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September 21, 2023

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Untold stories from the Holocaust are told in School of Art documentary

While creating the documentary “Bearing Witness: The Voices of Our Survivors,” Heather Elliott-Famularo realized just how many untold stories there were from the Holocaust, and how important it was to her to share them with the public.

Elliott-Famularo, chair of digital arts in the School of Art at the University, not only shares these stories in her documentary, but will personally retrace the footsteps of six survivors, who now reside in the Toledo area. Tim Murnen, who is a professor in the College of Education and Human Development, also helps with this.

Together they will take seven teachers from around the area of Northwest Ohio to follow the footsteps through Hungary, Poland and Greece in a program called “Walking Witness: Civic Responsibility in the Shadow of the Holocaust.”

“This trip will hopefully put a stronger visual to the story,” said Elliott-Famularo. “This was my vision and dream to share these stories, and help people remember; now it’s all coming together.”

While on the trip, teachers will be visiting the historic sites of Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen, and making stops at museums and universities to learn more on the background of the area from faculty members. They will begin their trip in Warsaw and continue to stop at the hometowns of the survivors from the film. Elliott-Famularo, Murnen and the participating teachers leave for the trip toward the end of June.

The University received a $70,000 grant through the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program to fund the trip, while the University contributes the remaining $19,000.

In addition to the costs for the trip itself, the Ohio Humanities Council contributed the Ohio Educator Enrichment grant for $15,000 to assist in funding the Bearing Witness Summer Institute hosted by the University.

Murnen said this is a chance for those who are not going on the trip to still take part in following the lives of the six survivors and form a curriculum to take back to their respective school districts.

“The course will be interactive,” said Murnen. “We want to create curriculum that’s applicable to the 21st century, where instead of reading through a textbook, you can just click on a photo on an iPad and it will play video or audio.”

Elliott-Famularo said only five schools in the U.S. mandate that the Holocaust be discussed in the classroom, but because it’s a heavily talked about subject she wanted to bring curriculum that can showcase contemporary issues.

Both Murnen and Elliott-Famularo hope to share the curriculum created from the trip and institute with schools all across Ohio, or even nationally.

“[The Holocaust] is a part of history that we think we’re so far past, but really there are still moments when some of the same issues creep back in,” said Elliott-Famularo. “It’s easy to distance ourselves from that, but it’s important to remember what happened in order to make sure it never happens again.”

Aaron Bronson, senior and graphic design major, helped Elliott-Famularo with motion graphics and designs for the documentary, but said he took away more than just the experience of helping create a film.

“There are moments [of the documentary] where the survivors touch your heart and it’s unbelievable they had to go through the things that they did,” said Bronson.

Elliott-Famularo and Murnen depart for their trip with the selected teachers on June 24 and will arrive back to the U.S. July 23. Following the trip, participating teachers will collaborate on creating the new curriculum on the Holocaust.

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