Use of Archival Materials from the Arolsen Archives in My Work as a Specialist at the Academic Center for Oral History of the Voronezh Institute of High Technologies

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Olga Kulinchenko is a specialist at the Academic Center for Oral History of the Voronezh Institute of High Technologies.

By Olga Kulinchenko

In February 2017, as an employee of the Academic Center for Oral History of the Voronezh Institute of High Technologies, I participated in the International Winter School for Educators in Berlin, which was dedicated to the history of Nazi Forced Labor and how it is remembered in post-war Europe. The Winter School was organized by the Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Center Berlin-Schöneweide and the International Tracing Service (ITS, today: Arolsen Archives) in Bad Arolsen. The program included lectures, excursions, workshops, and individual and group work with documents provided by the organizations mentioned above.

Within the framework of the seminar, participants were encouraged to request information from the ITS Digital Archive on topics of interest. I requested documents relating to respondents whose interviews are included on the online educational platform "Learning with interviews. Forced Labor 1939-1945". This resource was created by the Academic Center for Oral History of the Voronezh Institute of High Technologies in cooperation with the Center for Digital Systems of the Free University Berlin. Due to the kind involvement of Arolsen Archives employees Akim Jah and Elisabeth Schwabauer, documents concerning the Polish political prisoner Anna Palarczyk, the French forced laborer Victor Laville, and the Soviet prisoner of war Mikhail Bochkarev were retrieved from the archive and forwarded to me. Later, in agreement with the representatives of the Archive, the documents were published on the educational platform. These materials became an essential part of our document collection. They made it possible to present the problem of forced labor more fully and to personalize it with biographical films placed on the platform. We are currently in the second stage of the project – the implementation of the platform in the school curriculum – and are now holding educational seminars for Russian teachers. Whenever we present the platform, we emphasize the presence of materials provided by the Arolsen Archives as well as by other museums and memorials.

The Academic Center for Oral History also conducts educational activities in the form of a school history club called “We and Our Past.” Between 2015 and 2017, I supervised the work of the club in a school in Voronezh. Created during that time, the online platform "Learning with interviews. Forced Labor 1939-1945" provided the basis for our work with school students. Classes devoted to studying materials from this educational resource were given to students from ninth to eleventh grade. The course aimed to help students develop the skills they need in order to work with a biographical interview as a historical source and to make them acquainted with a topic that is not addressed by the history and social studies curriculum but whose significance nonetheless makes it worthy of attention. According to a poll conducted at the end of the academic year, students mentioned that the classes that involved working with archival sources and personal documents were the most engaging and the most useful in helping them to acquire research skills.

This work allowed the use of a wide range of methods and techniques for teaching history. In the 2018-2019 academic year, I used the documents relevant to forced labor provided by the Arolsen Archives in the framework of the Winter School as a base for curriculum development and as a source for preparing tasks for individual and group work for students who attended the history school club. I plan to continue this work in the 2019-2020 academic year.

It is worth pointing out that project work which involves teachers and students working together is a widely used educational method in Russian schools and one that can be applied to various types of sources. Not only does analyzing the information contained in the short biographical films on the online educational platform in conjunction with the archival materials mentioned above enable students to solve educational tasks, it also contributes to their personal development. On the one hand, it provides students with the opportunity to see how the process of using forced laborers and their extermination was institutionalized, and on the other hand, it invites them to consider the tragedy of individuals included in seemingly endless lists.

It is important to note that the organizers of the Winter School created an atmosphere that was conducive to the free exchange of opinions, ideas, and experiences between representatives from various fields, such as education, science, art, and culture. The lectures, excursions, and practical exercises have opened up new opportunities and made it possible to develop new methods for teaching the topic of Nazi forced labor using materials provided by the Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Centre and the Arolsen Archives.

The experience I gained during the creation of the online platform "Learning with interviews. Forced Labor 1939-1945" and my work as curator of the school history club contributed to the enhancement of my professional skills. Participation in the Winter School empowered me to expand my pedagogical toolkit significantly. I can now use new ideas to enrich the use of materials from the Arolsen Archives about places of forced detention, forced labor, and the post-war period.


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