The Vedem Underground Project
Founded in 2015, the Vedem Underground Project examines the historic, cultural and artistic legacy of Vedem, the longest-running underground magazine to be regularly produced by Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Borne from a secret society created by Czech teenage boys, the 83 weekly issues totaling 800 pages of Vedem (“In the Lead” in Czech) were a symbol of protest and rebellion by some of the era’s youngest creative activists.
Vedem Underground includes a traveling museum exhibit, a feature documentary film (with Emmy- and Oscar-winning team members), and a cutting-edge educational outreach program. The exhibit premiered at Los Angeles’s Museum of Tolerance in 2016 and is scheduled to be shown at eight North American museums by 2018. The documentary, sponsored by the Righteous Persons and Ziering Foundations, follows Vedem’s writers as they risk their lives to create the magazine’s issues and features interviews with six surviving Vedem writers, along with animation, archival photos and footage, and the art and writing from the magazine. Vedem Underground is also producing the educational program Do It Yourself Journalism or DIYJ: The Pop Up Museum of Creative Activism, which combines a Vedem history lesson with a journalism workshop using the non-traditional media of the Zine* and Vine**.
* A ZINE is a small, handmade magazine. The Zine is individualized, and borne out of the interest and passion of its creators. It is a perfect medium to express ideas or feelings, and is often dedicated to artwork, poetry, cartoons, music, editorials or short stories. Zines are created with folded 8.5"x11" paper and bound with staples, and are self-published using xeroxed copies. Zines are traded or sold at bookstores such Skylight Books in Los Angeles, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and at Zine festivals around the country. Zines have been featured as part of the Chapters Book Arts in Southern California exhibit at the Los Angeles’s Craft and Folk Art Museum. Here are some Zine examples: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/oawkdw6vqz979sg/AAD1FXO...
**A VINE is a short looped video popular with young-adult users of social media
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
The Vedem Underground Project’s mission is to create an innovative and creative way to use a lesson about the Holocaust as a catalyst to empower young adults to stand up and find their voice amid adversity, persecution or maltreatment.
The Project's purpose is to provide the inspiration and the tools for young adults to become creative activists in their own communities. The inspiration comes from the sharing and discussing of the little known but powerful story of Vedem - a symbol and example of artistic activism in the face of oppression- through its traveling and online museum exhibition and documentary film screenings. The tools to educate and empower middle school through college students are provided through the DIYJ program. This innovative program combines a Vedem history lesson with a journalism workshop using the non-traditional media of the Zine and Vine. The program concludes with collaborative installations of the student-created Zines and Vines, which are used as a form of creative activism against an injustice in their community or the world. In addition, DIYJ's goal is to strengthen the connectivity of the student-led collectives, and to encourage social action through engagement in the community and beyond.
DIYJ is the first of its kind to combine Holocaust and journalism lessons, and will be used by the museums showcasing the exhibit, and by educators as a follow-up workshop to their exhibit viewing at the museum or online. The program can also be used as a complement to journalism, language arts or social studies classes, or as an after school enrichment program .
The Vedem Underground Project’s museum art exhibit and its 2017 documentary film allow students and adults alike to gain an overview of this powerful and inspirational story of the teenage creators of Vedem. The DIYJ program takes this learning experience one step further. It uses the museum or online version of the art exhibit and film to share the story, then provides an immersive, interactive experience via the Zine and Vine, for participants ranging from fifth grade through college, aka "The Collectives".
Inspired by the story of Vedem, the program's participants will be divided into student-led collectives, where they will take on the role of either “writers” or “visual artists.” The program will have the following components: 1)an interactive exploration of the art and cultural history of Vedem via the museum or online version of the Vedem Exhibit, and screening of the 2017 documentary followed by a discussion; 2)a primer on both general concepts of journalism and specific approaches to the new-journalism methods of Zines and Vines; 3)an art lesson about the methods that can be used in the participant’s Zine (i.e. collage, digital photography, comics); 4)topic selection: each collective picks an injustice they feel strongly about and uses the Zine and Vine as a platform for creative activism against the maltreatment; and 5)a pop-up museum: the collectives will design and assemble their installation that will make up The Pop-Up Museum of Creative Activism, which will be shown at highly-visible public locations; 6)a closing celebration: each program will conclude with an opening-night community celebration and spoken-word performances by the students along with a panel discussion by local creative activists. At the end of the year, a selection of Zines will be bound in an art book and travel with the Vedem Exhibit to museums worldwide.
