Történelem/ Autobiographic Memories

Schüler übersetzen mit Hilfe ihrer Lehrer die Erinnerungen von Holocaustüberlebenden. Der bearbeitete und mit Fotografien und Dokumenten aufgearbeitete Text wurde zweisprachig (ungarisch/englisch) für den Einsatz im Unterricht publiziert. Die Publikation ist mit einer CD-ROM versehen, die das gesamte Buch sowie einen Methoden-Leitfaden für Lehrer und Aufgaben bzw. Übungen für verschiedene Altersgruppen bereitstellt. Aus der Zweisprachigkeit des Materials resultiert die Möglichkeit des Einsatzes im Sprachunterricht und damit einer fächerübergreifenden Form von Holocaust Education.

Andrea Szőnyi

An example for Holocaust Education in an English language class in Hungary.

Project summary

Our project aims at bringing 20th-century Jewish History closer to high school students in Hungary, through personal memoirs of survivors. Highschool students, with the help of their teachers, translate the memoirs or interviews of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. The edited text, completed with photos and documents from family archives as well as footnotes for better understanding, is published in a bilingual (Hungarian-English) publication. The booklet is supplied with a CD-ROM, which contains the complete material of the booklet as well as a methodology guidebook for teachers, the booklet being an educational material too. The CD also includes a set of tasks and exercises for multi-level classroom use - the questions range from the simplest ‘Find-on-the-map’ one to more complex ones involving research work or the discussion of moral issues.

By making the project bilingual, the subject can be introduced not only as part of a history class but can also be integrated into language teaching, thereby widening the scope of general Holocaust education. Learning about personal history, about the life of someone the children can meet in the street, will bring them closer to the subject, and touch them more, than by reading about general facts and numbers in history books. By translating the memoirs into English, we can integrate the subject in the language class, and we can make the booklets international.

Project description

When we realized that teaching about the Holocaust appears quite late in secondary school education, we felt that something has to be done about it. We decided to make history more personal, to bring it closer to our students. We started to make interviews and look for memoirs of Holocaust survivors. The original idea was that students should read these personal memoirs of survivors and that way they can see or feel the person, the individual behind historical facts and data.

The memoirs were translated into English, published and used as bilingual readers in the English class. Students read personal stories, they get closer to the events, they can get interested. Translation was completed by some of the students– by the more advanced ones. The fact that the story has been translated by students of their age, may motivate teenage readers even more.

We found the memoir of a survivor - Laszlo Kiss was 17, when he was taken to Auschwitz together with his twin brother. He was the only member of the family to return. When he returned in May, 1945, he took a pencil and wrote down everything he remembered. He then kept this “diary” in his drawer for decades. At a certain point, however, he felt responsible and was kind enough to offer us the manuscript. That is where we started out from. We took the diary and divided the text. Each translating student got a passage. Participation in the translation and in the whole project itself was optional of course. Each student - after having read the complete diary - translated their part and emailed the translation to me. I then, marked problematic parts - without correcting - and emailed the texts back to them. After two or three such rounds I set up a meeting with each one of the translating student individually to discuss the passages and come to a more or less final version. They then read one another’s translations and when everybody agreed on it, the complete text was sent to the native proofreader. In the meantime we picked photos and documents and the text was completed with footnotes and some tasks and exercises that can be referred to when reading or working on the book. The booklet comes together with an interactive CD-ROM (also the result of the work of a 15-year-old student), containing the complete text, photos and documents, notes, exercises and the manuscript of the diary, as well as a short methodology guidebook that helps teachers use the booklet and the CD. All these are available both in English and in Hungarian on the CD. By this publication we started out a series with the title: Személyes Történelem - Personal History. Kiss László: Auschwitzi napló - Auschwitz Diary is the first volume of the series an we are planning to come out with the subsequent volumes next year (2006). Each booklet will contain a different story.

The major phases of the project are:

  • preparing students to be able to make interviews
  • interviewing survivors (audio-interviews)
  • turning the interviews into narrative or making them into edited interviews
  • translating them into English
  • proofreading
  • editing
  • publishing

Preparing Students for the Interviews

Teachers participating in the project design and work out a short course for students. Students learn about the general historical background as well as about the specific events in Hungary. They also learn techniques of making interviews.

Interviewing Survivors

Students are prepared to meet the interviewees in advance.
A small group of students meet the interviewees to make audio or video interviews.

Making the Narratives or the Edited Interviews

Teachers note down the interview and edit it, thereby the story itself appears at this phase in Hungarian. All the students in the project listen to the whole interview.

Translating the Interviews into English

Every participating student reads through the whole story, then smaller groups start working on passages. Two or three students work on a passage in the following method. They each translate their passage individually, sending it to the mentoring teacher. The teacher – without correcting the mistakes in the translation – mark the problematic parts and sends the text back to the student, who is to correct it. Then they get together and compare their solutions regarding the remarks the teacher has made. At the end of these sessions the small group comes up with a for them final translation. When the whole text is translated like this, all the students having worked on the translation meet and go over the story again, thus having the chance to make more comments and suggestions for alteration, this time about passages different from their own. The work is coordinated by teachers.


Once the students’ version of the English text is ready, the final version is produced with the help of a native speaker, who having checked the whole text and having made his own comments, explains the students what alterations he feels necessary and why.
Students can learn about language usage, accuracy and style from a native speaker at this phase.

Editing and Publishing

The translated English text, together with the Hungarian one is edited into a bilingual format again by students and teachers. The structure of the booklet follows the traditional bilingual structure with one page in Hungarian and the other one, facing it, in English. As a result the booklet gets its final form ready to be published.

We had some clear-cut objectives when producing the booklet. We wanted to create a ready-made material and to offer a new approach in teaching about the Holocaust, thus making it easier for teachers to take the courage to turn to the topic. We also wanted to help separating the subject from the history class by giving the chance of integration into an English lesson thus giving the chance for language teachers too, to discuss and personalize the topic. Our major aim was to facilitate the topic to get closer to students by the fact that the story is personal and the booklet were compiled and translated by students of similar age as themselves. The interest of the students can be raised merely by this fact and it can stimulate positive attitude towards the whole topic.

Project Bibliography

Rieber, Angelika: Begegnungen mit der Vergangenheit. Pädagogische Arbeit mit Zeitzeugen. In: Kößler, Gottfried / Steffens, Guido / Stillemunkes, Christoph (Hg.): Ein Reader zur Erforschung der Schulgeschichte während der NS-Zeit. Fritz Bauer Institut, Frankfurt am Main 1998, pp. 33-45

Project Contact

Andrea Szőnyi, Lauder Javne Jewish Community School, Budapest
Mail: info [at] kulturelle-bildung [dot] de


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