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Joint Seminar for Educators from Yad Vashem and ITS in Bad Arolsen

In late October, ten educators who had attended a seminar at Yad Vashem´s International School for Holocaust Studies now came to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. During three days they conducted detailed research and planned lessons using documents held in the ITS archives. The educators focused chiefly on the Holocaust, but they also discussed documentation on forced labour. “The sheer volume of records and the huge number of human fates is both overwhelming and upsetting,” said Cornelia Opitz, a religion teacher from Schechen. “I find myself doing research constantly.”

The seminar participants from Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland perused documents concerning Aryanization, deportations, the concentration camp system, the death marches, exploitation of forced labourers and survivors. All agreed that the ITS archive is a valuable resource for research as well as for the continuing education of teachers. “Every one of us has profited from the seminar,” said Arno Brändle from Liechtenstein. “We can all concentrate on different areas at the ITS, and we should build a network in which we can exchange information and ideas and continue what we have begun in the last several days.”   

Beginning with this seminar, the German language section of the International School for Holocaust Studies in Yad Vashem has inaugurated a series of short seminars in German-speaking countries, which will take place annually at alternate memorials and learning centers. “The ITS was more or less the pilot project,” said Dr. Susanne Urban, head of research at the ITS. Participants had attended an earlier continuing education seminar in Israel on communicating the Holocaust. “They then had the opportunity to visit the fascinating and multi-layered ITS archive in Bad Arolsen and will use it in their future educational work,” said Dr. Noa Mkayton, head of the German-speaking countries desk at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.

The first concrete ideas have been developed.  “This archive provides more than a lifetime of lesson materials for teachers,” said Matthias Schickel, a history teacher at Katharinen-Gymnasium in Ingolstadt. He and his colleague Alexander Schöner reviewed documents on forced labour and displaced persons in the Ingolstadt area and plan to incorporate them into their lessons. “We have to use the local connection to National Socialist history and not facts from history books in order to awaken interest more than 60 years after the end of the Second World War,” said Schöner.

The teacher also approves of Yad Vashem´s decision not to treat the twelve years of persecution under the Nazis as an isolated incident but to integrate it into Jewish life, culture and how we interact with others as a whole. “Original documents show how effective the Nazi regime´s ideologies were,” said Schöner. “Students should recognize how people act and how they can be manipulated, but also that every one of us has a choice.”

Exclusion, hostility and anti-Semitism can be prevented through education and by instilling tolerance, says Klaus Warmuth, a vocational school teacher from Rimpar. While doing research he stumbled upon the persecution of an Austrian Jew who had been deported from numerous places, lost his family and forced to find a new home. On the basis of such individual fates, Warmuth wants students to visualize how Jews were labeled “foreigners” by their homeland during the Nazi regime and deported. “The number of small ethnic groups in some of our classes is very high,” said Warmuth. “The kids know personally what it is to be a ‘foreigner’.”

Sebastian Schönemann and Elisabeth Schwabauer from the pedagogic ITS team as well as ITS Historian Urban und Deborah Hartmann of Yad Vashem are pleased with the response to the seminar. ITS and Yad Vashem now discuss the possibilty of holding a joint seminar every year. "If we continue to work productively and share our results, we can all profit”, said Urban and Hartmann.