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Learning to teach Berlin's Holocaust lessons

The Local · 19 Apr 2012, 07:00

Published: 19 Apr 2012 07:00 GMT+02:00

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As the decades roll on and we all become further removed from first-hand experiences of the 1940s, it becomes increasingly difficult to know how to teach about the Holocaust with any kind of authority or insight.

The Holocaust Educational Trust, a British foundation which aims to support teaching about the Holocaust, organises regular trips to Berlin, Auschwitz and Paris for teachers who have a particular interest in the subject.

Andrew Pendlebury, a British teacher who was on a recent trip to Berlin with the trust, wrote for The Local about his experience.

Standing on the Putlitz Bridge in northwestern Berlin, 28 participants of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Teacher Study Visit caused a small inconvenience. We filled the pavement and cycle track as we looked at the monument ascending into the sky, a disjointed Star of David leading into crooked steps.

We looked at a railway track and discussed its value as a site of education – a deportation site. I felt lost as a teacher, “What can my pupils learn from this site?”; “How can I assess their knowledge here?”

It was only when a cyclist stopped, gawped at the bizarre tourists, stared at the monument and then peered over the bridge that I realised the value of this classroom. It is not what you see, but what you look for.

Too often as a teacher I do little more than provide information. The visit to Berlin organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust has reinvigorated what I already knew, but practise far too infrequently; education is about prompting questions and answering them. I hope the cyclist we inconvenienced asked some questions about the site we were examining.

Questions upon questions

Questions in history are important; without them we accept imposed meanings. But does my teaching method permit enough investigation by pupils? This is a daunting question and a mirror I perhaps dare not look into.

“Who sets the questions in my class?”; “Who decides which answer is correct?”; “Who decides what we study?” – This line of reflection was most stark among our group after we visited the Topography of Terror museum.

A museum is built on the site of the Gestapo, the SS and Reich Security Main Office headquarters, is an area of toxicity encased by a wall of oppression that reaches out from the underbelly of Berlin. The museum documents photographs as a record of the crimes of the Nazi State.

How to make the horror accessible

As teachers, we looked at the exhibits and asked ourselves how this site might be used with our pupils. It is a useful, dramatic, new and spacious site. But the group soon became entrenched and divided about this site: are the graphic images of the Holocaust presented in this museum appropriate for pupils at Key Stage 3 (aged 13/14)? An accessible site became inaccessible.

The answer to this question lies in appropriateness, readiness and necessity. If I allow my pupils freedom and encourage independent study, I risk allowing them to access and interpret complex events without appropriate support. Conversely, if I do not allow investigation, and I decide, as the teacher, which images my pupils will see in the Topography of Terror, I also limit their degree of understanding.

Imagine that by stopping and noticing the memorial on the Putlitz Bridge, the cyclist investigated further. My trip to Berlin has helped improve my teaching by encouraging me to think about how to make pupils ask more specific questions. What if the cyclist looked differently?

Does the Putlitz Bridge prompt a general question like “What was the Holocaust?” or does it necessitate more specific site-related questions: “Why board trains here?”; “Who drove the trains?” - “Where do the tracks lead?”; “Who brought the Jews here?” As a teacher, I can answer the big question but by asking more detailed, smaller questions, pupils can structure their own definitions and understandings and reach their own conclusions.

Amongst all the tour guides and museum literature, I saw an elderly lady and her granddaughter at Grunewald station. Here there is another deportation site, with another memorial. The platform edge chronologically records the numbers and destinations of Berlin’s Jews deported from Grunewald. The woman roamed the site, pointing at the records, while the child asking questions.

Story continues below…

Details as important as big picture

Of course, the answers are important too, but what I witnessed taught me that each site ensures that specific questions are asked. Grunewald creates different questions than the Putlitz Bridge, even though it's a similar site. Students may ask about the camps named there, or why Jews were still being deported from Berlin in 1945. Answers are not always readily available.

I think I am now more prepared to build resilience in my pupils and make them more comfortable with questions that are not so easily answered. One day, the granddaughter might be answering similar questions coming from her own grandchildren.

I return to my classroom thinking about the responsibility I have for providing my students with the tools to raise their own questions about the Holocaust. This experience has made me realise that to successfully educate about this most traumatic period of history, it is not simply up to me who to create the questions. It is my role to create opportunities and the framework for pupils to reach their own conclusions for what can be an extremely challenging topic to study and understand.

