How Can Children and Their Families Explore the Meaning of Courage?
Most kids don’t learn about the Holocaust until the 8th grade. With antisemitism on the rise, the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust asked us to create a children’s exhibit that could make Holocaust education meaningful for kids 9 and up, empowering them to be courageous in their own lives.
We wanted to help young people make connections from this extraordinary chapter of history to their own lives and reflect on the dangers of prejudice—as well as their own potential for compassionate, moral, and courageous collective action and upstanding. In a climate of widespread antisemitism and Holocaust denial, Courage to Act will address a critical need by reaching younger children, whose Holocaust education in New York City public schools typically begins in the eighth grade.
"The exhibition’s target audience may be young minds, but the techniques Local Projects employed certainly struck a chord with my adult brain, too. That’s because Courage to Act doesn’t just convey the facts through a succession of artifacts encased in glass. It tells a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And like every good story, it gives us characters to root for.”
The exhibit’s unique narrative framework weaves together real people connected to this history (represented through archival images and illustrations) and three fictional characters (composites of a range of stories and lived experiences within this historical time period and developed in partnership with historians and survivors.) Played by local child actors, these “composite” characters create a new entry-point for young audiences to see themselves in the story.
Setting the Stage
The exhibition begins by contextualizing the story of the Danish Rescue within the larger context of the Holocaust and WWII through stylized timelines and illustrations, providing a sense of scope and conveying the constant and ongoing fear, violence, and confinement Jews lived under across Europe.
Meeting Our Composite and Real-Life Characters
Visitors begin their journey in an immersive re-creation of a Danish fish market set in the spring of 1942. Visitors meet Erik, Rebekka, and Max, the three characters whose experiences are composed of various individual testimonies and appear as holograms anchoring the story.
Five real survivors are brought to life through vivid illustration. Their voices and experiences are woven throughout the exhibit.
As visitors leave the fish market, they turn a corner and encounter a vivid Copenhagen street in the late summer of 1943. As the Danish resistance grows bolder, the oldest composite character, Erik, invites young visitors to join their efforts. We then watch as Max, a young Jew whose family must evade capture by the Germans, packs his belongings in a hurry–his fate unknown.
Interactive technology appears throughout the carefully-recreated scenic environment. Visitors can pick up rotary telephones to activate embedded video stories from the two other composite characters, turn on light-boxes that illuminate key artifacts, or trigger audio clips when motion sensors detect their presence.
Aboard the Gerda III
The Gerda III - donated to the Museum in 1989 by the Danish Government - and hundreds of small vessels like it, helped rescue more than 7,000 Jews by ferrying them to safety in unoccupied Sweden. A theatrical media experience detailing this harrowing passage is projected against a 70% scale model of the vessel.
In the final gallery, visitors hear direct testimony from both survivors and rescuers, reflecting on their experiences many decades later. The exhibition closes with a final inspirational message drawn from the Talmud: “To Save a Life Is To Save the World.”