel and abroad. This lesson plan is aimed at educators wishing to build a class or gathering based on the poster, on Holocaust Remembrance Day or at any other time.
At the core of the lesson plan is the way we cope, as individuals and as a society, with the dreadful loss caused by the Shoah, as well as our obligation to remember – stemming from the understanding that for as long as we do not deal with the memory of the Holocaust and the voids it created, we will always be lacking as a people.
The upside-down family tree, which grows into the earth and not out of it, expresses the terrible reversal created by the mass murders during the Holocaust. Whole families that were wiped out and whose prospects were therefore cut short are found beneath the ground and not developing, as would be natural, upwards – towards the future.
The aim of distributing the poster and this lesson plan is our struggle with those "inverted trees" on the national, familial and personal plane; the recognition of the loss; and the learning process that flows from that very recognition.
Close to seventy years have passed since the end of WWII, and the Shoah continues to stand at the center of Jewish and universal discourse – through the various hues of history, humanity, identity and values. Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day is the day when the State of Israel unites with the memory of the Six Million, murdered by the German Nazis and their accomplices during the Holocaust. It is a day of both personal and communal remembrance, a day to commemorate the victims, a day to identify with the survivors, and a warning beacon to humanity. Each year, we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day with official state events, via the educational system, through the media, and in local and nationwide ceremonies in a wide variety of ways.
One of the most important and productive ways to engage with the memory of the Holocaust is through art. Works of art have the power to present us with a reality while broadening our horizons of understanding. As such, the encounter with art allows us to deal with universal issues that lie beyond our own internal lives.
At the beginning of the activity, before the official poster has even been presented to the students, ask each member of the group to draw a tree. Naturally, each tree drawn will grow, as nature intends, towards the sky, with its roots sitting under the ground.
Now ask the students:
- What does a tree symbolize? Why? Make sure you that somewhere during the discussions you relate to the comparison of trees to human beings: "For Man is a Tree of the Field" (Deut. 20:19)
- What is the path of a person's development in the world, in parallel to how a tree grows? What about a family? A nation? What do blossoms and branches that reach upwards symbolize?
- It is worthwhile to emphasize the development of the tree: roots, trunk, branches, leaves, sky (in the background, above the tree)
The Tree in the Poster – The Family Tree
Display the poster to the students and ask them for their initial reactions, especially given the previous discussion about trees.
Now ask the students:
- What kind of tree do you see here? It is a family tree that represents the growth and development of a family unit. Its shape is not entirely clear. Is it a tree? Does it have any roots?
- What meaning is there to the tree being upside-down? The whole tree is buried under the ground. It represents a dead reality – not one of life and growth.
- What do the empty rectangles on the tree represent? The names of the members on the family tree who are missing. This tree could correspond to any family murdered during the Holocaust. The tree tells the story of the private and universal family both at the same time.
Suggestion for Analyzing the Poster
The poster stirs a number of questions that touch a change in the order of things as we know them.
The tree in the poster has a trunk, branches and leaves – from this point of view it is a regular tree – but it does not stem from any roots. It is therefore illogical to try to water it, as it cannot continue to develop. Its growth downwards, into the earth, goes against the world's usual way, as if there is a challenge to the natural order of things. The break in this order was expressed by the Holocaust, as entire families, entire generations, were severed and thus began to grow in the opposite direction – from living on top of the ground to being dead beneath it.
- Why do we use a "family tree" when talking about the history of a family?
In our consciousness, we compare the development of a person and his or her descendents to a tree. The growth of a tree symbolizes both life and its continuance; the roots symbolize the base from which the tree grows – the grandparents and parents, the first generations; the fruit and the leaves are the children, the next generations. The comparison of a human being to a tree is best expressed by the well-known Biblical verse: "And he shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season; his leaves also shall not wither..." (Psalms 1:3).
And indeed, in line with the idea given by the poster, during the Shoah an enormous number of families were destroyed, and most of them left nobody to continue their family line. We feel that they are inverted trees. The future, which is expressed in the original meanings of the branched tree and its leaves, is brought down and buried.
The poster has no indication of the survivors or their descendants. It does not deal with life after the Holocaust or with revival, but focuses exclusively on loss. There is a kind of message in this, too: it is impossible to heal so quickly and reach complete renewal. Holocaust survivor and author Aharon Appelfeld expressed this idea when he spoke of the reduction of the Jewish nation after the Holocaust: "By the end of the Shoah, a full third of the collective body of the Jewish people were no longer alive. It was a biological wound within the family..." – a biological wound, that cannot heal, and accompanies its carrier wherever he goes.
Inverted family trees still split the earth in every place we step. They do not appear for those who do not seek them under the earth. The poster demands that we, who gaze upon it, look around our world and see the trees buried around us; that we investigate them and maybe even fill in the empty place names – each person in his or her own surroundings. This is the duty of remembrance; this is our duty. Through this cooperation between the poster and the viewer is the poster completed.