Survivor Testimony and Holocaust Museums

Survivor Testimony

Nothing is quite as powerful as actually meeting survivors and hearing them tell their stories. Meeting a survivor is the ultimate in hearing “human stories.” Survivors can help make the inconceivable tangible and can transform students into the torchbearers of memory.

This tool must be used with care, however. Not all survivors’ stories are appropriate for all age groups. For elementary and middle schoolers, if you are interested in inviting a survivor to testify, you should meet with the survivor before extending the invitation. At this meeting, explain how important it is that the students not be traumatized. Primary and middle-school students should not be presented with a survivor whose story includes horrific descriptions of life and death in the camps. A survivor who spent the war in hiding would be a better choice.

By high school, students may be prepared to deal with more difficult stories. You should still understand the survivor’s story beforehand and use good judgment in choosing testimonies that will correspond with your students’ cognitive and emotional needs.

For a more complete discussion of using survivor testimony, and how to prepare for it, please see the discussion of it on Yad Vashem’s website.

Field Trips to Holocaust Museums

Class visits to Holocaust museums, memorials, and educational centers can provide students with special opportunities to gain awareness and knowledge about the Holocaust. As with all field trips, preparation is essential to the success of the trip. Students should only visit these sites after they have had the chance to study and discuss the Holocaust in class, including discussing what they might see at the museum. You should prepare specific activities to do at the museum to better guide your students’ learning process during the field trip itself. And, of course, follow-up discussion is crucial.

It is important to note, however, that such field trips are not appropriate for all age groups. Holocaust museums tend to be aimed at an adult audience and tend not to shy away from the difficult aspects of the story. Students younger than middle school are generally too young for such museums. Middle and high schoolers should be carefully prepared for what they might see.

It is also important to remember that Holocaust museums often emphasize different aspects of the story than this program is designed to emphasize. Be sure to have activities to pull out the aspects that fit the new narrative.