Training Brings Holocaust Testimonies Into the Classroom

July 10, 2019

As today’s students grow increasingly distant from the generation of Hungarians who survived or witnessed the Holocaust, preserving and sharing memories of that dark history remains crucial. In a training hosted by the CEU Library on July 2-7, Hungarian middle school, high school and university educators learned how to incorporate first-person testimonies of the Holocaust into their coursework.

The testimonies are part of USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (VHA), a collection of 55,000 video interviews with survivors of genocides around the world. More than 1,300 of those interviews are in the Hungarian language, the majority with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. All videos are accessible through the CEU Library, which was the first location in Central Europe to partner with USC Shoah Foundation to provide video access.

“The interviews are life histories,” said Claudia Ramirez Wiedeman, PhD, Director of Education at USC Shoah Foundation. “Interviewees retell their life stories before, during and after genocidal events like the Holocaust. This collection allows educators to address issues like hate, anti-Semitism and the genocidal process through the stories of people who know the impact of genocide and can retell the details of that history. The testimonies also address universal topics that teachers can mine for classroom lessons, including what it means to be a member of a certain culture and how it feels to be ‘the other,’” she added.

Held annually for the past eight years, the week-long Teaching with Testimony Program has connected more than 140 Hungarian educators to the Visual History Archive. Teachers not only learn how to access and search for relevant testimonies in the Archive, but also how to effectively incorporate those testimonies into classroom exercises across student age ranges to meet educational goals. And it’s not just history teachers who will find valuable lessons in the Archives—participants in this year’s training also taught mathematics, geography and biology.

“Testimony helps students develop certain skills and competencies that are very difficult to develop in other ways. Incorporated thoughtfully into the classroom, testimony helps students become more critical thinkers, creative thinkers and complex thinkers; it helps develop empathy. Much of Hungarian education is content-based, so teachers are not trained to impart these skills. We provide them with guidance and tools, and we encourage them not to be afraid to teach these complex skills,” said course leader Andrea Szonyi, Head of Programs for International Education at the Shoah Foundation.

After the week of training, participants develop their own testimony-based lesson plans that suit their students and discipline. While many teachers incorporate the lesson into regular coursework or classroom, others develop non-formal educational programs that take students outside of the classroom. Each year, Hungarian teachers who participated in the past join the training to discuss the lessons they developed and share their experiences with the new crop of educators.

For more on the work of the USC Shoah Foundation in Hungary, visit the Hungarian page on IWitness.