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Resources

The Holocaust Life Stories website is designed to provide Canadian primary and secondary teachers with tools to facilitate learning about the history of the Holocaust and promote sharing between communities and generations across the country. The site includes many teaching tools to help students discover survivors’ stories and follow their migration. It is also intended for members of the general public who wish to learn more about this genocide through life stories.

The Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) educates people of all ages and backgrounds about the Holocaust, while sensitizing the public to the universal perils of antisemitism, racism, hate and indifference. Through its permanent exhibit, commemorative programs and educational initiatives, the museum promotes respect for diversity and the sanctity of human life.

Canadian Oral History Project: Holocaust Life Stories

The Canadian Oral History Project is a collaboration between the USC Shoah Foundation and 9 Canadian institutions that hold collections of testimonies of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada. A total of more than 1,200 testimonies were digitized and indexed by the USC-SF and are now available online. The Holocaust Life Stories website is designed to provide primary and secondary teachers in Canada with necessary tools to facilitate learning about the history of the Holocaust. Its aim is also to promote sharing experiences between communities and generations across the country. The site includes many teaching aids to help students discover survivors’ stories and follow their journey. It is also intended for members of the general public who wish to learn more about the Holocaust through life stories.

What is Testimony?

The word testimony is used to describe the telling of a story or set of experiences in the “voice” of the person who lived through the events being described. This can be delivered through a variety of formats, including:

  • Primary source written documents, such as diaries, letters, and autobiographical documents, which are created during the same time as the events described.
  • Oral history recordings, which are often interviews recorded in a format that allow the individual to recount their experiences in their own words. With a series of questions, they are guided through a temporal sequence of events. While these testimonies are invaluable, oral history recordings are unedited and the narratives may vary depending on a number of factors, including the time that has passed since events occurred,the setting of the interview, and the interviewer themselves.
  • Memoirs and autobiographies, which are written accounts of a lifetime of experiences. These accounts are usually edited, and secondary authors may sometimes assist in the writing process. These documents are often characterized by a reflective tone, as most memoirs arewritten decades after the events being described. Examples: Memoirs published by the Azrieli Foundation.

 

The Canadian collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies forms part of the Canadian testimonies indexed and  archived in the USC Shoah foundation Visual History Archives.  They are especially relevant for Canadian classrooms. This archival collection includes the testimonies of some of the more than 40,000 displaced persons who came to Canada after the Second World War. These recordings describe not only the events of the Holocaust and the loss of human life, but also the survivors’ resilience to rebuild their lives in cities and towns across Canada.  Survivors have made significant contributions to Canadian society, and have likewise been shaped by their experiences living in Canada.

Why and How to Use Oral Testimonies in the Classroom

The clips featured in the Holocaust Life Stories project are excerpts from interviews recorded between 1980 and 2016. These excerpts were edited with the goal of covering specific subjects for your lessons. The testimonies are relevant to the teaching of history as well as social sciences, geography, ethics, religion, and language classes (first or second language).

 

Teaching with testimony enables students to:

  1. Develop an interest in history by:
  • Putting a face to the facts, dates, and numbers, while helping students understand that history is made and experienced by individuals;
  • Understanding how history directly impacts the lives of individuals, their families, and their communities;
  • Learning that one can have a personal experience of history. Many survivors who left testimonies were children or adolescents during the Holocaust;
  • Using video, an engaging medium forstudents;
  • Developing students’ critical thinking skills.

 

  1. Improve their Historical Analysis Skills through an understanding of the Holocaust by:
  • Understanding how Jews lived before, during, and after the Holocaust;
  • Recognising the diversity of individual experiences during the Holocaust;
  • Understanding how history can impact individuals. For example, students can grasp the psychological, physical, economic, and religious impacts of persecution, trauma, and displacement during and after the Holocaust
  • Comprehending the different responses and motivations of individuals facing extreme situations: resilience, solidarity, collaboration with the oppressor, resistance, or inaction, all motivated by fear, hope, compassion, etc.
  • Discovering stories of non-Jews who risked their lives to help save Jews during the Holocaust.
  1. Promote inclusiveness and acceptance by:
  • Developing students’ empathy and enabling them to appreciate cultural diversity and those individuals or groups labelled as “others”;
  • Helping students who have difficulty reading or writing. Oral histories are historical documents to be viewed and listened to, providing an alternative that suits students’ of varying learning styles and abilities;
  • Introducing younger students to challenging and often upsetting material through age appropriate testimony excerpt selections.

