Testimonies from survivors

11th April 1997 at 01:00
More and more, schools are organising visits from Holocaust survivors to augment their teaching of the period. Judging from the post-visit responses that the Holocaust Survivors Centre receives, it appears that the impact of a first-hand account is memorably powerful. Jewish Care is publishing a schools pack, The Courage to Remember, written by Holocaust educator Shirley Murgraff. As well as providing printed extracts of survivors' testimonies, the pack offers guidelines on how to arrange a survivor's visit and get the most out of it. Listed below are some key points.

A cross-curricular approach to the subject of the Holocaust greatly enhances its teaching, particularly if it can be arranged simultaneously with the English and religious studies departments. Other strong links are possible through PSE, geography, art, dance, drama and music.

Preparation for a survivor's visit is vital. A minimum 50-minute lesson should be allocated.

Using the well-resourced pupils' workbook, the teacher can run the session either as a whole-class activity or in smaller groups, asking the children to read a single testimony and then answering the questions at the end of each section. In either case, time should be left for discussion at the end of the session.

Questions to ask the survivor should be prepared before the visit. On the basis of visits by survivors to schools across the United Kingdom, the following subjects are the most frequently asked and can yield illuminating responses.

* Pre-war anti-semitism: How was this felt in everyday life? Who were the bystanders and why did they fail to intervene?

* Conditions in the camps, life under Nazi occupation, how people were killed, circumstances under which relatives and friends were last seen.

* Questions about faith: did the survivor keep theirs or lose it as a result of their experiences?

* Survival: did the survivor have any hope of living through their ordeals? Did friendships with fellow prisoners help see them through? Did they stay in touch with other former inmates after the war?

* The present: how does the survivor view their experiences in hindsight? How have they coped psychologically with their memories? Have they ever returned to the place of their birth or of their suffering?

* Did the film Schindler's List accurately portray the realities of the Holocaust? How did the survivor respond to it?

* The future: have the lessons of the past been learned? Is the Holocaust of any relevance to European youth today?

The Courage to Remember schools pack is available from the beginning of June, priced Pounds 3.95. To order a copy, contact Joe Franses at Jewish Care on 0181 922 2000.

The education department at the Spiro Institute helps schools arrange survivors' visits. Contact Shirley Murgraff on 0181 431 0345.

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