Andrew Pendlebury is Subject Leader for History at Higham Lane School, Nuneaton, UK & Holocaust Educational Trust Teacher Study Visit participant.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

20:29 April 18, 2012 by Mörfi
I find it weird to concentrate on the poor innocent trains. Friends from back home always are reacting to my pics of train tracks with horror, even going so far as to suggest that they may have been victims in a previous life!

I think this is imprinting from too many movies.

Trains good! Genocide bad! Thank you.
22:58 April 18, 2012 by nolibs
Which Holocaust are they teaching about?

Belgian Congo (1891-1911) - 11,500,000 blacks died 1891-1911

South Africa, (1900) - In the Boer-war the British coined the word "concentration camp"

Armenia, (1915) - 1,500,000 Christian Armenians killed by Turks in what Churchill called a Holocaust.

USSR, (1921) - 21,000,000 hit by Soviet-engineered famine.

Ukraine, (1932-1933) - 4,821,600 died of hunger engineered by Stalin 1932-33. 7,465,000 died in 1932-1939.

USSR, (1934 to 1953), up to 15 million Russians disappered in the GULAGS.

Germany/Poland (1939-1945) - 5,000,000 non-jews died in German camps, mainly Polish Christians and Catholics

Germany, (1942-1945) - 4 mill. jews died in German KZ-Camps

Poland/Russia (1941) - 1,700,000 Polish people were deported to Siberia after 1941

Bengal, (1943) - 1,500,000 died of war-related famine in 1943 in Bengal.

Germany, East Prussia (1945) - up to 3,000,000 German civilians were killed by Russians in the last months of WW2.

Mao Ze-Dong (China, 1958-61 and 1966-69, Tibet 1949-50) 49-78,000,000 is the estimate of killed.

Cambodia, (1975-1979) - Khmer Rouge´s Pol Pot (president 1976) killed approximately 1,700,000 of his own people.

East Timor (1983-1985) - 200,000 East Timorese (Indonesia) were killed in 1983-1985.

Rwanda/Burundi - (1993-1994) - 700,000 Hutus and Tutsies murdered each other while the world looked away.

Yugoslavia (1991-2000) - About 250,000 dead Yugoslaws can be blamed on Milosevic up to 2000.
01:02 April 19, 2012 by Greysuede

you didn't mention

Great Irish Famine Holocaust committed at the bloody hands of British Empire!

Bengal Holocaust was systematical with casualties up to 10 mln.

Great Holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


Armenian Holocaust is exaggerated they say and an imperialist lie.

1. there weren't 1 million people living in armenia then

2. then imperialist Winston chrchill wasn't familiar with the word either holocaust or genocide.
02:57 April 19, 2012 by NarineS

the Armenian genocide is not exaggerated and is not a lie FYI, and it was the "Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire" and not "Armenia" , get your facts straight lol.

AND don't forget to add the Assyrians and Greeks in addition to other ethnic groups living in the Ottoman Empire who were subject to the same policy of extermination. and and and..
03:28 April 19, 2012 by ron1amr
I agree with comments made by nolibs and Greysuede. Also Narine. In the schools curriculum they have a set of history to teach but miss much of these others mentioned by Nolibs and Greysuede. In war times Australian soldiers were very ill treated by the Japanese. The whole of the Tasmanian aborigines were wiped out by British. When I went to school they did not teach Charles Darwin because they said he was wrong. Much like the pope tells his priests around the world what to preach on a certain week I think the Government liaises with schools to what is taught in school to have students grow and think in a certain way.
04:44 April 19, 2012 by popelar
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
07:58 April 19, 2012 by The-ex-pat
Good point nolibs. Some time ago I was having a conversation at work and a third party of a certain religion piped in about the Holocaust. At which point I asked which one (I admit it was a provocative question back to this particular person). The answer I got, was along the lines of are you trying to insult me (actually, yes as he was an a$$hole, but that is beside the point) there is only one Holocaust!!!! It would seem that a certain religious group seem to think that they have a monopoly to this word.


@ popelar, your link takes me to an online game website???????
16:02 April 19, 2012 by beja_flor
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
17:26 April 19, 2012 by Englishted

Great Irish Famine Holocaust committed at the bloody hands of British Empire!

When did this become "the Great " ?

I hold my hands up and find it amasing that the British could have so cleverly introduced potato blight just to keep the Irish under control .

You and your friend @nolibs have some what lost the plot of the article ,and are trying to introduce your own agenda ,fine but do it somewhere else please.
14:00 April 20, 2012 by Greysuede
Armed and sponsored colossally by both Russians and British/French, Armenians were in war with Turkey to stab it in favor of Russo English to attack Germany from the south, Turkey. Then Turkey was part of WW1 outside and civil war inside. That's not genocide, since Armenians were armed and murdered a great deal of Turks. If we name all civil war sufferers and economic migrants as genocide victims then more than 1/2 population of the planet will be genocide victims!

