Shortly after the unification of Germany, a study group called "Israel" was formed at the Thomasius Gymnasium in Halle. The study group, which includes students from all grades in the school, developed an exchange program with Ben Gurion Junior High School in Herzliya, Israel. The young people also researched Jewish history in their hometown and presented the results during Saxony-Anhalt's annual German-Israeli Cultural Days.
From 1992 to 1997, between ten and fifteen students, mostly from the ninth to the twelfth grades, formed and participated in the project group "Israel" at our school, Christian Thomasius Gymnasium in Halle (Saale). The work of this group began with a student exchange between our school and Ben Gurion Junior High School in Herzilya [see Documents].
One of the group's first projects involved grappling with an understanding of Jewish life in Halle. At the time, this was new territory for a school in one of the new Bundesländer [federal states] after years of East German educational policies. This project resulted in a submission to the student competition during the 1994 German-Israeli cultural days in Saxony-Anhalt [see Documents]. The two authors of this contribution won second prize in that competition.
We were equally concerned with the political, economic, social and religious development of Israel. We culled information from reports in various media as part.of our developing student exchange. We used the programs of the German-Israeli cultural days, invited members of the Halle Jewish community and survivors to meet with us, and linked individual topics in a variety of ways. The Holocaust ("Shoah," the systematic murder of European Jews) repeatedly resulted in discussions and reflection. Our idea was to discuss Jews in the present, a concept we termed "Jews are." We found that there had been a long journey through history, but history had not resulted in the erasure of Jews.
The activities of our project group included participation in a project week about the subject "Judaism" and the translation, into German, of the book published in English by Batsheva Dagan, "What Happened in the Shoah?" Two ninth-grade students, who had only three years of English language instruction, attempted to do this project.
Our project group visited the Buchenwald memorial, the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Education Site in Berlin and the Synagogue Museum in Groebzig. The group also participated in the creation of a room for the 1996 German-Israeli cultural days in Saxony-Anhalt. We presented the work of the project group in an exhibition and also documented the student exchange with Israel [see Photos]. We conducted a public opinion survey about the Shoah among tenth-to twelfth-grade students in our school and tried to translate the results of that survey into tangible behavior.
Our work on the project has changed us. Our journey to Israel, where we mourned together and wept in Yad Vashem, brought us closer [see Documents]. This refers not only to our relationships with our Israeli friends and to those between the German students who took part, but also to the relationships between the students and the teachers who accompanied us. Although the Shoah was not the only topic that we discussed, our experiences relating to it resulted in many other kinds of discussions. In this way, the subject had an effect on many classroom situations. It is our hope and assumption that our students and teachers will also keep this theme alive in the various schools to which they were transferred after the closing of the Christian Thomasius Gymnasium in 1998.