For two years, in two different courses, we have asked students to use the USC Shoah Foundation archives for research projects. Our students have worked at Brandeis University and at the VU Amsterdam. Dawn Skorczewski is English professor at Brandeis University. Philosopher Bettine Siertsema and historian Dienke Hondius teach at the VU Amsterdam. Hondius also works at the Anne Frank House.
We asked our Dutch and American students to access the archive online and at the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam to study aspects of the holocaust in Holland and other countries. To enable collaboration their first interview had to be one of the 34 interviews that contained ‘Amsterdam’ as location and are available online, a different one for each team. The Dutch and American student made a description together, with a brief summary of the wartime experiences, a timeline and/or map, revealing quotes, and an analysis of the non-verbal communication in the interview. Then every student had to choose two more interviews, the Brandeis students online one, and the VU students two of the collection at the Jewish Heritage Museum in Amsterdam. These four additional testimonies should be comparable in at least one relevant aspect, e.g. age and gender, or hiding experience, or location. Ideally every paper would thus contain material from 5 testimonies, leading to some sort of international comparison.
Working in teams (or sometimes alone because the numbers of students were not equal), they have studied topics such as: Hiding Places, Hiding decisions, Abuse in hiding, Escape hatches, Aid giving, Abortion decisions, Infanticide, Empathic connections, Emigration to Shanghai, Flight to other countries, Camp spirituality, Poetry in Camps, Singing in Camps, Cookbooks, Change of religion during or after the war, Return, Post-war trauma, the Interviewer’s Role, and the Structure of the USC Interview Format.
In the second year of our experiment a new group of students have made a google map of hiding places in Amsterdam during the war and made many short clips of testimonies that they presented to each other. This second year the two groups were different: one, like the first year, consisted of Bachelor History students, the other group were international Master students of ‘American culture and literature’ at VU University. Most students worked in teams of two, but these teams were within the same group, because of the different levels.