Witnesses of the Shoah: More than 50,000 Holocaust Eyewitness Testimonies Available for Education in Schools

Tue, 05/12/2009 - 12:00am

Freie Universtät Berlin introduces first German version of digital video archive

Today for the first time Freie Universität Berlin introduced the multimedia archive project, Witnesses of the Shoah:  The Visual History Archive in Secondary Education, to the public. Supported by Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin Foundation (DKLB), this project opens access to more than 50,000 video interviews of Holocaust survivors and witnesses to high school students across Germany, and thereby offers an important contribution to remembering the victims and educating about the Nazi time. “The concern of my life is to share with people, especially young people, what I have experienced,” said Inge Borck, who was the only member of her family that survived the Nazi regime.  She further emphasized, “Together we are responsible for making sure such atrocities will never be possible again.  Because of this I consider the Freie Universität’s project to be groundbreaking for a positive community.”

Freie Universität advances research and education efforts regarding National Socialism, the Holocaust and forms of memory with extensive multimedia archive projects. Since 2006, as the first institution in Europe, Freie Universität has been providing full access to researchers to the Visual History Archive of the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education at the University of Southern California, initiated by Steven Spielberg. 

Since then, this incrediblty valuable and extensive archive has been used intensively within university-level research and testing.

With the support of the DKLB foundation, the university’s Center for Digital Systems (CeDiS) now implements the expansion of the Visual History Archive for secondary education.  Besides the creation of a German version of the current English-only user interface of the digital archive, a specially equipped classroom at Freie Universität enabling students from Berlin and Brandenburg to work with the archive is another essential part of this project. In this classroom, students may work with the testimonies with guidance from experienced researchers and instructors. “The goal of our efforts is to sustainably integrate working with the biographical accounts into classroom teachings about National Socialism,” explained Prof. Dr. Ursula Lehmkuhl, Vice President of Freie Universität. “Nothing may document an era or a historic event more strikingly than personal narrations of the lived history.”

"The translation of the Visual History Archive interface will facilitate the use of Holocaust eyewitness testimony as a foundation for education, scholarship, and research in Germany, and the project may serve as a model for similar undertakings that aim to make the testimonies more widely accessible,” said Kim Simon, Interim Executive Director and Director of Programs at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, during the presentation in Berlin. “The Institute is grateful to Freie Universität Berlin for its pioneering efforts and its determination to see the testimonies used by educators throughout Germany."

To optimize usability for high school students, CeDiS is not only implementing a German version, but is also expanding classroom relevant features such as a new full-text search. To achieve this, transcripts of about 2,000 interview hours are currently being produced. “Additionally, we are integrating interactive web 2.0 features, making learning more attractive for students and teaching them important skills in working with new media and the Internet as a positive side effect,” Prof. Dr. Nicolas Apostolopoulos, head of CeDiS, pointed out. Furthermore, continuing education for teachers, new classroom materials as well as educational software are in the making, in cooperation with didactics experts at Freie Universität and the Institute for Schools and Media Berlin-Brandenburg (LISUM). For nationwide use in schools a DVD series with selected interviews is being developed and will be published in 2010.

Since the fall of 2008, guided project days for students have been made possible at Freie Universität in the new classroom. Several high school groups from Berlin and Brandenburg have already worked this way with the Visual History Archive.  Dr. Martin Lücke, instructor and research associate at the Department of Didactics of History at Friedrich-Meinecke Institute of Freie Universität, said about this experience, “The students’ interest in the topic is amazingly great. Despite the extra effort that is required for working with video testimonies motivation was considerable. The archive allows students a direct and instantaneous encounter with specific biographies of survivors of the Shoah, so the atrocities of National Socialism can be grasped much better.”

Further information and an overview of our offers for school educationk, see www.zeugendershoah.de.



Katja Egli, Center for Digital Systems (CeDiS) at Freie Universität Berlin, public relations.  Phone:  030/838-52775; mobile:  49 (0)170/7818424; e-mail:  kegli@cedis.fu-berlin.de.