HOW SHOULD WE REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST? INTRODUCTION The Holocaust was a defining event in world history whose repercussions are still felt today. For t...
Author: Bertina Powers
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HOW SHOULD WE REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST? INTRODUCTION The Holocaust was a defining event in world history whose repercussions are still felt today. For the first – and so far only – time in history, a state and its collaborators attempted to destroy an entire people, using every method at their disposal. The result was the murder of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children and the permanent destruction of thousands of communities across Europe. Many governments, organisations and individuals across the world have commemorated the Holocaust in a variety of ways. Nonetheless, the question of how societies meaningfully remember – properly honouring the lost individuals, families and communities whilst also grappling with the troubling questions about human nature raised by mass murder on such an unprecedented scale – is one that becomes more pressing with the passage of time, as the Holocaust begins to slip out of living memory. In particular, Holocaust education and remembrance in many countries have relied on the uniquely powerful resource of survivor testimony. The question of how to preserve this legacy once Holocaust survivors are no longer able to deliver their testimonies in person is a challenging one. The following lesson plan therefore encourages students to consider how we can best remember the Holocaust in the future. It can thus form a natural conclusion to a programme of study of the Holocaust. Furthermore, many schools and communities have chosen to create their own Holocaust memorials: this lesson could be used as a starting point for schools which wish to follow their example. The lesson is suitable for students aged 13 and over, and is particularly appropriate for use in History, Religious Education, Citizenship and PSHE.

CONTENT AND USAGE This lesson makes use of 12 A3 cards which represent different ways in which the Holocaust has been remembered. They vary by form, encompassing physical monuments, museums, and attempts to harness digital technology to remember the Holocaust. They also vary by context, having been created at different times, in different ideological climates, by different groups of people, and at very different types of location. Given the sheer number of Holocaust memorial initiatives, the examples chosen are not intended to be a comprehensive overview of all forms of commemoration. Nonetheless, they do illustrate many of the major strands in memorialisation and are intended to broaden students’ thinking about what can constitute a memorial. They also include examples of what some may consider to be ineffective or inappropriate memorialisation to prompt students to consider what may make a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ memorial. Naturally, opinions will differ on which of the examples fall into each category.

The cards should ideally be printed full size and in colour to enable students to properly appreciate the memorials depicted. The lesson is likely to be most effective if students have already completed a programme of study of the Holocaust, especially if it has included some focus on Britain’s involvement. Teachers will find the Holocaust Educational Trust’s resources Britain, Refugees and the Kindertransport and British Responses to Nazism and the Holocaust helpful here: they can be downloaded for free from the Trust’s website. Students will also have a better appreciation of many of the issues involved if they have heard the testimony of a Holocaust survivor. For details of how your school can arrange a visit by a survivor, please see the Trust’s website.


LESSON PLAN The cards should be affixed to the walls of the classroom prior to the lesson. In addition, teachers will need Post-it notes and sheets of A3 paper. The questions and themes below should naturally be adapted to the age and prior knowledge of the students.

Aims To consider different forms of remembrance To reflect on the different ways in which the Holocaust has been remembered around the world To consider how Britain specifically may wish to build upon its existing forms of Holocaust commemoration and remembrance

Starter Before focussing on the Holocaust specifically, encourage students to consider memory in a broader sense through the questions below. Teachers should judge the most appropriate way to facilitate discussion (e.g. whole class or small groups), depending on the age and prior knowledge of the students and the time available for the lesson.



Which events and people from the past do we remember? Answers may in part reflect the age of the students and their communities, themes which can be linked to the next question. It is, though, likely that the two world wars will figure prominently – the centenary of the start of the First World War could be used to focus discussion of the following questions should students find them challenging.


Why do we remember these events and people? It is likely that many students will suggest because they are important. This answer can then be used to encourage deeper questions about how we judge importance, considering factors such as national identity, political ideologies and contemporary relevance. For example, if most answers to the previous question were drawn from British history, students could be asked to consider whether, and in what ways, those events or individuals would be remembered in other countries or in different parts of the UK.


