Holocaust murals created by students on display at National Corvette Museum

Maddie Hall works on a mural in VAMPY’s Nazi Germany and the Holocaust class July 12, 2017 in Tate Page Hall. Each year this class creates a unique mural designed and completed entirely by students.

Olivia Eiler

Holocaust murals created by students who attended a WKU summer program for gifted students are on display at the National Corvette Museum through March 15.

The “Never Forget” exhibit features 18 murals.

Students in Ron Skillern’s Nazi Germany and the Holocaust class painted the murals. He said students put more than 20 hours of work into filling the 6-foot by 9-foot canvases. The project is student-directed.

“There’s normally a substantial amount of debate and discussion,” Skillern said. “Sometimes even a little bit of conflict, which is good because we use that as an example of talking about ‘How do you resolve conflict?’ and ‘How do you go about making sure that you can disagree with someone and come to a good resolution?’”

Students in the class have painted the murals for the past 26 years, according to a press release from The Center for Gifted Studies at WKU. The class focuses on the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and the danger of remaining a spectator during similar events, according to the press release.

Students in Skillern’s course engage in three active learning projects: the mural, a play based on Anne Frank and a mock trial for Adolf Hitler.

In addition to enhancing students’ communication and interpersonal relationship skills, Skillern said he helps place current events in context.

“There are some things that are going on, not only in the United States but also worldwide, that are very troubling right now,” Skillern said. “Right after we had this fabulous class this summer, that stuff went on in Charlottesville, Virginia. There was one scene of 300 white, young men underneath a statue of Thomas Jefferson chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us. Blood and soil,’ the same chants the Nazis did. My father fought in World War II, and to be honest, I’m kind of dumbfounded about when being a Nazi became cool in one’s mind.”

Skillern said he teaches students to understand the historical context of current issues. He believes that failing to acknowledge the past is foolish.

“It’s how human beings are,” Skillern said. “We tend to want to deny. For example, in teaching United States history at the high school level, you start discussing slavery. For some kids, it’s like, ‘I never did own slaves, and I didn’t have anything to do with it, so get out of my face with that type of deal.’ But the deal is we still live in this country with a legacy of slavery and of racism. You can’t just scoff at or dismiss your history. You have to be willing to thoughtfully take a look at it.”

Skillern said he believes students who complete the three week course leave with a greater sense of morality.

“I don’t think any of the kids that go through this class would ever let themselves be seduced by intolerance or prejudice or hatred because they know what the price is,” Skillern said.

He said he hopes students can convey this message to others through their murals.

“Almost every history teacher has a sign up in their classroom: those who do not learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them,” Skillern said. “That’s one of the things that we try to emphasize. Get humanity on the canvas, and move people to the point where they recognize hate and intolerance are an awful path for a human being to go down.”

The students who painted the mural were participants in WKU’s summer program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth. Students in grades seven through 10 with qualifying SAT or ACT scores are eligible to attend the program, which is offered by WKU’s Center for Gifted Studies. The program lasts three weeks, and students select one course to attend for seven hours each day.

The exhibit will be open daily from Mar. 1 to Mar. 15 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the press release. Admission is included in the purchase of the museum’s $10 ticket.

News reporter Olivia Eiler can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Olivia on Twitter at @oliviaeiler16.