Follow My Footprints in the Classroom
Follow My Footprints is a decade-long project by documentary photographer, writer, and educator Rachael Cerrotti that tells the story of her grandmother’s 17-years of statelessness as a result of the Holocaust. The project began in 2009 when Rachael began storytelling sessions with her grandmother, named Hana.
For over a year, Hana’s stories took Rachael from her childhood home in Prague to the countryside of Denmark, across the Baltic Sea with the heroic rescue of the Danish Jews and into Sweden. Hana, an unaccompanied refugee before the term was coined, became the only survivor in her family, saved by the goodwill of strangers and the foresight of her parents who sent her away from Czechoslovakia at the onset of World War II. By 1950, Hana emigrated to the United States with an affidavit that her father had applied for back before the war began. Her initial introduction to American culture was coated with racial prejudice and marked by an adventure on the California Zephyr, a cross-country train trip that is still en route today.
In 2010, Hana passed away, leaving behind an extensive archive which included letters, diaries, photo albums, and hundreds of primary source documents that date back to the interwar period. It also included essays that she wrote as an older woman that reflected on her childhood and experience as a young refugee. Companied by the detailed testimony she left with Rachael and institutions such as the Shoah Foundation and Gratz College, Hana’s legacy is a rare narrative about a teenager living on the periphery of war and the repercussions of that reality as an assimilated American, a mother and a grandmother.
Upon discovering this archive, Rachael dubbed herself the family historian and spent years digitizing Hana’s story and puzzling together the pieces of her displacement. In 2014, she took to the road to retrace the route, connecting with the descendants of those instrumental in her grandmother’s survival (and even the rare individuals who crossed paths with Hana during the war). The project has shifted shape over the years, adjusting to the changing tide of politics and the personal events of Rachael’s life, most specifically the sudden loss of her young husband which brought grief and the realities of love and loss into her storytelling. This body of work has become a web of stories that connects seemingly distant pieces of history and communities of people. Rachael aims to remove the exclusive narrative from storytelling and teach history with a holistic approach.
As a documentarian and as an educator, Rachael brings Hana’s story and her own journey following in her grandmother’s footprints, into classrooms and communities. Using primary sources such as photographs, video, interviews, archival documents, contemporary headlines, and personal stories, she develops curriculums, workshops and presentations that delve into the complex narratives of World War II and strives to make the history of past generations relevant to the present day.
Every presentation is unique to fit the age and interest of the audience. Since beginning her educational tours in 2015, she has worked with hundreds of students ranging in age from as young as 4th grade to adult education.
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Notes to Teacher : These primary sources are intended to be used as resources for educators who are already familiar with the Follow My Footprints curriculum. For a complete lesson plan, suggested activities and materials, and debrief questions, please contact Rachael Cerrotti. (Consultation fees for lesson planning may apply)