Many people who experienced the Holocaust assumed the role of witnesses to criminal events for which there were few trials or convictions. Holocaust survivors have documented their experiences for a multitude of reasons, including the preservation of memory, the establishment of the historical record to combat Holocaust denial and to serve as a legacy for their families or for future generations broadly.
Holocaust survivor testimonies include accounts of persecution, loss, and survival during the Nazi era. Testimonies also convey details about the diversity of pre-war Jewish life in Europe – related to their families, communities and identities – and experiences of rescue, resistance, liberation, immigration and the re-establishment of life after the Holocaust.
The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s collection includes more than 200 audio-video Holocaust survivor testimonies dating from the late 1970s through 2016, with the Centre continuing to record testimonies. The VHEC has documented the experiences of concentration camp survivors, chid survivors, and those who survived in hiding or as partisans, as well as the accounts of liberators.
This teaching resource facilitates student engagement with historical context and individual testimonies from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s collection.
The activities are recommended for students of grades eight to 12, with adaptations possible for intermediate grades.
An investigation of testimony and primary source material fosters historical and critical thinking skills in students.
The guide complements the VHEC collection of testimonies, and is divided into three sections.
The NOW activities introduce students to the theme of the lesson cluster and engage them with selected testimonies. If a teacher only has one class in which to engage with Primary Voices, this is the recommended lesson.
The NEXT lesson deepens students’ engagement with the theme, introducing a greater range of testimonies.
Finally, the BEYOND activities encourage teachers and students to choose their own inquiry questions. They are encouraged to explore the VHEC archives collection in greater depth.
SUMMARY OF LESSONS
Students engage in class discussion about the concept of testimony and bearing witness and participate in a guided viewing of a survivor testimony. Students then share an important moment or event from their own lives with a classmate and discuss the experience of bearing witness. Students will watch a video in which survivors discuss their reasons for recording testimony, and will write a short response to the video.
Students engage in a class discussion about the concept of evidence/primary sources using examples from the students’ own lives. Groups of students are assigned one piece of evidence and respond to questions regarding the source. Students are then shown a video in which different survivors share their motivations for testifying. The lesson concludes with a class discussion about the roles and responsibilities of historians and witnesses.
Using the Activity Sheet: The Inquiry Cycle as a guide, and incorporating recommended testimonies as a source, students will design a powerful question related to the theme of giving testimony after the Holocaust.