LfH-Podcast

"Witnesses and Education” - Yad Vashem, The International School for Holocaust Studies

Dr. Na’ama Shik, Director of the Internet Department at the International School for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem (Israel) was interviewed during the Israeli-German expert meeting "Video Testimonies – Using Interviews with Survivors of National Socialist Persecution in Historical Education Theoretical Approaches, Methods and Concepts for a Didactics of Oral Remembrance in Israel and Germany", organized by the foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (23rd - 25th November 2010).

From Birgit Marzinka

The “Witnesses and Education” project is a filmed autobiographical journey which Yad Vashem conducted with Holocaust survivors, in conjunction with the Hebrew University. While these films could never purport to replace the survivors, they strive – if only partially – to be messengers’ messengers.

To understand this project, we must return to the basics, and ask the fundamental questions of memorialization: what is it that survivors provide us through their testimony? And as educators, why do we sometimes find the written version to be less powerful?

Personal survivor testimony, voiced in first person, offers several advantages over the written word:

  1. Testimony with a human face creates empathy and commands attention. It thrusts the listener into the survivor’s world before, during and after the Holocaust. Beyond the testimony itself, we also experience the physical meeting with the survivor.
  2. The unmediated exposure to the survivor invokes an active thinking process.
  3. Listeners undergo an emotional and intellectual process that sparks interest in learning and expanding one’s knowledge.
  4. The group interaction creates a sense of commitment to the subject of the Holocaust.
  5. The particular phrasing of testimony serves to shape Holocaust memory.
  6. The testimony conveys the “emotional landscape” of the survivor.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves - as educators, how do we safeguard these advantages in a world without survivors? How do we carry over the empathy, the desire to learn, remember and maintain a set of values? How do we ensure that the heritage of survivors lives on?

In this project, we decided to embark on seven filmed journeys, each featuring a survivor at its center. They follow the course of each survivor’s life, composing a filmed autobiography. The individual’s voice is that of the survivor his- or herself. We have found that much of the previous testimony given through interviews is delivered historically, as directed by the interviewer or historian. As a result, some details that might have been of interest to educators have been glossed over, or omitted entirely. In these testimony films, trained educators accompanied the survivors, asking questions that don’t often arise in “regular” interviews. Here we draw on our considerable educational experience at the International School for Holocaust Studies in Yad Vashem: We pose questions that often arise in the classroom and focus on subjects that, in our experience, would interest students. In addition, the educational team accompanying film production has developed questions with an educational, humanist-universalistic message.

The testimony is filmed on location where the events transpired, providing extra vividness and depth. Filming on location has tremendous value – survivors are reintroduced to their own life’s story. They return to the scenes of their youth. They rediscover the parks, fields, and buildings they used to play in. They revisit the homes in which they were raised, meet their neighbors, smell the scents and hear the sounds. There’s something very vital in this multi-sensory experience that evokes a range of emotions. The combination of subject matter, educationally oriented questions, and survivor face-time, makes these journeys highly valuable educational experiences. In this way, we preserve a living memory of the Holocaust for generations to come.

Audio interview with Dr. Na’ama Shik

1. Presenation of Yad Vashem

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2. One day seminars of the International School for Holocaust Studies

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3. Aims of the pedagogical work of Yad Vashem

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4. Role of testimonies in the pedagogical work

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5. Application of media and video testimonies in the pedagogical work of Yad Vashem

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6. Reactions of the young people on the video testimonies

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7. Differences between Israeli and Non-Israeli seminar groups in the pedagogical work

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8. Opinion about the Israeli-German Expert Exchange

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