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Community Recognizes Art Teacher for Holocaust Education Initiative

Holocaust Education Initiative Ellen Hark, a veteran art teacher of thirty years at the South Orange Maplewood Middle School (SOMS) is the selected recipient of the Sister Rose Thering Award at this year’s Interfaith Holocaust Memorial Service, which takes place at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange on April 27, 2014. The award celebrates individuals whose lives have exemplified Sister Rose Thering’s commitment to education as a tool for creating tolerance and preventing future genocides.Holocaust Education Initiative

For the past six years, Ms. Hark has contributed an exhibition of Holocaust commemorative art, created by sixth, seventh and eighth graders—180 students in total—who rotate through her art classroom at SOMS during a quarter of the school year. During middle school years, every student eventually benefits from the Holocaust program created by Ellen Hark. She explains, “This is the last generation of youngsters who will grow up with the opportunity of knowing actual Holocaust survivors. Every year the students have the opportunity to hear the stories from a survivor. They also read several books in both History and Language Arts classes. I don’t want to frighten young students with this dark history, however they need to know what happened during this period of the Second World War.” The work produced by her Holocaust Education Initiative students stems from inspirational art created by individuals profoundly affected by the Holocaust, carefully selected by Ellen Hark.

Ellen explains, “The sixth grade students are initially introduced to work that was created by children prisoners at the Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia. It is reproduced in the book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. These works would not exist if it were not for a heroic Jewish artist, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who made it possible for children to sketch, collage and express their thoughts and feelings. The sixth grade students learn to transfer butterfly images and to use watercolor wash and dry bush techniques. Additionally, each child incorporates a personal verse as an expression of feelings for the victims.”

The work of Kathe Kollwitz, a German artist who had access to the concentration camps and depicted the plight of victims in her iconic woodcuts, is the point of reference for the seventh graders. Ellen instructs the students in how to draw an expressionistic self-portrait   incorporating a hand to enhance the emotion. Students use charcoal to achieve various shades of gray to give the portrait a dramatic effect. Wire strands are wrapped around the drawings to produce a chilling effect.
Holocaust Education Initiative
Ellen Hark has introduced her eighth graders to one of the most inspiring Holocaust monuments in this country, The Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial She adds, “Statistically, this area has the highest concentration of older Holocaust survivors. Kenneth Treister’s monumental work captures the emotional essence of their experience and has earned wide acclaim.”   The eighth graders have worked in clay to create glazed and fired sculptures, where hands are dominant images, taking a cue from the anguished figures of Treister’s work.
Holocaust Education Initiative
Ellen adds, “It is a privilege to work with so many young people who represent the diversity of our communities. Some have known elderly relatives with concentration camp numbers on their arms. I believe that connecting with the Holocaust in a creative process becomes a lesson that students will never forget. What you feel, you will remember.”

The South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service takes place on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 4:00 PM at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, 432 Scotland Road, South Orange. Learn more at www.rememberandtell.org.