 

 

Teaching with testimonies

Preparing your lesson:

  1. Create a strategy: Be clear about your educational objectives, and why you are using video testimony to teach students about the Holocaust.
  2. Consider the following questions before showing the videos to your students: What do you wish to accomplish? Where and how can the clips be integrated into your discussions about the Holocaust or other genocides?
  3. Follow the guidelines How to teach about the Holocaust (page xx).
  4. Choose class-appropriate content: When selecting testimonies, take your students’ emotional maturity and cognitive skills into account. As their teacher, you know best how to choose and adapt the material.

 

In the Classroom:

  1. Prepare your students before watching the testimony: Because of the sensitive subject matter, you should prepare your students for the visual medium itself, the context/content of the testimony and the emotions it may evoke. Explain to them that a testimony clip is a single moment of a full life history.
  2. Provide historical context before watching the video clips, including basic facts about the Holocaust, unfamiliar terminology or ideas.
  3. For older students – On interpreting and analyzing historical memory: Explain to your students that the story conveyed is a personal interpretation of the individual’s lived experience. They may speak about better known historical realities, such as living in a ghetto, or describe exceptional personal events, such as escaping from camps. This is an opportunity for students to understand the many different elements offered by testimony.
  4. Play the video clips for students more than once. This will enable them to listen more carefully, re-read the subtitles, and take note of any unfamiliar terms or items.
  5. Provide enough time for discussion: Encourage students to reflect upon and discuss their reactions to the videos. These reflections could be expressed through journal entries, poems, or artistic responses.
  6. Promote the relevancy of the testimonies: Provide examples and guide students to reflect upon causality, continuity and change, throughout history and within the present.

 

The information here is adapted from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute For Visual History and Education’s document  “Consideration and Guidelines for the Use of Visual History Testimony in Education”: http://sfi.usc.edu/teach_and_learn/for_educators/resources

Guidelines for Teaching the History of the Holocaust

Guidelines for Teaching the History of the Holocaust

Here are some teaching guidelines adapted from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the USHMM websites.

 

1.Define the term Holocaust

The Holocaust was the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators from 1933 to 1945.

European Jews did not represent the only victims of the Nazi genocide. Other groups persecuted during the Holocaust include:

  • Roma and Sinti people
  • People with disabilities
  • Homosexuals
  • Slavic people
  • Political opponents
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses

 

2. Use eyewitness testimony to individualize the history

Survivor testimonies help students recognise those persecuted by the Nazis as individuals, rather than a faceless mass of victims.

 

3. Contextualize the history

The Holocaust must be studied in the broader context of European and global history to provide students with perspective on the background and circumstances that contributed to the rise of the Nazi state.

Related links: A Brief history of the Holocaust

 

4. Be precise about choice of language (and urge your students to do the same)

There are many myths about the Holocaust, resulting in students approaching the subject with preconceived ideas. Ambiguities in your use of language may help perpetuate misconceptions. For example, avoid using perpetrator language and terminology. Terms like “extermination camps” should be replaced with “killing centres” or “death camps.”

 

5. Distinguish between the history of the Holocaust and the lessons that might be rendered from it

There is a danger of applying and distorting the history of the Holocaust toserve a particular moral lesson or agenda. Studying the Holocaust can sensitize youth to contemporary issues of prejudice and injustice. However, moral or ethical lessons must be based upon an accurate and objective understanding of the history. Historical inquiry introduces students to the difficult decisions made during genocide, and draws attention to general responses  to human rights violations in the students’ own lives.

 

6. Avoid simple answers to a complex history

The Holocaust raises difficult questions about human behaviour and the context within which individual decisions are made. Be wary of simplification. Try to convey the nuances of this history and encourage students to consider the various factors and events that contributed to the Holocaust.

 

7. Provide access to primary sources

Students should have access to original sources to understand that analysis and interpretation require a sound reading of the historical documents.

 

8. Provide appropriate written and visual content for students to engage with.

The Holocaust can be taught effectively without using any photographs of gratuitous violence, and the overuse of such imagery can be harmful. Respect for both the victims of the Holocaust and your classroom requires a sensitive approachto what constitutes appropriate material.

 

9. Avoid creating a hierarchy of suffering

A study of the Holocaust should highlight the different policies carried out by the Nazi regime toward various groups of people; however, these distinctions should not be presented as a basis for comparison of the level of suffering between those groups. The trauma of any individual, family, or community persecuted by the Nazis should not be ranked greater than the experiences of victims or survivors of other genocides. Avoid generalizations that suggest exclusivity such as, “The victims of the Holocaust suffered the most cruelty ever faced by a people in the history of humanity.”

