Thursday, 3 February 2011

Holocaust Education

On Tuesday 1st February, Richard Hill of Holocaust Education Trust led a seminar at Jordanhill for History and Modern Studies trainee teachers on holocaust education. 

I remember when applying for the PGDE course I attended a local secondary school for some classroom experience to support my application and one of the classes I observed was a second year class. The class were looking at some harrowing images of Holocaust victims and I remember thinking that, firstly, pupils should learn about the Holocaust but secondly, it is a topic which requires sensitivity and careful planning by the teacher as it seems pointless to merely engage 12 or 13 year old through the shock value of upsetting images. It's also interesting to note that the Imperial War Museum does not permit children under 11 to view their Holocaust Exhibition and does not recommend it for children under 14.

The seminar was extremely useful in this regard as Richard highlighted many teaching strategies and activities which I hope to use when on placement. I am also starting an Anne Frank project with 2nd year pupils and was looking for some ideas and inspiration for this and there were some good ideas on that front as well.

The day began with the challenge of coming up with a definition of the Holocaust. There are in fact only 3 official definitions of the Holocaust; one of these comes from the Imperial War Museum which states the Holocaust claimed the lives of 6 million Jews, 'including 1.5m children.' The number of children specifically included in the definition may serve to illustrate the Nazi ideology of wiping out a hated people and ensuring no future generations.

The seminar effectively challenged some preconceptions pupils and, indeed, teachers may have about the Holocaust. Firstly, teachers would be doing a disservice to pupils if it was merely portrayed as genocide of Jews as there were many other groups of victims. Secondly, it is important not to paint Hitler as the sole perpetrator of the Holocaust; pupils should be challenged to assess responsibility. Hitler killed one person- himself. To exterminate millions of people requires actions of many thousands. So who else is to blame? Hitler? Nazi Party? Goebbels? SS? Local police? Industrialists who financially supported Hitler? Train drivers who transported Jews and others to Auschwitz? Ordinary people? 

A challenging activity which never occurred to me before involves re-humanising Jewish victims of the Holocaust. In my own experience of studying the Holocaust, I have seen many images of Jews in camps- they are all of a degrading and humiliating nature and it is easy to forget that these people had ordinary lives before they were transported to camps. "The Pre-war Jewish Life" activity involves pupils studying a number of photographs of Jewish people at home, on holiday, at work and at social events and on the back tells the pupil about the person, the photograph and their fate.

Another activity may be more inspirational for pupils as it looks at those who helped Jews and the varying reasons for this; people such as Oskar Schindler, Corrie Ten Boom, Miep Gies, Henri De Kryger and Wilhelm Hosenfeld. Different reasons for bravely helping Jews may have been religious, circumstantial, ie they just found themselves in a position to help and it was the right thing to do and they were helping their friends.

The case of Hosenfeld led us to discussing the role of film in Holocaust Education and some of the pitfalls; for example accuracy and the graphic nature of some films. In the case of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the distortions, including the fact that the Jewish boy would immediately have been gassed at the camp as he was 9 (under 15s were immediately gassed as they were unable to work) clearly make the film unsuitable for use in the classroom. It is important also to realise that pupils may come to class armed with this inaccurate knowledge so I will be aware of the need to tackle these preconceptions.

However, The Pianest has the potential to be a brilliant film to use in the classroom and I will watch it again before my next placement to think of classroom activities to help pupils in their learning of Holocaust Education.

If anyone has any ideas on Holocaust Education or the Anne Frank project, feel free to make my life easier and share!!!


  1. I found a visit to Dachau during a trip to Germany a few years ago very moving. It was odd because the camp is now part of the tourist industry and the visitors in holiday garb jarred oddly with the surroundings. The part I found most upsetting was not the images or the written information but an empty corridor in The Bunker. Somehow, seeing the row of doors and the empty corridor really hit me at an emotional level.

    As for the Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, there were all sorts of things that annoyed me about the film (e.g. I couldn't accept that the German boy could be so dim) but I thought it handled the scene at the end extraordinarily well. (Did you notice how I avoided a spoiler there?) Unfortunately though, I don't think it would work to show that scene to a class out of context.

  2. It seems like you gained a lot of valuable information and ideas from the Holocaust day!! Many schools have projects like this set up however this sounds good!

  3. It does sound like a really positive learning experience. Did Kelvingrove not do an exhibition on this a wee while back? I have a vague memory of watching video clips of Holocaust survivors recounting their experiences.