Holocaust Education in the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School

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By Katalin Gyárfás

Two inseparably interlinked elements of Holocaust education in our school are remembrance and teaching. Common remembrance is linked to one particular day of the year, to Yom Hashoa Day, to the Holocaust Memorial Day. The aim of teaching of the Holocaust is partially to make the children acquainted with the historical facts as deeply as possible, and partially to have them acknowledge positive forms of behaviour as prevailing value through the analysis of the moral background of historical events. Thus, the teaching activity cannot be limited to one single day, the above-mentioned aims can only be reached as the result of a longer teaching process.

Below, I am going to present the structural elements - built upon each other - of teaching by sections, with their contents and methods.

Elementary Section

In the elementary section, students of the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade learn about the subject of the Holocaust in the framework of lessons, usually at a time close to the Holocaust Memorial Day. The lessons are given by teachers of Judaism. Several lessons are needed for the treatment of this subject, these – depending on the material used – may be successive lessons on the same day (for instance in the case of watching and discussing a film) but they may also be on different days of the week, with one lesson per day.

The contents of teaching by grades

3rd grade (8-9years) and 4th grade (9-10 years)

Discussion of the Holocaust on the basis of „Tommy’s Book” (by Bedrich Fritta), about the life and fate of the children. Discussion about persecution, about being persecuted, about solidarity on the basis of the book „Terrible things” (by Eve Bunting).

5th grade (10-11 years)

„Satan’s Waltz in Vienna” – watching a fiction film. The movie is about the friendship of two girls, one Jewish, the other Christian, during the Nazi regime. After the film, the historical background is discussed on the level suitable to this age group. There is a possibility to make the children realise that they are talking about the childhood of their grandparents’ generation, history can thus come nearer to them. Special emphasis is laid on the analysis of the moral values, statements and forms of behaviour shown through the story and the characters of the movie.

6th grade (11-12 years)

Through „Anne Frank’s diary” – using the film, the book and the CD-ROM material of the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam – it is possible, for the first time within the teaching process started in third grade, to get to know the historical characters and facts in a more scholarly way. The process of knowledge and research is realised with the guidance of the teacher and with the very active participation of the students – similarly to the project work of the secondary school section. This methodological transition is also visible from the fact that as the closing of the project, the students participate in the Holocaust Memorial Day events of the secondary school section.

Secondary School Section

In the secondary school section, the segments of Holocaust education - mediating knowledge and moral messages – are realised in the framework of activities organised into different projects. One of the most important characteristics of the projects is that in all the phases of the work – from planning to the presentation of the product – each member of the creative community made up of students and teachers takes an active part in the field most suitable for her/him. 4-8 students work in a project group with the head teacher or another expert, with the exception of summer project camps where there are much more students and teachers. One of the aims of the projects is to help Holocaust education in Hungary by providing the project products – documentaries on DVD, books and other printed materials, photographs, CD-ROMS – to teachers and public collections all over the country.

1. Project group making video-interviews

(Supported by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims / Rabbi Israel Miller Fund)

The students participating in the project make interviews with the survivors of the Holocaust, with the helpers of those persecuted or with other eyewitnesses of the era. The interviews, completed with contemporary documents, photos or films, are made into documentaries.

The most successful of these is the 22 minute documentary made in 2000, ”Lili and Anikó”, based on an interview made with two aged ladies: during the Holocaust, Lili provided a hiding place for the then 18 year-old Anikó, her mother and younger sister. The students and their teachers made the film with the aim to create Holocaust education material, together with the related information leaflet. The film – which may be watched and discussed in the course of a single lesson – is used in several other schools in Hungary and has been shown in public collections and TV-channels. (The English subtitled version of the film is used in schools and TV-channels abroad.) At the moment, several similar films are being prepared, material is being collected, and new interviews are made continually.

2. Project group making audio interviews

(Supported by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims / Rabbi Israel Miller Fund)

This project has been operating since the creation of the school. The subjects of interviews come from a similar circle to that of video interviews. This activity requires less preparation and more modest technical equipment. The students evaluate the interviews with their head teacher, then publish it in literary yearbooks and volumes of essays in an edited form, some of them in English also. The subject of both video and audio interview project groups is complemented by the analysis of the attitude to antisemitism and racism of young people in Hungary. We made short interviews on that topics with secondary school students during festival events and demonstrations, and we also made some longer qualitative interviews. As a result of the two-year work, we have collected valuable, considerable material, providing many messages.

3. Judaic Archives project group

(Supported by the L.A.Pincus Jewish Education Fund for the Diaspora)

One of the fields of this project group is to collect and publish – via the Internet or in printed form – documents related with the Holocaust, thus helping Holocaust teaching in Hungary. As a result of the work of students and teachers working in the project, ”Éva Weinmann's Diary 1941-45” - a diary written by a teenage girl in the years of the Holocaust in Budapest - was published in Spring 2004 in a bilingual edition. Thanks to the English translation made by the students, the book may be used as teaching material in schools abroad.