 

10. Call attention to the fact that the Holocaust was not inevitable

The Holocaust took place because individuals, groups, and nations made decisions to act or not to act. By focusing on those decisions, students can gain insight into history and human nature and can improve their critical thinking skills.

 

11. Avoid using in-class simulations where students identify with perpetrators or victims

Simulations are pedagogically unfit as they normalize the experience of victims and take the Holocaust out of its historical context. Simulations often oversimplify the complex nature of the human behaviour and hinder the development of historical and critical thinking.

The reference guide Brief History of the Holocaust – A Reference Tool, produced by the Montreal Holocaust Museum, provides you with the essential information regarding the most frequently discussed concepts about the history of the Holocaust.

Definitions of words followed by an asterisk (*) in the Holocaust Life Stories’ Teacher’s Guide (see section 3 – Pedagogical Tools) can be found in the glossary below.

The Museum also provides many complementary tools for teachers. Visit our Resources and Training section.

 

Glossary, Timelines and Maps

GLOSSARY

Allies: The nations – Canada, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States – that joined together in the war against Germany and its partners – Italy and Japan (known as the Axis powers). Later, the Axis was joined by Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Anschluss: The annexation of Austria by Germany on March 13, 1938.

Antisemitism: Prejudice against or hatred of Jews; a particular form of racism.

Aryan: The Nazis took a term used to describe an ancient tribe and applied it to themselves, falsely claiming that their own “Aryan race” was superior to all other racial groups. The term “non-Aryan” was used to designate Jews, part-Jews and others of supposedly inferior race.

Concentration camps: Any internment camp for holding “enemies of the Third Reich”. The construction of concentration camps began almost immediately after Hitler came to power. Thousands of camps were established during the war.

Death Camps or Killing Centres : Extermination centres established in occupied Poland for the mass murder of Jews and other victims, primarily by poison gas. These were Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.

Death Marches: Trapped between the Soviets in the East and the Allies in the West, the Nazis emptied concentration camps, forcing inmates to march long distances toward camps in Germany. Thousands died on route as a result of intolerable conditions, mistreatment, starvation and shootings.

Deportation: The removal of people from their homes for purposes of “resettlement”. The Jews of Europe were deported by the Nazis to ghettos, concentration camps and killing centres.

Displaced Persons (DP) Camps: Camps established after World War II for those who had been liberated but could not return to their former homes. Tens of thousands of Jews remained in the camps for a number of years until they were able to immigrate to other countries.

Einsatzgruppen (German, literally “operational squads”):  Mobile killing units of the Nazi SS.

Enemy Aliens: Citizens of a country living in another that is at war with their country of origin. For example, citizens of states officially at war with Canada were interned in camps across the country as enemy aliens. Starting in 1940, close to 2,300 refugees of Nazism (most of them Jews) were interned.

Fifth Columnists: People who secretly supported and helped the enemies of the country they were in. They engaged in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders.

Final Solution: Nazi euphemism for the extermination of European Jewry.

Führer: Leader in German.

Genocide: Act committed with the intention to exterminate a national, ethnic, racial or religious group (in whole or in part). Members of the group are murdered or systematically persecuted through various means, such as “measures intended to prevent births within the group”, “the transfer of children of the group to another group”, etc. Genocide is committed by those in power, in their name or with their open or implied consent. Genocide is considered a crime against humanity.

Gestapo (German): Secret State Police of Nazi Germany, created in 1933.

Ghetto: The Nazis revived the medieval term to describe their device of concentration and control, the compulsory “Jewish Quarter”. Established in poor areas, Jews were forced to live in overcrowded and desperate conditions.

Holocaust: Systematic, state-sponsored murder of approximately six million Jews between 1933 and 1945, committed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Beside the Jews, the Nazis persecuted other victims, too: the Roma and Sinti (their genocide is named Samudaripen), the disabled (T4 program), the homosexuals, the Slavs, the political opponents, etc.

Jewish Council (Judenrat in German): Jewish municipal administrations established by the Germans during the World War II. The Jewish Councils had to ensure that Nazi policies and orders were implemented. They also provided basic community services to the population of the ghettos.

Judenfrei (German, literally “free of Jews”): Nazi term to designate an area “cleansed” of Jews during the Holocaust.

Kindertransport (German, literally “children’s transport”): Program developed in Great Britain to rescue Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland between 1938 and 1940. About 10,000 unaccompanied children (mostly Jews) were sent to live with host families in England.