How do we remember these events and people? Answers may focus on physical forms of remembrance such as statues or war memorials. Encourage students to consider whether remembrance has to take such forms. For example, in what other ways has the First World War been remembered? (e.g. poetry, family histories, battlefield visits.)


What is the purpose of memorials and other forms of remembrance? The aim here should naturally be to elicit answers which go beyond a statement of the obvious (i.e., to remember). There are a number of possible themes which could be explored. For example, should memorials make us think? Should they make us want to learn more? Should they produce an emotional response? How do people interact with them (e.g. individually or collectively)?

Activity 1 Introduce the cards to the class, explaining that they represent different forms of Holocaust remembrance from around the world, and give each student a set of Post-it notes. -

Ask students to spend 5 minutes looking at the cards.


Students should write their reflections on or reactions to each card on a Post-it which they should stick on or near the card.


Additionally, they should be encouraged to think of any common themes which may link certain cards to others.


Ask the students to then spend a few minutes reading each others’ comments and to select one comment which they found particularly interesting or provocative to bring back to their desk.

Divide the class into small groups, if that has not already been done for the starter activity, and ask each group to choose a scribe and a spokesperson. Give each group a sheet of A3 paper. Ask the groups to discuss the following questions for around 10 minutes, with the scribe recording their answers on the A3 sheet: -

Which Post-it note did each student take and why did they choose it?


Which themes did they find in the cards? Many students may focus on the type of memorial depicted on the cards: these can broadly be divided into physical memorials, museums and digital memorials. However, students should be encouraged to think about what is being remembered. For example, several cards focus on remembering individuals and/or communities, highlighting the theme of rehumanising the victims of the Holocaust. Similarly, survivor testimony is the central focus of some of the memorial projects. Students may note that some of the memorials also commemorate specific sites where the Holocaust took place. The question of the purpose of the memorials gives rise to other themes: some aim primarily to prompt reflection; others have a specifically educational focus.


Are there any differences in the ways in which different countries have remembered the Holocaust? This is a potentially more challenging question which may be more appropriate for older age groups and may require some prompting using the further information at the end of this document. Nonetheless, there is some evidence in the cards of differences which are at least partially shaped by each country’s relationship with the Holocaust. Most obviously, commemoration in much of Europe inevitably focusses on sites where the Holocaust was perpetrated. More broadly, memorialisation can reflect changing ideological imperatives over time (as the different memorials at Babi Yar demonstrate) and the place of the Holocaust in national historical consciousness. For example, the Holocaust occupies a central place in German, Polish and Israeli narratives of the Second World War but in each case with very different emphases.

This final question can also be used as an opportunity to remind students of the major themes in Britain’s relationship with the Holocaust, should the teacher consider this necessary. Examples of the inevitably ambiguous impact of the Holocaust include the Kindertransport programme and Britain’s broader attitude to Jewish refugees, the German occupation of the Channel Islands, the liberation by British troops of concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen and Neuengamme, and the arrival of refugees, including Holocaust survivors but also alleged war criminals, in the UK after the war.


Activity 2 Provide the groups with the following questions. Give them approximately 15 minutes for this discussion, with each group’s scribe again recording their answers: -

Have you seen any examples of memorials or museums that particularly inspired you? Explain that these need not be restricted to the examples on the cards or even to the Holocaust. Encourage the students to focus on the characteristics which make a memorial inspirational – they should not simply be listing memorials they are aware of.


Why is it important that young people learn about and remember the Holocaust? This could include discussion of the historical significance of the Holocaust, its relationship to Britain, and its contemporary relevance.


As the Holocaust moves further into history, what are the challenges in ensuring that people know about and remember it? Key issues might include: how to preserve testimony once survivors are no longer able to deliver it; how to remember individuals and communities which were destroyed, including those whose names and identities are not known; which aspects of the history of the Holocaust to focus on; how to represent the complexity of the Holocaust in a way that avoids simplistic clichés; how to relate it to Britain’s history in a meaningful and honest way.

Teachers may also wish to ask students which aspects of Britain’s relationship with the Holocaust they think should be particularly remembered.

