Since 1995, 10th grade students from the Lübbenau Comprehensive School have traveled to Terezin, to study on location the fate of Jews during the Nazi period. Whereas in the first two years the focus was more general, i.e. on the various methods of exclusion, isolation and mass murder of the Jews in the Third Reich, we have since broadened the assignments to include specific themes. In September 1997, the class took the opportunity to do research in the ghetto Theresienstadt, on the topic of the fate of Jewish People during the Nazi period, exemplified in Theresienstadt. The excursion was designed and organized by the RAA Lübbenau.
As part of this team teaching project in the subjects of History and Political Science, topics arose which the individual student groups then researched on location, i.e. in Terezin. Generous support by the Ghetto Museum allowed the students to devote an entire week to assisting in the exhibition and intensively studying comprehensive literary, pictorial and archive material.
It was especially interesting to study original documents on the indictment, trial and sentencing of a war criminal who, until his discovery and arrest in 1968, had been living under false identity in a small town near Lübbenau. Other topics or questions covered were, for example, nutrition and medical care in the ghetto, Jewish self-administration, the role of culture, and how children lived/survived in the ghetto. The students returned to Lübbenau with many deep impressions, and detailed text and pictorial material.
In class, students sorted and documented the materials in independent study. In this phase, student input began to give the project its own momentum. The young people wanted not only to put what they learned onto posters, but also to do more in-depth reading and research. To help make this possible, we started an extracurricular study group on the topic. From October 1997, students worked in their free time to put together a book series, which succeeding 10th grade classes can use as study material.
Students introduced each topic using selected facts of central importance. Sometimes text is replaced by symbols or synonyms, to encourage reflection and awaken interest in reading further. Each book consists of 8-10 easy-to-read pages, meant to arouse interest in doing more in-depth research. This is where the comprehensive fact file – the ‘Little Archive’ – comes in. An extensive bibliography of nonfiction literature supplements the books and the Little Archive.
As head of the project, it seems to me that this sort of work with students has set new standards. We met several times a week, ,,brooded over" content and graphic design, developed new ideas, and sometimes discarded them again. I’m impressed by the students’ fervor and energy in intently studying such a difficult topic.
Since the books were produced by and for students, fresh viewpoints sometimes came up on various problematic questions. On the question of ‘guilty or not guilty’, for example, the students’ answers reflected clear reasoning and common sense, not psychological forms of explanation. Conversations with witnesses of the time who accompanied us through Theresienstadt proved extremely valuable and helpful. They explained, for example, that some guards carried out their orders more severely than others. They spoke about their fears, hardships and hopes during their time in the camp. Understandably, the students could only reproduce part of their knowledge and their own thoughts in the books.
On June 24th 1998, the young people got the opportunity to present their work to a broader public. The students donated a series of their books to the Ghetto Museum in Theresienstadt. The students were especially honored by the visit of Mr. Ignatz Bubis, then chairman of the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (= Central Council of Jews in Germany). In discussion, he answered students’ questions about the history and present situation of oppressed peoples. Over 100 guests, including many of the students’ parents and grandparents, were greatly impressed by the young peoples’ 10 months of work. The book series consists of 9 volumes and can be borrowed from the RAA Straußberg, PAA Potsdam, as well as from the RAA Lübbenau. Further sets are at the Memorial Site Terezin and the Lübbenau Comprehensive School. A 10th volume on the making of the books is in preparation.
(Children’s life / survival in the Theresienstadt ghetto)
(Nazi propaganda vs. daily reality)
(Nutrition and Medical Care in the Ghetto)
(How did people preserve their dignity and their culture?)
(Where did these people come from? Where were they sent?)
(Victims or Perpetrators?)
(Perpetrators, Crimes, Sentences – Questions we must ask ourselves)
(The End of Suffering?)