Holocaust Memorial Day 27 January

13th January 2012 at 00:00
History teacher Tamsin Leyman on how a two-day CPD course from the Holocaust Education Development Programme has changed the way she teaches

I have taught the Holocaust to Year 9 pupils for the past six years and organised annual five-day trips to Poland. Pupils always had a huge emotional reaction to Auschwitz, but the continuing professional development (CPD) course provided by the London University Institute of Education's Holocaust Education Development Programme has made me re-evaluate these visits. We now spend more focused time in Krakow, looking at areas where once-vibrant Jewish communities have been totally wiped out.

I do not think we, as a history department, had a clear rationale about what we were trying to teach; because the Holocaust is such a sensitive subject it is easy to become scared about getting it right. But the CPD course helps you to set up enquiry that is historically accurate and to present the Holocaust as an unprecedented event that redefined the face of Europe. We felt we should teach it as clearly as we teach any other area of history.

I now spend about four of the 12 lessons looking at the vibrancy and diversity of Jewish life in Europe before the war. Students are given time to consider the legacy of the Holocaust, both for individual survivors and in terms of the void created by the loss of six million lives. Without this comparison, I think there is a danger of making Jews seem like two-dimensional victims.

One of the most common questions asked by pupils is: "Why didn't people fight back?" Using the Institute of Education materials it is possible to better explain the complexity and timeframe of what took place, and develop pupils' empathy. The materials help to clarify the creeping nature of the persecution so pupils understand that people were not suddenly marched off to concentration camps and gas chambers.

One of my favourite lessons is the "authentic encounter", which introduces students to the only British Jew to survive Auschwitz, the late Leon Greenman, through the story of the toy train he made for his son, Barney. Both Barney and Mr Greenman's wife died, but Mr Greenman went on to become an anti-fascist campaigner and his story is threaded through the Institute of Education's materials.

The "Being Human" lessons explore the actions and inactions of real people at the time, challenging stereotypical notions of the perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders and rescuers. As a result, pupils seem better able and more willing to grapple with the messiness of the past rather than demand easy answers.

Tamsin Leyman is a history teacher and head of humanities at Testwood Sports College in Southampton. Visit the Institute of Education's resource page about the Holocaust on www.tes.co.uk. For information about CPD courses across the country in February, March and April, go to www.hedp.org.uk

All links and resources can be found at www.tes.co.ukresources017.

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