Testimony serves as evidence or proof in support of a fact or assertion. Often, testimony is a first-hand personal account of an event. A Holocaust survivor’s testimony is one person’s story told from a specific and subjective perspective. Since most Holocaust survivors are not historians, they will tell personal experiences that connect with historical details that the students can acquire from other sources.
Historians engage with testimony in order to understand the personal experience of the people who were involved in an historical event. When historians examine testimony as an historical source, they must carefully consider the challenges and the benefits that accompany the use of such testimonies.
It is important to consider why survivors testify and under what circumstances. Some survivors of the Holocaust gave testimony in court, thereby providing eyewitness evidence in the process of building cases against war criminals. More recently, survivors have offered testimony to confront the phenomenon of Holocaust denial or to leave a legacy for future generations.
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
The first lesson in this cluster incorporates the testimonies of one survivor, Peter P., to assess the value of testimony as an historical source. Students will view Peter’s testimonies chronologically or thematically in order to explore the benefits and challenges of testimony as a source.
The second lesson builds upon the first, introducing students to two more survivor speakers, Jannushka J. and Lillian N.
In the final lesson, students are encouraged to develop and design their own inquiry into the use of testimony as an historical source. Using the provided guidelines, teachers and students can develop individual or class inquiries. They have the opportunity to explore the VHEC testimony collection through people, places, historical events or themes.