TESTIMONY

NOW NEXT BEYOND

THE CASE OF PETER P.

OBJECTIVES

Students will be able to …

  • Define the terms “case study” and “testimony”
  • Collect, analyze and report on information gathered from Holocaust survivor testimony
  • Construct and express their observations and perceptions on testimony as an historical source
  • Communicate with teachers and students as a way to debrief, reflect on, and think critically about this topic
TEACHER PREPARATION
Provide access to digital copies of Introduction: Elie Wiesel Quote, Reading: The Rise of Nazism Timeline, Map – Holocaust Sites in Europe, Biography: Peter P., Reading: Primer on Testimony, Reading: Primer on Case Study, Activity Sheet: Testimony Notes and Reactionsand the Assessment: Response Rubric. Alternately, reproduce copies of the materials to distribute to students in small groups.

Provide Historical Context

One of the most important steps when looking at testimonies is to provide historical context.

In advance of the testimony activities, you may want to:

  • Review the timeline of the Second World War, including some key events in the rise of Nazism, the German expansion across Europe, and the Holocaust
  • Point out important places and terms that may come up in the story and set them in the historical context. The historical context may include terms of importance for understanding of the testimony, e.g., ghetto, labour/transit/concentration/extermination camp etc.

Depending on your objectives, you may choose to view the testimonies with students in different ways. Three options are described below:

  • View the testimony without taking notes
  • View the testimony with guiding questions
  • View the testimony with a two-column note-taking sheet

No Notes

If you decide not to have students record their observations as they view the testimony, ensure that you are taking the time to debrief your observations between video excerpts.

You and your class may wish to watch the excerpts either chronologically (all of the 1987 excerpts and then all of the 2010 excerpts) or thematically (assigning individuals or groups both the 1987 and 2010 excerpts for a given theme). In either case, encourage students to think like historians and to observe differences in Peter P.’s tone either between themes or recording sessions.

Guiding Questions

Alternatively, the class could watch the testimony with factual, inferential and universal questions guiding your viewing.

  • Factual – What events are being described? Where are they happening? Who is involved? What adjectives do the subjects of the testimonies use to describe what happened to them?
  • Inferential – How does this testimony contribute to your understanding of the Holocaust? What changes do the survivors seem to have undergone as a result of their experiences?
  • Universal – Is it possible to truly understand the experiences of a Holocaust survivor? What limits our understanding of the Holocaust?
  • As with the No Notes approach, you and your class may wish to watch the excerpts either chronologically or thematically.

Two-Column Notes

You may also use a two-column note taking sheet. On the left side of a page, record information presented in the testimony. On the right side, record your reactions to the testimony: a question, a comment, a feeling or a connection to something they know about or have experienced.

As part of the class discussion on the benefits and challenges of using testimony as an historical source, you may wish to refer to the document Sample: Two Column Notes.
As with the approaches explained above, you and your class may wish to watch the excerpts either chronologically or thematically.

STUDENT INSTRUCTION

BEFORE VIEWING TESTIMONY
You will be viewing testimonies of victims of the Holocaust. 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 you can acquire from other sources.

Before you view the testimonies, you will learn and think about testimony by engaging with the following questions. You may also want to review the Reading: Primer on Testimony.

ELIE WIESEL QUOTE

  • Read the Introduction: Elie Wiesel Quote
  • Use the guiding questions to set the intention for viewing the testimony excerpts. Having a clear purpose for viewing gives the instructor something to guide their questions and to refocus conversation on the topic

CLASSROOM DISCUSSION: WHAT IS A TESTIMONY? 
As a class, engage in a discussion about testimony, using the following questions as prompts:

  • What is an eyewitness?
  • What is a testimony?
  • What forms does testimony take?
  • Why would somebody leave a testimony?
  • What can testimony tell us about a past event that other sources might not?
  • What are the limitations of testimony as an historical source?
  • Compare testimony, artifacts (such as documents and photographs), and textbooks as sources for understanding the past.

VIEWING PETER P.’S TESTIMONY 
This lesson uses video excerpts taken from two testimonies given by one survivor, Peter P. We will use Peter P. as a case of how testimony can be used as an historical source. Before moving on to Peter’s testimony, you may wish to review the Reading: Primer on Case Study.

Review the following materials in order to be able to place his wartime experience in a context:

ACTIVITY: GUIDED VIEWING 
Using the Activity Sheet: Testimony Notes and Reactions, you will record factual information presented in Peter P.’s testimonies. For example:

  • What events are being described?
  • Where are they happening?
  • Who is involved?

As well, you will record your reactions to the testimony: a question, a comment, a feeling or a connection to something you know about or have experienced.

SELF SUFFICIENCY

1987

2010

PRE WAR ANTISEMITISM

LOSS OF FRIEND

ARREST & DETENTION

DEPORTATION TO AUSCHWITZ

ARRIVAL AT AUSCHWITZ

WORK IN THE WARSAW GHETTO

LIBERATION

TELLING THE STORY

AFTER VIEWING THE TESTIMONY: RESPONDING THROUGH DISCUSSION
In small groups or as a class, use the following questions to guide the discussion after viewing the testimony. You may want to add to your notes throughout the discussion:

  • Compare and contrast Peter’s telling of the same event. How are the two excerpts similar? How are they different?
  • Peter was an active Holocaust Survivor Outreach Speaker for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. How do you think Peter felt when students asked questions about his experiences during the Holocaust?
  • A personal account is not a history. Yet, many historians regard personal accounts as invaluable. What is the difference between memory and history? What can you learn from a personal account that you cannot learn from a history book?
  • Many Holocaust survivors talk about the importance of telling their story in order to educate subsequent generations. Why does remembering matter?
  • What do you think you will remember about this experience? Why?

RESPONDING THROUGH WRITING 

Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument. This is a threadbare truth known not only to psychologists but also to anyone who has paid attention to the behaviour of those who surround him, or even to his own behaviour.Primo Levi, Italian Holocaust Survivor

This quotation brings attention to one of the main challenges of survivors’ testimonies. Never will two people who shared an experience remember it in the same manner. The human memory is influenced by various elements that shape it. Beliefs, personality traits, life experiences, knowledge gained after an experience, suppressing thoughts, and changes to memory caused by the passage of time are just a few of the factors that affect the way our memory is shaped.

In a few paragraphs, outline the benefits and challenges that historians face when using testimony as an historical source. Once you have generated a list of benefits and challenges, respond to the question: What is the place of testimony as an historical source?

The Assessment: Response Rubric can be used to assess your written responses.

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