The creation of art is one of the most powerful forms of resistance and can serve as a historical snapshot and a therapeutic tool during times of suffering.
Teodora Verbitskya and her daughter Nadia Werbitsky understood this all too well. They lived in Ukraine during the murderous regimes of Stalin and Hitler. Verbitskya wrote poignantly of her experiences as a wife and mother, including her imprisonment in a labor camp. Werbitzky created haunting paintings that visually illustrate her mother’s memoirs and her own recollections of the time.
It is purely by chance that these works have come to light. They were discovered in Florida by Mimi Shaw, a local educator and business owner, underneath a dilapidated stilt house slated for demolition. She purchased the works and, along with co-curator Kelly Bowen, engaged historians and translators to help her piece together these women’s stories into a book called “Two Regimes: A Mother’s Memoir of Wartime Survival.”
Shaw and Bowen quickly realized the collection had enormous educational value and they coordinated the development of lesson plans to be used in the classroom alongside reproductions of the artworks. With support from the Foundation for Leon County Schools, state grant funds, and assistance from area teachers, the “Two Regimes” educational program has been used to teach fourth- through 12th-graders for the past two years.
Anne Hall designed the original content for middle school students and has worked on the curriculum for elementary and high school students as well. A veteran teacher, Hall taught social studies at Nims Middle School for 23 years. She retired four years ago but has returned to Nims through the “Two Regimes” project.
“You’ve got to learn from the past, and hopefully, those things aren’t repeated,” Hall said. “There are still holocausts. We don’t always hear about them, but maybe 50 years from now, people will try to bring those atrocities to the forefront. As educators, the best we can do is teach those students we come into contact with and hopefully, it will spread if enough of us do that.”
Adhering to one of the main tenets of historical inquiry, Hall emphasizes the importance of original materials and direct evidence. “These artworks are primary resources. Getting a first person narrative gives more meaning to it.”
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