An innovative online Holocaust education program aims to involve students in the daily lives of one family that experienced the holocaust in different ways.
In an article entitled “Using Testimony in Holocaust Education”, Shira Magen delineated the importance of personal testimony in Holocaust education, including:
- Re-humanizing the victims. One of the leading principles in the pedagogical philosophy of Yad Vashem is the re-humanization of the people involved in the Holocaust and, in particular, the victims. The personal stories told by Holocaust survivors present the Jews as human beings and restore their identities, thereby allowing students to sympathize with them in their terrible plight.
- Making the inconceivable more tangible. The essence of the Holocaust is hard to grasp. Learning about the Holocaust through historical documentation combined with hearing personal stories from people who actually experienced this period helps to make those events more tangible and realistic.
- Delivering moral messages. A moral message delivered by a person who experienced the atrocities of the Holocaust has a special power that is amplified all the more when delivered through personal contact between a survivor and students. One of the major moral lessons that survivors transmit is that of personal responsibility.
- Transforming students into carriers of the torch of memory: When using a testimony in class, the desired outcome of the encounter is that the students will feel obligated to carry the memory. The idea of transforming students into torchbearers of memory is also important when one considers the phenomenon of Holocaust denial.
The latter point becomes more poignant as the generation of holocaust survivors approaches its conclusion. Magen addressed this issue: “As professionals who deal with Holocaust remembrance and education, we have to prepare for an era in which there will be no one left to recount the Holocaust in the first person. Preparations for this era take different forms, one of which is the amassing of collections of audiovisual testimonies.”
In an earlier article entitled “Best Practices in Holocaust Education: Guidelines and Standards”, Shirah Hecht discussed methods in which Holocaust education might compensate for the unavailability of living survivor testimony, including taped testimonies, second generation speakers, and the use of technology and the internet as educational tools. Nevertheless, it is clear that these methods in many instances may fail to have the power of the first person testimony of first generation survivors.
The Holocaust Social Media Project, a Holocaust education program recently initiated by Daniel Schwab, a third generation survivor, has developed a response to this challenge. The program enables students to explore letters written by Daniel’s grandfather, Rudi Schwab, who fled from Germany to South Africa in 1934 at the age of 23 – correspondence that continued throughout the war with his friends and family who remained behind. The letters reveal the personal and emotional impact of the Holocaust on the daily lives of one family caught up in a radically changing world. In analyzing the letters, students uncover Rudi’s angst in his frustrated attempts to save his family, his internal struggle to come to grips with the fact that his friend, who saved his life, became a Nazi party member and soldier, and the psychological forces that led Rudi’s parents from a sense of normalcy, to fear, and finally to resignation.
The program is presented on using online learning tools to maximize interactivity. Student activities enable students to enter the world of the correspondents, and gain insights into their situations and their responses. Students are then asked to draw lessons for contemporary times and, through the medium of social media, to apply their insights to present-day manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism, and brutality.
The HSMP also plans to create a website that will use the Schwab letters as a basis for eliciting second and third generation testimonies.
The flagship program of the HSMP relates to the failure of Max Schwab, Rudy’s father, to properly read the rapidly changing events in Germany in the early to mid-1930’s, and his frustrated attempts to subsequently find safe passage for his other son, Hans, his wife, and himself. The program is available for use as a live-stream online learning program facilitated by teachers in Israel, or as a blended learning program facilitated by local teachers.