Teaching about National Socialism and the Holocaust in elementary schools is now generally accepted. But taking elementary school children to visit a memorial site? The following project shows that this is not only possible, but also makes good sense.
"Kinder als Besucherinnen und Besucher in der Gedenkstätte Hadamar. Ein Informations- und Materialheft von Regine Gabriel." (“Children as Visitors to the Hadamar Memorial Site. An Informational Booklet by Regine Gabriel”). This is the title of a booklet presenting some introductory thoughts on teaching National Socialism and the Holocaust to young children, as well as projects by the Hadamar Memorial Site. Beyond this, the booklet also offers methodological suggestions on applying the topic, and materials from Hadamar’s extant medical files. The March, 2002 project is an example of the type of projects that are done.
"Kinder leben und lernen in der Gedenkstätte Hadamar" (“Children Live and Learn at the Hadamar Memorial Site”) - this was the theme of a project for children from March 22nd through 26th, 2002, in which 15 children (8 girls and 7 boys) from 9 to 11 and 13 years of age took part. On the one hand, the children were to experience the Hadamar Memorial Site as a place where Nazi ‘euthanasia’ crimes actually took place. On the other hand, they were to tape record the stories of children murdered in Hadamar.
As described in the project with the Mammolshein Elementary School (see literature link), the children first familiarized themselves with the location and what happened there. Here I would like to highlight the research section of the project. During the preparation, freelance memorial site aid Sabine Müller and I decided to help the children deal with the biographies of those murdered in Hadamar by giving them a ‘research assignment’. They expressed the little we know about these murdered children in their own words, and supplemented it with additional material such as fictive letter exchanges with the parents or the institution heads. They then recorded these texts on tape. The children chose the music to insert after each story, or even improvised their own pieces. Sound technician Clemens Riesser helped produce professional quality cassettes.
A second ‘research assignment’ involved the remodeling of two commemorative panels in the permanent exhibition. The children included their own photos of the victims, letters they wrote themselves, and other artistic additions.
The group’s age structure was not without problems. There is a great difference in interests and behavior between nine and eleven-year-olds, not to mention thirteen-year-olds. In addition, the difference between girls and boys and their behavior within their respective peer groups made the team leaders’ jobs quite difficult. Still the results showed that the project succeeded in involving all children in the learning process.
This was especially due to the combination of learning and leisure time activity. Play provided an outlet for the strong emotions the project content elicited. It also enabled them to approach each new round of work with fresh concentration, which they always did without complaints. This part of the project would certainly not have been so successful without Sabine Müller’s valuable expertise and hard work. She has had long experience in open children’s and youth work, and for some time has been freelancing for the Hadamar Memorial Site. Through her input, a broad spectrum of games and crafts is now available. Such a project can’t be done by one person alone. The uncomplicated cooperation between Sabine Müller and myself helped create a relaxed atmosphere in the group.
The ‘Black Theater’ especially worth mentioning. Its roots are in the ‘Black Theater of Prague’. The stage and the actors are black, and thus almost invisible.
Only a few elements are emphasized in white, like hands, feet or utensils. The children got to practice this on two evenings. Gudrun Dedig, who has used this exercise in her day nursery for years, was there to assist us. On the first evening, she introduced the method and let the children try out many things. On the second evening, they were to act out various concepts. During the preparation for the theater, we had picked out several statements of children’s rights as expressed by Janusz Korczak, which we divided into four areas:
- "The child has the right that his or her feelings be respected."
- "The child has the right to be as he or she is; to be himself or herself."
- "The child has the right to make mistakes."
- "The child has the right to be loved."
We had carefully discussed these rights with the children beforehand, and established a connection between the fates of children under National Socialism and the situation of children today – and thus their own. The ‘Black Theater’ is especially good to use with young children, since it doesn’t take long to create plays that can be presented. Thus there is great motivation to join in.
The tape recordings that formed the focus of these days were a real challenge for many children. Clemens Riesser, a sound technician, was their patient and professional guide, able to motivate the children to repeated sessions until the final recording was finished. Like the recordings, the reworking of two commemorative panels also focused on the life stories of children from that time. Being able to work on a small part of the exhibition was a special treat for the children.
On the final day, almost all the work phases were presented once again. This let the children see how much they had accomplished, and gave the public and the parents a look at the project and our work. When it was finished, the children asked repeatedly whether there would be another project next year.
With this study and leisure time project for children from nine years of age, the Hadamar Memorial Site has broken new ground. Looking back, the event was a success, which again showed that memorial sites can work with young children on the topic of National Socialism and the Holocaust, even when there has been no prior preparation at school. But working with young children does require memorial site workers who have experience with this age group and can get support from experts in children’s and youth work.
In my opinion, we will have no other choice in the coming years than to integrate this new target group into our pedagogical work, if we are to continue to reach youth and young adults and arouse their interest in this topic. In the mean time, discussions have shown that it is no longer a question of if the Holocaust and Nazi crimes should be covered in elementary schools, but of how. That is why I’m convinced that other German memorial sites for victims of National Socialism will also develop projects for young children.
D- 65589 Hadamar
Fon: +49 (0) 6433 917 172
Mail: Regine [dot] Gabriel [at] lwv-hessen [dot] de, gedenkstaette-hadamar [at] lwv-hessen [dot] de