Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Who, Why, and How?

Today has been tough. The morning session was interesting but the afternoon deeply challenging – as was its intention!

The first session this morning attended to the subject of pedagogy – in other words, the notion of how to teach others about the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is an institute comprising many parts, among which the School of holocaust Studies is significant. As a school it seeks to establish its methodology, and as such it focuses on three ‘communities’ in the Holocaust

·          - The Jewish Victims [it is acknowledged that there we other groups affected, but Holocaust is a term more specifically connected with the genocide of Jews]

·          - Bystanders

·          - Perpetrators

The School seeks, from its own research, to gain insights from these distinct groups, their psychology and their stories. In terms of the victims, they have set themselves specific tasks in the work: how to give back the names of the six million nameless victims; establish their pre-mortem Jewish identity and context; establishing the nature of what the Holocaust changed; the moral dilemmas associated with the need to survive [‘choiceless choices’]; the establishment of a non-judgemental narrative; the issues surrounding the ‘return to life’ after liberation. In terms of their work dealing with ‘bystanders’, they worked from the notion that to a greater or lesser extent, everybody was a bystander to the events of the Holocaust, and that its status brought with it choices. As regards the perpetrators of the Holocaust, the School seeks to establish whether their actions were as a result of ideology, the following of orders or peer pressure. Their aim is to understand the perpetrators in order to educate on future causes. This three-fold approach attends to issues of responsibilities. The School is concerned about who to teach and how, as well as a the challenges for education [historicity; comparisons; denial; Holocaust ‘fatigue’; anti-Semitism; awareness versus knowledge, and so on]. In summary, they seek to answer the question: ‘what are our goals when teaching about the holocaust?’

Later we were treated to a potted snapshot of the basic of Judaism from a very eloquent and learned young Rabbi who crafted his lecture to make it ‘key’ in to the perspectives of the Christian clergy listening to him. In other words, we discussed much of the ethical matters not purely focussed on the factual!

The afternoon submerged us in the absolute factual realities of the build up to the Holocaust. We started with a session called ‘The Jewish Street’ where we examined a large collage of a Polish Jewish street from the inter-war period. We were granted an opportunity to engage with the various ‘types’ of Jew living at that time, entering into a light role-play activity where we assumed the character of various Jews and answered questions about aspects of their daily life based on what we had learned about them. It was a very helpful exercise for me!

We later moved to the Israel Museum and were confronted with so much material taken from the early Nazi period in Poland and other states. As this is more a factual post, I will end there, preferring to post separately my feelings and emotions stirred by the visit to the museum.

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