Institute News

New IWitness Activity Shares Stories of Hidden Identities

The newest activity in IWitness draws on testimonies of Holocaust survivors to spark students’ reflection on how identity, and the struggle to hide it, can affect people from all walks of life.

Narratives of Identity: In the Open or In the Shadows? is a video activity intended for grades 6-9. Through close reading analysis of visual and written text, students learn about and reflect on the many identities we carry as individuals and about the decisions we make to hide them.

Students are encouraged to think about the many identities they may carry with them, such as their gender, physical abilities, ethnicity, religion, special talents, or immigration status, and write about whether they have ever felt like they had to hide part of their identity in order to be accepted.

Through the testimony of a survivor of the Holocaust, Helena Horowitz, and a current undocumented student named Cenit, as well as a poem written by a former undocumented immigrant, students will be asked to reflect on the universal theme of identity. As a final product, students create a short video journal in which they reflect on their own identities.

The activity was written by Claudia Wiedeman, Ph.D., USC Shoah Foundation Associate Director of Education - Educational Technologies and Training. Wiedeman wrote a blog describing her own personal experience being undocumented during her childhood, and how deeply she related to the Holocaust survivors in the Visual History Archive who also felt like they had to hide their true identities.

“Helena Horowitz described in very clear and rich details the ways I also sustained my own false identity growing up as an undocumented student in 1970’s Los Angeles. Helena Horowitz was telling my story, too,” Wiedeman wrote. “And ever since my encounter with Helena Horowitz that spring of 2013, I have come to appreciate more fully the power of testimony like Helena Horowitz’s, and over 50,000 testimonies in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, which have the capacity to bridge time and space and across differences, giving voice to our stories in a safe place and through a compelling digital medium. And that is the power of the Institute’s Visual History Archive. I invite you to see how even your own story also lies in the testimony of another Helena Horowitz.”