When Grace Mueller and her fellow teacher Roxanne Patrick attended a workshop at the San Antonio Holocaust Museum in 2003, they intended to return to their San Marcos CISD classrooms with insight and resources they could use to teach a unit on the Holocaust that would cover a handful of eighth-grade TEKS. What they left with was a homework assignment that would take the teachers four years to complete.

“The director of the museum starting talking to us about these films that Steven Spielberg [and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute] had made of all the Holocaust survivors in the United States,” Mueller recalls. “There were 20 survivors in the San Antonio area, and the museum wanted to make sure we wouldn’t lose these people’s stories, because so many of them are elderly and dying. She wanted to do something more, and she knew that my teacher friend and I were interested. We began brainstorming some ideas and we got hooked.”

Mueller and four colleagues began by listening to the tapes over and over, jotting down facts and making notes so they could write third-person stories based on the interviews. From there, they took interesting excerpts from the stories and created vignettes, poems and diaries, which they used to write lesson plans. Then came the arduous process of editing. “That took forever, but it was always an improvement when we got out of our editing sessions,” Mueller says.

Four years later, the result was “Our Voices, Our Lives,” a teacher resource book that the San Antonio Holocaust Museum now uses as a basis for its workshops. Its final form is a paperback book with a CD that features video clips from the survivors’ testimony. Curriculum sales help fund the museum.

“We’re very proud that we preserved 20 survivors’ stories,” Mueller says. “It was a very powerful, powerful thing for me to do because some of the people I wrote about were still alive and I was able to meet them. Rose Williams was one of them. By the time we were done talking about some of the things in the videotape and she added to it, we both sat and cried. I learned a lot about perseverance, tenacity, what motivates people, why they stay alive, and even what it can teach kids today about not being the bystander in bullying situations. She is now a close friend and role model.”

The project also inspired Mueller and two eighth-grade ELA teacher colleagues to set up a Holocaust “museum” in 2011 at the middle school where she teaches. With the help of a grant from the district’s education foundation, students from a range of classes participated.

“The students did research, short paragraphs about their assigned topic, and quotes,” she explains. “We blew up photos that we got permission to reprint from the U.S. Holocaust Museum online. The students created their own artifacts. Some of the girls sewed a prisoner’s uniform, for example. We had it up for about a week and had an opening that one of the Holocaust survivors came to and she cut the ribbon. It was awesome. It was a lot of work, but it really was an awesome project.”

See also Meet 2013-14 TCTA president Grace Mueller.