Project Week at the ITS Archive
19 senior pupils of “Christian-Rauch” secondary school in Bad Arolsen have spent a project week at the International Tracing Service (ITS) dedicating their learning time and energy to the subject of “Children’s Lives during and under National Socialism. Between ‘Lebensborn’, Germanization, Deportation or Annihilation“. “On the whole our expectations have been surpassed”, history teacher Annette Marterer gives a résumé. “Our pupils have gained from the project week, on both, the content and the social-emotional levels.”
The educational purpose of this project week was the learners’ examination of and approach to the National Socialists’ racial ideology on their own by looking into the lives and fates of children who had lived during the era. Accordingly it was not the documents created by the perpetrators that were in the fore here, but the suffering children’s perception of their reality. Children (ab)used as forced labourers, children deported from the Czech village of Lidice, the fate of Sinti and Roma children and children’s block 66 of Concentration Camp Buchenwald were among the topics the senior pupils worked on.
Taking advantage of the ITS database, the young ‘researchers’ had the opportunity to investigate individual fates. To form an idea of the historical background of persecution, they could make use of the ITS library with its more than 5,000 media. The team around Susanne Urban, Head of the Department for Research and Educational Projects at the ITS, has supported the pupils in their work. In subsequent talks, she and her staff have helped them digest and assess what they had seen, read and thought about.
“I feel that this project is deeper than the history lessons we are given at school”, summarises pupil Carina Braun her impression. “At the ITS archive we can retrace the fates of young people of our age, this is an experience that is both, intense and terrible. In the end you are happy that you were spared life at that time.” Together with three classmates, the 17-year-old has dealt with children employed under duress as so-called ‘forced labourers’. Reconstructing their fate, the four have sifted through labour card indices and lists on employment in agriculture and in companies.
“Most children were deported to Germany together with their parents”, knows Sandra Braun. “On their arrival here, though, the families were separated and adolescent sons and daughters aged between 14 and 18 were compelled to work. Some of them were even younger.” The pupils were shocked by the type of labour the children were assigned to. “A girl had to sort the clothes of gassed prisoners into those to be kept and those to be thrown away”, recalls the 17-year-old. “While separating these garments from those, she came across her mother’s blouse.”
For the first time, the pupils comprehended on how many various levels the Nazi ideologists had included children in their murderous annihilation plan, so Marterer. Research pursued on their own had enabled the pupils to give substance to and grasp concepts such as the “Lebensborn”, the deportation of Jewish children, the Sinti and Roma as well as the forced labour issues. “On the emotional plane as well, we noticed that the pupils, thanks to their work on the documents, had come to value and express feelings such as compassion, empathy and gratefulness for their own life situation.”