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Close Cooperation between ITS and the University of Kassel

In April and May 2014, two groups of students and student teachers from the University of Kassel set off to search in documents of historical significance at the International Tracing Service (ITS) for didactic purposes. Hans-Peter Klein, head of the Faculty of History at the “Studienseminar für Gymnasien” (institution for the second phase of German high school teacher training) in Kassel and Associate Professor in the field of Teaching Methodology in History at the University of Kassel, rejoiced over the cooperation: “I would appreciate it very much if the collaboration with the ITS becomes an integral part of the training and if new possibilities for holding history classes are discovered in this way.” Dr. Klein considers the work with selected documents to be important for the development of competency in history teaching. The students and student teachers also shared this opinion. They developed many approaches, appropriate primarily for senior level pupils, but definitely also for younger pupils, especially when easily comprehensible biographies with photos and documents are used as a starting point.

Investigative skills needed

The “Studienseminar” on 1 April 2014 focused on “Multi-Perspective Approaches to the Subject of the Holocaust.” Using the example of a multi-page application for assistance for survivors in post-WWII emigration, which was addressed to the International Refugee Organization (IRO), the student teachers themselves felt the fascination emanating from investigative and discovery-based learning. Just as if they were detectives piecing things together, they had to reconstruct first of all how and by which routes the persons mentioned in the application had found each other at all. Proceeding from the information available about each individual fate before, during and after the persecution, it was possible to develop new questions again and again and to examine the ways the persons were separated and, later on, got back together. The trainee teachers were enthusiastic: “The deeper we dug, the more new questions emerged”.

Suggestions for interdisciplinary learning

The students training in history teaching methodology who on 23 May 2014 were in Bad Arolsen worked with documents about the Holocaust and the genocide of the Sinti and Roma. Nazi documents and biographical documents revealed a range of questions that made possible an analysis of the National Socialist crimes and a clearer understanding of the consequences of racism, anti-Semitism and anti-ziganism. The students found many connecting points for preparing the subject for teaching and, most notably, for interdisciplinary approaches, for example by analyzing the bureaucratic German language of that time. Moreover, the subject “Self-perception – Perception of the Other” as well as the work relating to the perception of identity turned out to be particularly suitable for the dialogue with adolescents.

The sources used were documents relating to a German family who had been well-integrated in the German society as Sinti - a surprise to most of the students -, but who, apart from one daughter, were all murdered in Auschwitz later on. “If you look together with the schoolchildren at the perception of family at that time, they will notice how typically ‘German’ the family had appeared,” Vanessa Schiller stated. A portrait of Hitler in the list of seized family possessions supports the assumption that they had been “ordinary Germans” who were targetted as enemies by the regime and by society only a short time afterwards. One trainee teacher summarized the group's experiences at the ITS: “We were reminded today of how fascinating archival work can be. The combination of technological possibilities and, at the same time, work with original documents provides an enormous potential, especially for work with children at school.”