The petite African American woman, in her dark denims and patent-leather flats, seems scarcely more than a student herself. And she remembers the student she once was when she visited the museum for the first time, then came back, then took classes, then led tours, and now works there full time and sometimes writes poems about survivors.
Nearly 20 years ago, the museum began the Bringing the Lessons Home program in an effort to make Holocaust history relevant to young people in inner-city Washington. Twenty years from now, Holocaust survivors may all be dead and what was lived history will pass into distance with only artifacts left behind.
Whether Holocaust history will matter deeply, when survivors can no longer give it voice, is a source of reflection as the museum marks its 20th anniversary this week.
People such as Dupas play a central role in that.
‘A broader conversation’
Dupas, 31, is now a coordinator of leadership programs for the museum, but she sometimes still gives tours, as she did in March when she posted an invitation on Facebook for friends to visit. Her knowledge of the permanent collection extends not just to key places and dates and people, but also to a recognition of how long students need to pause at the Tower of Faces and where they’ll cry. It extends to the the realization that while she can draw obvious modern-day parallels, students have to make their own links. It’s how the history becomes personal.
She points out Nazi charts on racial superiority and images of Jewish-only benches. She used to point out “Colored Only” similarities, but stopped. “More often than not, someone will say, ‘Just like the South, or civil rights,’ ” she says.
In a section on radio propaganda, students cite the centrality of local urban stations like WPGC or WKYS to their own lives and invoke modern radio programs that broadcast hate talk. “The more sophisticated groups understand that there’s still propaganda going on. My job is to set up the possibility of that connection. It will click in now, or it will click in later.”
Dupas was born in Louisiana and moved to Prince George’s County with her mother, a correctional officer, and sister, who owns a day care, when her parents split up. She has lived in the District, Prince George’s and Baltimore. After graduating from Towson University, where she studied English and secondary education, she taught high school literature before joining the museum full time last year. She’d learned about the Holocaust Museum as a junior at Friendly High School in Fort Washington, and the following year she applied for the BTLH program. There were only two paragraphs about the Holocaust in the history books “and I just had so many questions,” Dupas says.