The Vedem Underground Program seeks to address the following needs: 1)the lack of general knowledge about a true story of Jewish heroism and creative resistance: the general public is well-aware of the story of Anne Frank, but out of the hundreds teachers, community leaders and those involved with Jewish culture interviewed by the Vedem Underground team within the past decade, only some professional Jewish scholars were familiar with the story of the teenage boys that produced Vedem; 2)the disappearance of Holocaust history: the number of worldwide Holocaust survivors fell from about 900,000 in 1997 to less than 500,000 by 2015, according to the Israeli Center for Holocaust Survivors and the Second Generation (AMCHA). That necessitates the need for new methods of Holocaust education in middle school and high school; 3)the spike in religious-driven hate crimes: in November 2017, the Anti-Defamation League held the first summit dedicated to addressing Anti-Semitism in its 100-year history. In his keynote speech, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the American Jewish Community hadn’t experienced such a frequency on Anti-Semitism in political and public discourse “since the 1930s"; 4)the lack of a strong connection to Los Angeles’s Jewish community from many of the millennials and teens after their B’nai Mitzvah (per Shari Davis, director of Jewish education and engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; “$4 Million Matching Grant Aims to Engage L.A. Jewish Teens,” by Ryan Torok, Jewish Journal, Nov. 11, 2015), and 5)the need for creative programing to spur new conversations and reflection about one’s Jewish identity while encouraging discovery of one’s voice during increased anti-Semitism in America and the world (per conversations with Phil Liff-Grieff, Associate Director, Builders of Jewish Education).
The Vedem Underground Project's exhibit premiered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in May 2016, and was viewed by more than 50,000 people, about half of which were students. It was well-received and even extended beyond its originally-scheduled dates due to the large number of students, teachers and adults interested in seeing the show. The project broadened this dialogue in January 2017 by partnering with the East Side Jews (co-founded by writer-director Jill Soloway) and bringing the exhibit to the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC) along with a panel discussion by Oscar- and Emmy Award-winning creative activists (http://www.vedemunderground.com/paneldiscussion010417/). The SIJCC show, which was generously sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, also included a family program and a creative activism workshop for fifth-through-seventh graders, led by Benny Ferdman (artist in residence, Los Angeles’s deToledo High School) and Shari Davis (Director of Jewish Education and Engagement, Teen Initiative, Jewish Federation of Los Angeles). In March 2017, the exhibit will travel to the El Paso Holocaust Museum, followed by Sacramento's Capital Museum and back to Texas for additional six to eight locations with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. The exhibit will then travel to Holocaust museums in Naples (Florida), Portland (Oregon) and Milwaukee through 2018.
How do you measure the success of your program?
The Vedem Underground Project has already made an early mark on Southern California youth, as its exhibit’s three-month showing in 2016 at the city’s Museum of Tolerance was viewed by as many as 25,000 students – one of the docents was told by a student visitor upon walking through the exhibit, “When I write next, I will think about it differently.” Interest in the Vedem Underground story is continuing to grow as the exhibit is set travel to several museums and universities across the country.
Vedem Underground’s annual goals are to:
1)produce the exhibit (complete with docent guides) at four to six museums and university galleries, and partner with each museum to produce two DIYJ workshops;
2)produce two to four additional DIYJ workshops in partnership with as many as four local schools during each exhibit;
3)organize at least two local film screenings and panel discussions during each exhibit;
4)train educators via a curriculum guide that includes the online exhibit, shortened film and DIYJ workshop.
The Vedem Underground Project hopes to achieve several positive outcomes through its exhibit, film and DIYJ program. By giving middle school through college students a platform to immerse themselves in activism through creative expression, the program will make good on its goal to ensure participants will continue to be engaged and curious after the program's conclusion. We also hope that the students will leave with a broader range of tools to express themselves in our changing Jewish and political landscape and to remain motivated to stay connected to their peers while deepening their engagement in social action in their community and beyond.
We plan to implement the following as measurement of the Project’s success:
1. Seek feedback from museums and other partners about the organization and implementation of the program;
2. Reach out to participants in order to evaluate the impact of the program on them, and how it helped with developing their voice as creative activists;
3. Meet with partners, DIYJ consultants and Vedem Underground leadership to discuss successes and improvements, and evaluate how to best move forward.