Two ninth-grade special education classes studied the history of Sinti and Roma in Bremerhaven, making comparisons between lifestyles at the turn of the century, during the Nazi period and today. The students visited the Sinti association, interviewed survivors and researched local history. With the help of their teachers, the students then created a reader that won second prize in the 1994 Harry Gabcke Local History Competition.
About the School
The Christian Andersen School in Bremerhaven is a school for learning disabled students in the 7th to 10th grades. The school contains nine classes with about 120 students, who live north of the Geeste River. The learning skills of the students range from those requiring special education to students seeking a Hauptschulabschluß [secondary general school certificate].
The Teaching Unit
A multicultural unit focusing on Sinti and Roma living on the Unterweser River was created in conjunction with a research project of the Bremen Education Senate. The aim of this project was to further the development of existing school culture and to create possibilities for identification with the school, especially for Sinti children.
Participating in the unit were two ninth grade classes. Sinti children attended both classes; Class 9a included four Sinti children out of a total of thirteen students. The children had been learning together for many years, and consequently, they got on well with each other.
Class 9a developed a reader [see Documents], and the parallel class, taught by Joachim Wolff, created a slide presentation on the same subject. Both projects were submitted to the local history competition Harry-Gabcke-Preis für Stadtgeschichte [Harry-Gabcke-Prize for City History]. In 1994, the students' entries together received the second prize.
It was important for the students to obtain firsthand information. Consequently, they talked to various individuals:
- A classmate was asked to report about his "travel" experiences;
- Several students interviewed a classmate's grandmother, who had lived during the Nazi era, and a student's father, who was employed by the Bremerhaven Sinti Association;
- Both classes visited the Sinti association and spoke to members of ist executive board. They also reviewed an exhibition about the Nazi era and the film "Children of Mulfingen."
As the students evaluated and transcribed their conversations, many additional questions arose. These new questions especially concerned:
- the origins of Sinti and Roma;
- their persecution in the Nazi era;
- their lives today;
- their specific situation in Bremerhaven.
The students first consulted the school and city libraries but did not find anything about Sinti and Roma. There was only one relevant book among the 32,000 volumes in the city library. Some applicable sections were discovered in city and state history books, academic monographs, and a newspaper article.
After they selected photographs and documents and wrote their texts, the students invited members of the Sinti association executive board to review their material for accuracy. The students also received advice about the sensitivities of language use. The critical goal of this class lesson was not to develop a dialogue about minorities, but to formulate this material with them.
Repercussions of the Unit
This learning process had important repercussions in the school. Class 9a drew the student assembly's attention to the pejorative language referring to Sinti and Roma in dictionaries owned by the school. The student assembly successfully petitioned the school board to buy new dictionaries for all classes at the Christian Andersen School. It also invited the author Michail Krausnick to do a reading at the school from his book, "Da wollten wir frei sein" ["We Wanted to be Free"].
The students' involvement in the lesson was an important motivating factor. Their fellow classmate, the father who worked for the Sinti association and the survivor grandmother provided immediacy and authenticity to the studies. These immediate connections to the source material in research about their own town and the current implications of the past made it clear to the students that Sinti are discriminated against today when looking for housing. The "Carlsburg," the site where deportations had taken place during the Nazi era, still exists and can still be seen, although it has been rebuilt and is now a college. A memorial plaque has been added there to commemorate those times.