4. Discovery, analysis, English translation and publishing of diaries written
during the Holocaust, of written recollections of Holocaust survivors

(Supported by the Hungarian Ministry of Education Tempus Foundation and Task Force Foundation
for Holocaust Education)

The project group started to work on the first piece of their bilingual – English and Hungarian – series entitled „Personal History” in Autumn 2004. They publish one volume per school year. The first piece of the series, entitled „Auschwitz Diary” – memories of a 17 year-old boy written down in 1945 – was published in April 2005. The student team digitalised and edited the volume; they completed it with pictures and translated it into English. A bilingual CD-ROM and an accompanying booklet for teachers were published with the book, as a side material for teaching. The aged author of the book, professor László Kiss and Dr.Bálint Magyar, the Minister of Education were also present at the first introduction of the book.

5. Local history research, photography, guided tours in the area of the former ghetto of Budapest

As in the case of other projects, several fields of gaining knowledge and developing skills are integrated in this project. Students get to know the historical events linked to places, and at the same time they document the present state of places by taking pictures. They pass on their knowledge through Hungarian and English language guided tours. The photos are collected in exhibitions, publications and websites.

The subject of the project gives an opportunity for common projects with other schools. In the framework of these, the students of both schools share the results of their local history research, show each other on the spot the architectural monuments of their settlement related to Jewish history and the Holocaust, exchange their documentation material (photos, documents, CD, video). We have common projects of the subject mentioned above with Hungarian (Veszprém, Mezoberény) and foreign (Warsaw, Vienna) schools alike.

6. Project camps – projects in the summer break

a. Tidying up a deserted Jewish cemetery in the countryside, and research of the past of the one-time Jewish community of the settlement

(Supported by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary)

In one week, the students perform significant physical work to tidy up the extremely messy cemetery: they liberate the graves from the vegetation growing on them and stand up the fallen tombstones. By interpreting the data of epitaphs, they try to reconstruct the life and history of the one-time Jewish community. The broken continuity of the years of burial and the deserted state of the cemetery refer directly to the Holocaust. To put an end to the project, they remember all those whose graves cannot be in the cemetery because of the Holocaust. If the municipality and the school of the settlement are open to this initiative, they undertake to take care of the tidied up cemetery.

b. Cleaning up a deserted synagogue in the countryside, together with Jewish-related local
history research

(Supported by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims / Rabbi Israel Miller Fund)

Because of the Holocaust, the synagogues of small country settlements are in ruins, empty and deserted, if they are there at all. We organise one-week project camps to discover these places where there is nobody left of the once flourishing community. The students explore the architectural and objectual memories of the Jewish community and make photo and video documentation. They interview the elderly inhabitants of the village about their personal relations and memories of the members of the Jewish community. The most important activity of the project group is to clean and prepare the synagogue for a traditional Shabbat service to which we invite the inhabitants of the village. Our aim is to give back the building its spiritual dignity and at the same time to call the village’s attention to the original, sacred function of the synagogue and to the sad state contradicting it. Our one-week presence in the village provides an opportunity to create personal contacts with the inhabitants who thus closely see a fragment of the life of a modern Jewish school, get acquainted with the Jewish traditions, and value more the Jewish-related history of their settlement. According to our experience, this is the most effective way to fight against antisemitism. The project is finished by a photo exhibition and a film of the documentation material made during the camp, in the first semester of the school year. The material of our photo exhibitions have been used by several schools as a material for Holocaust teaching and Holocaust memorial days.

7. Organisation of Holocaust Memorial Day events

A student team of 8-10 students takes care of the planning and organisation of the elements of the Holocaust Memorial Day recurring each year, linked to Jewish commemorial traditions, and of the methodological and topical elements, changing year to year. The primary aim of the memorial day is to remember the victims, and this aim is realised by different central motives each year: setting up a memorial room with objects and pictures related to the Holocaust, the meeting and interviewing of survivors by classes, preparation of a common object related to Holocaust etc. The unvariable elements of commemoration rites provide a framework for the memorial day and give emotional emphasis.

Forums, Conferences for Teachers and Experts

Since 2002, our school organises a forum every year for the experts of those organisations and institutions whose main field of activity is the teaching of the Holocaust in Hungary. The chief aim of the forum is to get information about each other’s activities in the past year and to create the fields for future cooperation.

Finally, I have to mention that in the Spring of 2004 our school organised a conference for Holocaust education for secondary school teachers and for anybody else interested. One of the programmes of this conference was the project presentation of students.

The website of the Judaic Archives:

Éva Weinmann’s Diary: