Past is Present: A Year Later

In the year since Auschwitz: The Past is Present, USC Shoah Foundation’s educational programming continues to feel the affects of this influential, worldwide event.

The partnership with Discovery Education dramatically increased USC Shoah Foundation’s reach in schools around the world. Hundreds of thousands of educators were introduced to USC Shoah Foundation, IWitness and the Visual History Archive via Discovery Education and its online community. The Past is Present Virtual Experience, broadcast live online just weeks after the trip to Poland, was viewed by thousands of classrooms, many of which had never watched testimony before. Hundreds more also participated in a follow-up Twitter chat with survivor Paula Lebovics, hosted by USC Shoah Foundation.

“I think this program will be instrumental in creating a sense of empathy for all peoples, religions, and countries in the world. The present is intrinsically linked to the past. Without the past we could not be, and the empathy we can impart from this program will be instrumental and keeping the events of this past from ever becoming a present again."

— Teacher Evaluation of Auschwitz: The Past is Present

About 50,500 educators were reached through all USC Shoah Foundation’s educational programs and partners, including Echoes and Reflections and IWitness, from September 2014, just before the beginning of the APIP program, to January 2016 – five times more than the previous year. During the same period, students reached went from about two million to nearly six million, teacher and student registrations on IWitness doubled and the number of countries using IWitness jumped from 50 to 65.

Discovery continues to support USC Shoah Foundation by administering this year’s IWitness Video Challenge, which will considerably increase the challenge’s audience and participation.

The success of the Junior Intern program in Poland led to the remarkable expansion of the program in its second year. The Junior Intern program welcomed almost three times as many students as last year – 38, up from 13 – necessitating separate monthly sessions for the middle- and high school cohorts. The application process was highly competitive, with applications submitted from across the United States from students in grades 6-12. Many applicants said they were inspired to participate after hearing about the trip to Poland and the incredible learning experience it had provided to students like them.

Education staff have also noticed new levels of engagement and passion among its community of educators. The 25 teachers who traveled to Poland for APIP’s professional development program have written blog posts, participated in the #BeginsWithMe social media campaign, continue to communicate with each other and the Institute on Facebook and Twitter and introduced their students and colleagues to IWitness and testimony. Four of them even participated in the first-ever IWitness Teaching Fellows program at USC this summer.

“By using the testimonies and activities on IWitness website it allows for students to gain an understanding of how horribly people's lives have changed in the past due to discrimination and certain actions taken by people. The lessons not only allow for students to learn knowledge but to also construct and communicate their own reflections and feelings."

— Teacher Evaluation of Auschwitz: The Past is Present

“We knew Auschwitz: The Past is Present would be a powerful educational experience, but we could not have predicted how profoundly our work would continue to be affected by it one year later,” said Director of Education Kori Street. “Thanks to APIP, we have engaged a passionate new community of teachers and students and forged partnerships that will help us bring testimony to more schools than ever before.”

A Lasting Educational Legacy in Poland

USC Shoah Foundation’s Polish Regional Consultant Monika Koszyńska was in the unique position of hosting Auschwitz: The Past is Present in her own backyard. She says that among the educators she hosts at teacher trainings, workshops and professional development programs across Poland, APIP has been a powerful force over the past year.

When she and Adam Musial, an APIP teacher from Poland, tell Polish educators how teachers and students came to Poland from around the world to take part in USC Shoah Foundation’s program to commemorate Auschwitz, teachers are very impressed.

Auschwitz is a cornerstone of their teaching about World War II and the annual commemoration of its liberation is a huge event in Poland, with a television broadcast of the ceremony and national media attention, so to hear how these teachers got to attend the commemoration and be part of APIP is very inspiring for them.

Polish teachers are especially eager to join USC Shoah Foundation’s worldwide network of educators, survivors and staff. In fact, one teacher has already taken advantage of Koszyńska’s connections: Brandon Barr, USC Shoah Foundation regional consultant in Chicago, introduced the teacher to a local survivor who was born in the teacher’s town. The survivor has since traveled to Poland to speak to the teacher’s class and work on projects together.

“For the teachers, [APIP] motivates them to do something,” Koszyńska said. “They see that they can become part of a worldwide community and stay in touch with teachers around the globe.”

To commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 2016, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is hosting educators, students and parents to debut a brand-new Polish language IWitness activity about Roman Kent, who spoke at the commemoration last year, and launch a Polish-language version of Kent’s book My Dog Lala.