Since 1995, 10th grade students from the Lübbenau Comprehensive School have traveled to Terezin, to study on location the fate of Jews during the Nazi period. Whereas in the first two years the focus was more general, i.e. on the various methods of exclusion, isolation and mass murder of the Jews in the Third Reich, we have since broadened the assignments to include specific themes. In September 1997, the class took the opportunity to do research in the ghetto Theresienstadt, on the topic of the fate of Jewish People during the Nazi period, exemplified in Theresienstadt. The excursion was designed and organized by the RAA Lübbenau.
As part of this team teaching project in the subjects of History and Political Science, topics arose which the individual student groups then researched on location, i.e. in Terezin. Generous support by the Ghetto Museum allowed the students to devote an entire week to assisting in the exhibition and intensively studying comprehensive literary, pictorial and archive material.
It was especially interesting to study original documents on the indictment, trial and sentencing of a war criminal who, until his discovery and arrest in 1968, had been living under false identity in a small town near Lübbenau. Other topics or questions covered were, for example, nutrition and medical care in the ghetto, Jewish self-administration, the role of culture, and how children lived/survived in the ghetto. The students returned to Lübbenau with many deep impressions, and detailed text and pictorial material.
In class, students sorted and documented the materials in independent study. In this phase, student input began to give the project its own momentum. The young people wanted not only to put what they learned onto posters, but also to do more in-depth reading and research. To help make this possible, we started an extracurricular study group on the topic. From October 1997, students worked in their free time to put together a book series, which succeeding 10th grade classes can use as study material.
Students introduced each topic using selected facts of central importance. Sometimes text is replaced by symbols or synonyms, to encourage reflection and awaken interest in reading further. Each book consists of 8-10 easy-to-read pages, meant to arouse interest in doing more in-depth research. This is where the comprehensive fact file – the ‘Little Archive’ – comes in. An extensive bibliography of nonfiction literature supplements the books and the Little Archive.
As head of the project, it seems to me that this sort of work with students has set new standards. We met several times a week, ,,brooded over" content and graphic design, developed new ideas, and sometimes discarded them again. I’m impressed by the students’ fervor and energy in intently studying such a difficult topic.
Since the books were produced by and for students, fresh viewpoints sometimes came up on various problematic questions. On the question of ‘guilty or not guilty’, for example, the students’ answers reflected clear reasoning and common sense, not psychological forms of explanation. Conversations with witnesses of the time who accompanied us through Theresienstadt proved extremely valuable and helpful. They explained, for example, that some guards carried out their orders more severely than others. They spoke about their fears, hardships and hopes during their time in the camp. Understandably, the students could only reproduce part of their knowledge and their own thoughts in the books.
On June 24th 1998, the young people got the opportunity to present their work to a broader public. The students donated a series of their books to the Ghetto Museum in Theresienstadt. The students were especially honored by the visit of Mr. Ignatz Bubis, then chairman of the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (= Central Council of Jews in Germany). In discussion, he answered students’ questions about the history and present situation of oppressed peoples. Over 100 guests, including many of the students’ parents and grandparents, were greatly impressed by the young peoples’ 10 months of work. The book series consists of 9 volumes and can be borrowed from the RAA Straußberg, PAA Potsdam, as well as from the RAA Lübbenau. Further sets are at the Memorial Site Terezin and the Lübbenau Comprehensive School. A 10th volume on the making of the books is in preparation.
Short overview of the main points of each individual book
Book 1: "I never saw a butterfly here"
(Children’s life / survival in the Theresienstadt ghetto)
- Arrival and housing of children in the ghetto
- Who looked after the children?
- Organizing instruction in the camps – teaching was officially forbidden
- We made our daily life easier" - Diaries, magazines, fairy tales, children’s drawings, etc.
- Diary entries on childhood in Theresienstadt
- The fate of the children of Bialystock -1200 children who were to be exchanged for war materials or German prisoners of war in foreign countries.
Book 2: "The Fuehrer gives the Jews a City"
(Nazi propaganda vs. daily reality)
- Fiction – Nazi propaganda
- Fact – real life in the ghetto
- Everyday Life in the City of Wonders – An overview of illnesses, nutrition, postal service, work, etc.
- "The Staging" – Nazi preparation for a visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross
- "The Play" – Fooling the rest of the world
Book 3: "The Fight for Survival"
(Nutrition and Medical Care in the Ghetto)
- Dietary care - statistics – food supplies for the prisoners
- Kitchens – food rations, meal plans
- Hunger, a central problem
- Health care crisis – prisoners report on medical care
- "Uns haben allmählich die Tränen gefehlt" - Erinnerungen einer Krankenschwester im Ghetto (“Our tears slowly ran out” – A Nurse remembers the Ghetto)
- Dying – death rates, funerals, contemporary reports
Book 4: "Culture: Our only Resistance – Our will to Live"
(How did people preserve their dignity and their culture?)
- Artists in the ghetto
- Music - distinguished composers and musicians in Theresienstadt
- The children’s opera ,,Brundibar"
- Literature and theater
Book 5: "Death’s Waiting Room"
(Where did these people come from? Where were they sent?)
- The "move" begins – deportation to Theresienstadt
- Arriving at the ghetto
- Channeling – assigning quarters
- Fear of being shipped eastward – making room for new prisoners
- "Duck, Duck, Goose!" – choosing the victims and methods of deportation
- The fateful journey of Transport AAY “Death march”
- Front and back covers – statistics on transports to and from Theresienstadt
Book 6: "Little Fortress"
(What does it mean to be a prisoner in a Gestapo jail?)
- The jail: The Little Fortress - construction, usage, prisoners
- What does it mean to be a prisoner here?
- SS mistreatment ,,Arbeit macht frei" (“work liberates”)
Book 7: "Jewish self-administration"
(Victims or Perpetrators?)
- Why Jewish self-administration?
- From the files of the Jewish administration
- Victims or Perpetrators?
Book 8: "Suspects’ Profiles"
(Perpetrators, Crimes, Sentences – Questions we must ask ourselves)
- How the Nuremberg Laws were established – students pose questions on the Lösen Report
- Perpetrators – Biographies from Nazi Germany
- Adolf Eichmann – Biography of a German
- Anton Burger – Camp commandant in Theresienstadt
- Kurt Wachholz – A leader in Theresienstadt – The crimes
- From the trial records on Kurt Wachholz
- The search for answers to students’ many questions
Book 9: "The Liberation"
(The End of Suffering?)
- Between hope and fear
- The death marches arrive
- Saved – pictures of liberated prisoners
- Where do we go from here?
- Free and yet bound – plagues in the camp
- The return
Straße des Friedens 3 a