About a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851 instigated by British Empire. Comparison with other classical and modern famines instigated by British Empire, the Irish famine of the late 1840s, which killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population, was proportionally much more destructive of human life than the vast majority of famines in modern times. That's why it's the Great Famine and Holocaust of Irish people!

I agree with Ron1amr saying the whole of the Tasmanian aborigines were wiped out by British. British had also wiped out totally two African nations in Africa what can be amounted to Genocide without any controversy. As far as I remember those nations were named Bushmans and Hottentots from which nobody remains alive by the date!

"Burned 4 mln Jews in ovens" isn't correct if we will research Nuremberg Trials documents. "Jews made economy" is too exaggerated and one can't name all Moslems as Islamist Terrorists!
17:02 April 20, 2012 by liorabs
Shalom Nolibs et al.,

First - to the article itself: we were told in Israel (in the Newspapers) that the Shoah is not taught in England because it offends Muslim pupils..... or that it is not taught in Muslim kids history books, something like it, so this article was surprising.

Second - I dont think any child or young pupil can understand the holocaust and if they did they might be emotionally injured. How can anyone explain that? The only way, perhaps, to explain, is not by monuments, but by showing kids photos that were not photoshopped , of people looking like skeletons from starvation... and ask the kids what they think had happened to those people, why were they skeletal like, and what happened to them, etc.

Third - the list by Nobilis is really astounding. I did not know that over 11 million Africans were died in 20 years in Belgian Congo. How were they exterminated?

Four - Extermination by war is different from the intentional gathering of one`s own compatriots (and in other countries) and they industrial manner of their disposal. Although Suffering has no Nationality and Death wears no Uniform. (Axel Munthe, Story of San Michele). I am half German. My father (who was a Bukharan) prohibited any conversation of books about the Holocaust in the house, he said "you are too sensitive". I think that the German, even the most antisemitic ones, know that what Hitler and the Nazis did was an inhumanly atrocious, and educate against that. This wasnot a "normal" was against an enemy.

Fifth - about the Armenian holocaust, the State of Israel kept a low profile on this horror, as far as I know, because we were on good conditions with Turkey, the ruling queen of the Middle East, while Turkey is denying what had happened... this is just a side note.

To sum up - I must say the British Teacher Andrew Pendlebury has got guts, teaching this subject, while the present "seller" is the tragedy of the Titanic, its reliquia, films, gathering, lots and lots of money coming in, - sometimes I cant understand what I see ...
18:35 April 20, 2012 by Englishted

"instigated by British Empire. Comparison with other classical and modern famines instigated by British Empire, the Irish famine of the late 1840s, which killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population, was proportionally much more destructive of human life than the vast majority of famines in modern times. That's why it's the Great Famine and Holocaust of Irish people!"

Just walk into anywhere in Ireland and ask about the Holocaust ,they will have no knowledge of what you are dreaming about. " Irish Holocaust " rubbish.

I hazard a guess that you are a Irish American with a massive chip on you shoulder about anything the nasty Brits did .

But without us and the allies in ww2 Europe would be not so nice as it is today ,the Irish government should hang it's collective head in shame as to it's contribution to the fight against fascism although there were many brave and honest Irishmen who did help and many who died for the freedom of Europe.
20:08 April 20, 2012 by Greysuede
@ Englishted

Haven't you ever been to Dublin to see that huge Memorial?

Haven't you ever heard about Irish Famine Memorial NYC, NJ, Boston, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney or are you pretending?
02:59 April 21, 2012 by yuri_nahl
A weird thing about the Irish who fought on the Allied side is they got treated really badly when they came back to Ireland! Read on, you'll see.
13:55 April 21, 2012 by Englishted

Yes I lived in Dublin and have a child who was born there.

"Irish Famine Memorial" ,I have no problem with this it was a sad and unhappy period of Irish history.

The problem I have is you calling it a Holocaust, it was not man made the reaction of the British Government was regrettable but it was not out of place at that time.

But it is not the same as a policy of rounding up people and sending them to their deaths as the Nazis did the two do not belong in the same league ,a policy that was only stopped by the allies winning the war as I have said without the help of the Irish government and that was not regrettable it was shameful.
16:35 April 21, 2012 by Greysuede
@ NarineS

"the Armenian genocide is not exaggerated and is not a lie FYI"

No it's a lie if you look in History well!