Kristallnacht: (German, literally “Night of Crystal”): Name given to violent attacks (pogrom) against the businesses, places of worship and homes of the Jews throughout Germany and in the annexed countries (Austria and Sudetenland) on November 9 and 10, 1938. The violence was implemented by Nazi leaders. The sound of broken glass explains the name given to the event.

Nazism (National Socialism): German political movement led by Adolf Hitler. In 1933, the Nazi Party took political power in Germany in a democratic election. The Nazis were violently antisemitic, and believed in the supremacy of the “Aryan race.” Nazi ideology includes discrimination on grounds such as origin, ethnicity, skin colour, disability, religion, language, sexual orientation or political convictions. It is characterised by strong authoritarianism and “cult of the leader” (Führerkult). Nazi objectives included racial purity and territorial expansion (Lebensraum) needed for the German race, which was to be achieved by murdering the Jews of Europe and invading neighbouring countries.

Nuremberg Laws: A series of laws promulgated in 1935, which defined who was Jewish and which introduced their systematic discrimination and persecution.

ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation through Training): ORT is a non-profit global Jewish organization that promotes education and training in communities worldwide. After World War II, ORT offered vocational training to Jews living in displaced persons camps.

Partisans: Groups operating in enemy-occupied territory using guerrilla tactics. Some partisan groups were Jewish or included Jewish members, while others were made up entirely of non-Jewish resistance fighters.

Pogrom: Derived from Russian, literally meaning “devastation”. An organised, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of Jews.

Propaganda: Propaganda consists of using various means of communication (media, speeches, advertisements), to convince people to adopt an idea, doctrine, or ideology. The Nazis used every means of communication (radio, newspapers, children’s books, political speeches, films, etc.) at their disposal, in order to propagate their ideology, including antisemitism and the idea of the superiority of the “Aryan race”.

Resistance: Resistance can be individual or collective, and is a revolt against perpetrators. There are different forms of resistance such as organized military resistance, like sabotage and espionage. Humanitarian resistance can involve anonymously saving people or providing medical aid. Another method of defiance is spiritual resistance. Resistors are personally engaged in a political, humanitarian or spiritual cause, often at the risk of their own lives.

Righteous or Rescuers: Name given to individuals who often risked their own lives to save Jews by hiding them, giving them identity papers, helping them flee, etc.

Round-up: Mass arrest of Jews by local police or Nazi forces.

Shema: Jewish prayer recited every morning and night. It is the daily declaration of faith in one God. The first verse of Shema is recited traditionally as the last words before death.

Shoah: The Hebrew word for Holocaust, a biblical term meaning “catastrophe”, “destruction”, “disaster”.

Shtetl (Yiddish):  A small Jewish town or village in Eastern Europe.

SS (Schutzstaffel; German, literally “Protection Squad”): Guard detachments originally formed in 1925 as Hitler’s personal guard. From 1929, under Himmler, the SS became the most powerful affiliated organisation of the Nazi Party. By mid-1934, they had established control of the police and security systems, forming the basis of the Nazi police state and the major instrument of racial terror in the concentration camps and in occupied Europe.

Third Reich: The Nazi designation of Germany and its regime from 1933 to 1945. Historically, the First Reich was the medieval Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806. The Second Reich referred to the German Empire from 1871 to 1918.

UNRRA: The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was an international relief agency founded in 1943. Its mission was to provide economic aid to European nations after World War II. UNRRA distributed relief supplies, such as food, clothing, fuel, shelter, and medicines while helping with agricultural and economic rehabilitation. It assisted in the repatriation of millions of refugees in 1945, and managed hundreds of displaced persons (DP) camps in Germany, Italy, and Austria. It provided health and welfare assistance in the DP camps, as well as vocational training and entertainment.

 

TIMELINES AND MAPS
Check out the Montreal Holocaust Museum’s interactive timelines and maps.

Canada’s educational programs vary greatly from province-to-province. As part of a nation-wide initiative, this project was developed based on a study of each province’s educational objectives. The activities therefore incorporate the terms and concepts used in the different curricula across the country.

The Teacher’s guide below provides, as well as the best practices described above, 10 activities with instructions, some maps and a grid showing every subject to be discussed with students.

The activity files will allow you to make the activities featured in the Teacher’s guide with your students.

holocaust-life-stories-teachers-guide testimony-analysis-sheet Activity 1 - Portrait of a Survivor Activity 2 - Comparing Experiences Activity 3 - Anti-Jewish Measures Activity 4 - Resisting Nazism Activity 5 - Way of Life and Territorial Occupation Activity 6 - Ethical Questions Activity 7 - Life Journeys Activity 8 - Human Rights Activity 9 - Immigration to Canada