Plenary Taking each question in turn, each group’s spokesperson should summarise their answers. Collate the answers into a class response to the questions, allowing discussion and debate where appropriate. Students and teachers may also wish to consider whether and how they might create a Holocaust memorial within the school or their wider community. As a homework task, students could be asked to design or explain their own ideas for a Holocaust memorial project.


THE CARDS – FURTHER INFORMATION Stolpersteine The Stolpersteine project was initiated by the German artist Gunter Demnig. There are now stones in more than 600 localities across Germany as well as in several other European countries. Many students will note that the project personalises the history of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution and is directly related to the history of the sites, raising wider issues about effective memorialisation.

Treblinka More than 780,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka between July 1942 and August 1943. The fact that it took so long to create a memorial reflected Communism’s uneasy relationship with the Holocaust. Even so, once the memorial was created, it was unusual in acknowledging the fact that the victims were Jewish (the menorah). The focus on destroyed communities illustrates one way of commemorating an authentic site when most victims’ names are unknown.

Babi Yar The USSR’s refusal to commemorate the largest single-site massacre of the Holocaust for so long highlighted its failure to confront the history of the Holocaust. Even when a memorial was created, after a campaign by intellectuals such as the composer Shostakovich, it used the heroic archetypes of Soviet cliché. The sensitive 1991 memorial shows how memorialisation can reflect changing ideologies.

Oshpitzin app This project takes a different approach to commemoration, both by using digital technology and by encouraging visitors to focus on the life of the pre-war Jewish community of the town which has become better known as the location of the most infamous killing site. That said, there is perhaps a question mark over how many visitors will be aware of or use an app.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum The USHMM raises the question of how to memorialise the Holocaust in a country that was not directly affected by it. Students may note that its creation was the result of a major government initiative which has parallels with the UK commission. The result is an important centre of memorialisation, education and research. At the same time, such an ambitious project took many years to create and was expensive.

Sculpture of Love and Anguish Although this memorial also touches on the question of commemorating the Holocaust in a country where it was not perpetrated, the fact that it was commissioned by survivors gives it a more direct connection. The graphic and now rather clichéd imagery may strike some as inappropriate, prompting consideration of how memorials can honour victims in a way that retains their dignity.

Holograms This initiative is the most ambitious attempt to tackle the issue of preserving testimony in the post-survivor era. Only time will tell whether holograms come to be seen as an effective tool or as a gimmick. Students may realise that they are expensive to create, meaning that only a minority of cases will be preserved in this way. The development of software to allow questioning has also led some observers to worry about the possibility of hacking.

Holocaust Memorial Garden This low-key memorial, funded by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, was Britain’s first attempt to publicly commemorate the Holocaust. Students who have visited Hyde Park may contrast it with more prominent memorials in and around the park such as those to Princess Diana or animals in war. This may in turn highlight the limited role of the Holocaust in British consciousness in the 1970s and 1980s.


IWitness This further use of digital technology by the Shoah Foundation enables students to engage with testimony meaningfully and interactively. However, IWitness is geared towards classrooms with multiple computers, raising questions about student access. A more provocative issue is whether survivors’ stories should always remain the focus of Holocaust education given that survivors’ stories are untypical because they survived.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe This is probably the best-known and most controversial Holocaust memorial. Its size and location in central Berlin represent a major statement by the German state. However, critics argue that its anonymity, intended to prompt reflection, means that it fails to properly honour the victims. It is also worth noting that the most people do not visit the museum underneath whilst the memorial itself has become a site for activities such as skateboarding.

Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands Students may wish to discuss whether an online memorial is as effective as a physical one. They may note that it allows users to learn more about victims than most of the other examples of memorials. On the other hand, it may reasonably be asked whether its impact is as great. The use of user-generated content is also a point for discussion, bringing both benefits and potential risks.

Yad Vashem Like the USHMM, Yad Vashem is a museum, a memorial site, and a major centre for education and research. As the photographs indicate, the Holocaust is memorialised in many ways, although students should notice the emphasis on individuals and communities. This may in turn generate reflection on Israel’s unique relationship with the Holocaust and whether such themes have such resonance in the UK.


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