Workshops and training courses based on archival documents and aimed at educators in schools and other contexts – an educational program provided by the Arolsen Archives

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Dr. Akim Jah, a political scientist, is a Research Associate in the Research and Education Department of the Arolsen Archives.

By Akim Jah

The Arolsen Archives (known as the International Tracing Service, ITS, up until May 2019) offer a range of workshops that are based on their extensive documentary holdings and are aimed at educators whose work involves teaching about core issues of Nazi persecution and its aftermath. The target group mainly consists of teachers, especially history teachers at upper secondary level, people involved in out-of-school education, and educators who work for memorial sites and archives.

A workshop usually consists of three phases: an introduction to the topic in question, work in small groups using selected documents as examples, and a final evaluation phase. During the course of the workshop, participants get to know the documentary holdings of the Arolsen Archives that relate to the topic in question, learn about the educational approach of learning with documents, and reflect on how they can use the potential of archival documents in their own work.

At the end of the workshop, the participants receive a wide range of teaching aids which they can use in their own educational work. These materials include copies of historical documents and worksheets that contain short introductory texts and questions for students to work on.

The workshops cater to different time requirements and include one-day study programs as well as training courses that run for a number of hours. On request, a specific (regional) focus can be taken into account when selecting the documents for a workshop.  

Workshop schedule 

The introduction given at the start of every workshop takes the form of a presentation which provides an overview of the background of the Arolsen Archives, the documentary holdings kept there, and the historical context of the topic in question. For example, the workshop on the subject of Nazi forced labor describes the function of forced labor under National Socialism and the living and working conditions of forced laborers. The historical documents relevant to this topic preserved in the Arolsen Archives are then shown. The workshop on Displaced Persons (DPs) describes the situation of the survivors of the Holocaust and of former forced laborers after liberation and uses documents to show what kind of support was provided by Allied relief organizations.

The participants then work in small groups and use color copies of historical documents to learn about a specific aspect of the topic in question. Alternatively, they analyze suitable biographical documents, applying the methods described for "learning with biographies". During the workshop on forced labor used as an example above, the individual working groups cover the different aspects of forced labor in different places and for different companies, the surveillance, punishment and treatment of forced laborers as defined according to racial criteria, and the special situation of pregnant forced laborers. During the workshop on DPs, the groups use administrative documents to focus on the state (of health) of those liberated, the registration and the self-descriptions of DPs, their repatriation, and "life in transit." Alternatively, the paths taken by former persecutees after liberation can be traced using two different biographies. The critical analysis of the documents follows the principles of research-based learning and involves comparing the details given on the various documents and "gathering" relevant information from the documents. Documents from the post-war period are used in all the workshops, including those which focus on the Nazi era. The main reason behind this is the desire to make it clear that life went on for survivors after the liberation and that the injustice they suffered had far-reaching consequences. Helpful ideas for history teachers are included for all working groups. This makes it possible to use the material in schools.

The number of documents given to the working groups differs depending on the amount of time available. One-day study programs include two phases of group work: participants deal with general aspects during the first phase before going into greater depth during the second phase.

During the evaluation session which follows the group work, participants present their results to the whole group and then discuss the topic as a whole. The workshops conclude with a discussion on how participants can use archival documents in the own work.  

Workshop Topics 

Workshop title

General workshop on the Arolsen Archives
A topical overview of the documents preserved in the Arolsen Archives. The focus is on getting to know the potential of the collections for educational work on the following topics: the Holocaust, forced labor, death marches, Displaced Persons, unaccompanied children, and the paths taken by survivors after 1945 
The scale of the Holocaust is illustrated using deportations from France and the German Reich as well as mass killings of Jews in Serbia and Eastern Europe by way of example
Persecution of Sinti and Roma 
Introduction to and overview of the persecution of Sinti and Roma under National Socialism. Attention is also paid to the subject of antiziganism, which survivors were confronted with after 1945
Concentration camp inmates 
A critical analysis of the history of the persecution of concentration camp prisoners, using Dachau as an example. The focus is on the various different groups of prisoners and the conditions in the camp, but also on the lives of former prisoners after liberation
Nazi forced labor 
Introduction to and overview of "civilian" forced labor under National Socialism. The focus is on the use of forced labor in different places and by different companies, the surveillance, punishment and treatment of forced laborers as defined according to racial criteria, and the situation of pregnant forced laborers
Displaced Persons (DPs)
Introduction to and overview of the history of DPs, with a focus on Holocaust survivors and former forced laborers and including the activities of the Allied relief organizations UNRRA and IRO, repatriation, and emigration 
Unaccompanied children
Introduction to and overview of the situation of unaccompanied children and young people who survived the Holocaust or were deported as forced laborers. The focus is on the paths of persecution of minors, their future prospects, the care provided by the Allies, and the activities of the Child Search Branch

If you are interested in any of these workshops, please send an email to education [at] arolsen-archives [dot] org. The workshops can be held in English and German, and some are available in Russian. We look forward to providing you with information about the conditions and the way to proceed. We are happy to visit you for this purpose. 


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