"and it was the "Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire" and not "Armenia" , get your facts straight lol."


"AND don't forget to add the Assyrians and Greeks in addition to other ethnic groups living in the Ottoman Empire who were subject to the same policy of extermination. and and and.. "

That was a civil war with religious and territorial disputes. There were casualties from both sides thus it can't be taken as holocaust.
21:58 April 22, 2012 by NathanielWenger
Wengerocracy is a form of government where the people watch the ruler entirely amongst their reign. Wengerocracy prevents the leader of a country from covering up unlawful behavior going on.

Why aren't holocaust survivors teaching the importance to instate wengerocracy in Germany? The holocaust happened. What are you waiting to happen in Germany before you teach the importance to instate wengerocracy in Germany?

What are you waiting to happen in Sudan before you teach the importance to instate wengerocracy in Sudan?

After going through a genocide, how can you not do everything possible to prevent the next genocide? Let me make myself clear I am trying to prevent genocide from ever occurring again in every single country in the world. I am abolishing genocide in other words.
18:28 April 23, 2012 by Anth2305
Meanwhile the passive genocide across Europe quietly continues apace.
09:24 April 25, 2012 by Sayer
Lots of interesting points here, especially about how it seems how only ONE Holocaust (TM) has assumed primacy in our collective consciousness. To comply with German law I declare publicly "I deny nothing" but I still cannot comprehend that a nation so steeped in the sciences does not permit a forensic analysis of the facts of THE Holocaust (TM). Would it matter if we came up with a different number than the prescribed 6 million? Would it matter if we uncovered a different form of death than they are reported to have met? If so, why? Would it lessen the pain? I doubt it. Nobody would jump for joy at a reduced number of victims.

In my opinion the only poignant lesson for today is that we allow the descendants of these camps to commit the exact same crimes against another scapegoated people, sometimes live on TV, and we do nothing about it. "Never again!" either means never again to anyone, or it is an empty slogan.

(The 'TM' refers to its being trademarked, as alluded to in a son of Holocaust victims book title, "The Holocaust Industry" by Dr. Norman Finkelstein.)
17:31 April 27, 2012 by jabulani
hahahah British teacher teaching in Germany about the Holocaust? isnt it funny?

Should'nt he rather teach about the BRITISH INVENTION of the CONCENTRATION CAMPS? Why not teach how to attain peace and prosperity in the future? teach positive things rather than going to the past? And if he wants to teach the germans about the holocaust....he should in all fairness start from the beguining !! THE CAUSES of the war...poverty, hunger. germany was in its knees being sucked by created monopolies of the "certain " few.

I was under the impression that GERMANY WAS A DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC ... but i just read on one of the comments that one is NOT ALLOWED TO DENY....is that true??? If so...where is the freedom of expression?? and who is prohibiting denying anything? ....is germany still enslaved by the same past that brought them to the brink of war??? It seems to me that the world is trying to give germans a complex....well...LET GERMANS BE PROUD OF WHO THEY ARE !! just like any other nation
04:20 April 30, 2012 by jeff10renatus
Why is it that of all of Local publications for various European countries, the Local for Germany 'removes' the most comments? Does this seem to others to be a continuation of the attitude that allowed the Nazis to come to power and Stasi to be so effective in East Germany?

So, is this dark and threatening propensity to stifle dissent and unpopular or provacative comments, all traits of totalitarianism, alive and well in modern Germany, as evidenced by the unreasonably dictatorial acts of the Local for Germany?

Why does the German Local fear expressions of certain types of opinions?

Do the editors or does the management of the Local for Germany even realize that these censorious actions are the very basis of what allows for the existence of totalitarian regimes?
09:57 April 30, 2012 by datt
Germany owes the truth to its children of all ages. Germany needs to confront and stop the WW2 victors blaming it for something it did not do.

It WILL happen, just a matter of time.

When the lie is exposed, I for one will be lining up for monetary compensation, though nothing will erase the damage already done.

Germany BADLY needs to grow some balls.
01:17 May 1, 2012 by jeff10renatus
While it might or might not be true that those who can't remember the past are bound to repeat; it would seem just as likely that those who dwell in the past are repeating it. At a certain point, it's time to say enough is enough and deal with preventing such things in the future, not by harping upon such past tragedies, but by living well.

Freedom and free enterprise, coupled with laws that strongly protect property rights, are the best defenses against keeping from power mass murderering dictators. Everything else is just bunk.
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