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Educational challenges in authentic memorial sites


The results of the three-year project “The Future of Auschwitz and the Holocaust Education in Authentic Memorial Sites” implemented by the Auschwitz Museum and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam were summarised during an international conference held at the Book Gallery in Oświęcim between 10-12 October.


The project consisted of five components: on-line education, teacher exchanges, study visits for educators of Memorial Sites, training for a group of young leaders, as well as adapting the scenario of a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial to the perception of persons with special education needs.

All activities focused on improving the professional competences of teachers and museum educators, primarily in the area teachings on tolerance and respect for human rights, as well as about the history of racism and antisemitism.

'We live in extraordinary, dynamic and challenging times. We are facing a significant challenge today: how to continue to teach? Perhaps we made mistakes in the past regarding education in memorial sites? Do our actions bring about desired results, since we often encounter incomprehension and populism. What next? How do we deal with it? The conference shows us how to work with different people, in different environments, and how to continue our work - at Auschwitz and other memorials,' said the director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, Andrzej Kacorzyk, during the conference opening speech.

In a letter to participants of the conference, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Poland Ron J.P.M. van Dartel wrote: “Never again Auschwitz! Nie wieder Auschwitz! Nooit meer Auschwitz! This motto is known in all languages and expresses the obvious wish of our post-war generation. Over the past decades, and even in the present times, we have witnessed and continue to witness atrocities, which is a source of concern that should stimulate reflection. This wish is seemingly not shared by everyone. Our current world still requires daily effort, to prevent hatred, discrimination and violence. We must remain alert to keep our public wish alive. Education is one of the most significant parts of this effort, undertaken by people, institutions and governments”.

The conference was inaugurated by a panel titled “Educational challenges in authentic memorial sites” with the participation of Anna Ziółkowska PhD, director of the martyrdom museum in Żabikowo, Piotr Tarnowski, director of the Stutthof Museum and Bartosz Bartyzel, spokesperson for the Auschwitz Museum. Topics raised during the discussion included among others educational work with the new generation of visitors, functioning of memorial sites in the light of new technologies and social media, challenges related to building relations between a historical event and the present day, and how to build an attitude of activity accountability to threats that we observe in today’s world. 

'What is the reaction of societies and nations to genocide and murders? The world looks on and protests but does not counteract. This evil around us, which is continuously developing, is accepted by our passivity' said Anna Ziółkowska.

'In spite of the well-known history and millions of visitors to Auschwitz and other memorial sites we do not hear the voice of protests. The Burmese situation is entirely incomprehensible, given that a Nobel Peace Prize winner is the head of state. We, as think thanks should strengthen the message and remind people how the world strayed when there was no one to say no, said, Piotr Tarnowski 

'We ought to inform and sensitise visitors. We should also cooperate with other organisations because as memorial sites we cannot change the world by ourselves. However, we ought to find a way to make the voices from memorial sites not only a story about history but about our education urging people to assume an active and responsible attitude,' stressed, Bartosz Bartyzel

Prof.Marek Kucia and Dr Katarzyna Stec from the Jagiellonian University discussed education about Auschwitz and other former camps in the perspective of sociological research conducted to date. 

The day ended with a panel devoted to how the context of authentic places of remembrance affects the subject and educational opportunities. It was attended by Magdalena Wolak of Camp des Milles memorial, dr. Alicja Bartuś from the Oświęcim Institute of Human Rights and dr. Joanna Podolska of the Mark Edelman Centre for Dialogue in Łódz.

On the second day, the entire part of the project was presented in detail. The first part contained teacher exchanges between Poland and the Netherlands. As part of meetings at the Auschwitz Memorial, and in Cracow, the participants learned and presented examples of good practices in teaching about the Holocaust and II World War in both countries. Particular emphasis was placed on education in the memorial sites, preparation and summary of visits, educational travelling exhibitions and innovative teaching solutions used in teaching about the Holocaust, such as peer education or work with on-line lessons.

However, during the stay in Holland, the educators visited among others, the Anne Frank House and other Amsterdam institutions, such as the National Holocaust Museum, Jewish Museum, Portuguese Synagogue and the Dutch Resistance Museum. During the stay in Rotterdam, they visited among others Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, where they had the opportunity to participate in discussions with young educators about their prospects for teaching about World War II. The seminar students also got acquainted with the activities of the Feyenoord football club and the Giovanni van Bronckhorst Foundation operating at the club, whose educators conduct activities on anti-discrimination education. In turn, during the stay in Vught, they visited the Memorial located on the premises of the former German Naziconcentration camp Herzogenbusch and acquainting themselves with its educational mission.

The second part of the project was a study visit by 16 guides and educators of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum to Holland, who visited Amsterdam and the Westerbork memorial, from where over 90,000 Dutch Jews were deported in 1942-44, mainly to Auschwitz and Sobibor. The guides could visit both the premises of the former Westerbork transit camp, explore the museum’s exhibition and learn more about the work of the Museum, the specifics and expectations of the Dutch groups. Presentations devoted to new educational techniques were particularly impressive, among others, the use of Virtual Reality technology.

The third component of the project is the program for Young Leaders. Its primary assumption was to create a group of young educators, tasked with actively supporting and promoting educational programmes for the Auschwitz Museum, Anne Frank house, and their own circles. This part of the project was firmly focused on issues associating Auschwitz and the Holocaust with problems of the present day through education about threats related to antisemitism, racism and discrimination. In the years 2017-2018, a group of young leaders from Poland and Holland participated in three meetings: in Wrocław, Auschwitz Memorial and Amsterdam. 

Under the project, an on-line lesson “Auschwitz - German Nazi concentration and extermination camp” developed aimed at preparing young people from 13 years old for a visit to a Memorial. The authors of the lesson scenario are Adam Musiał and Monika Witalis-Malinowska, certified teachers cooperating with the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

The lesson methodology is based on short descriptions of the most significant events, elements of the ideology and history of the Third Reich, as well as the concentration and Holocaust camps. In addition to the historical text itself, part of the lesson is a rich archival material containing photos, maps and fragments of documentary films. A significant element of the lesson are exercises for students, allowing for the systematisation of acquired knowledge. The participants were also informed of the mobile exhibition “Auschwitz Experience in the Art of Former Prisoners” the educational materials prepared for it.

During the conference, a panel was also held entitled "Groups with special educational needs in Memorial Sites - theory and practice", attended by Dr. Marcin Owsiński from the Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo, Gabriel Dittrich from Campus Christophorus Jugendwerk, Leszek Szuster from the International Youth Meeting Centre and Piotr Kondratowicz from the Lower Silesian Special Needs and Education Centre Nr 12 for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Wrocław.

On the last day of the conference, the participants visited the Auschwitz Memorial according to the tour scenario created by the participants. 

The implementation of the three-year project and organisation of the conference “The Future of Auschwitz and the Holocaust Education in Authentic Memorial Sites” was possible thanks to the financial assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Post-conference publication "The Future of Auschwitz and Holocaust Education in the Authentic Memorial Sites"