Czech Students Make Short Films with Testimony

Mon, 02/29/2016 - 5:00pm












Many high school students enjoy making short, home movies for fun. But in Martin Šmok’s class at the Ronald Lauder Jewish School in Prague, filming and editing films is also classwork.

On Thursday, students in Šmok’s class, “Memories of Witnesses, History and Us,” presented their semester-long final project: testimony-based movies they made using the knowledge they gained in class exploring the Visual History Archive and completing IWitness activities.

The seven movies were focused on topics including name changes after World War II, jazz and music in survivor testimonies, the Israeli War of Independence, food students refuse to eat in the cafeteria, and the history of one student’s family summer house. In addition to knowledge of Jewish history and testimony, the students also learned the hand-on skills of interviewing, filming, and archiving in order to create their videos.

Thursday’s presentation served two purposes. First, Šmok’s students had the opportunity to present their projects to the 40 teachers, students and principals in attendance — individuals either taking or teaching other elective seminars.

“I was amazed by the ability of students to communicate and explain what they did and why, what obstacles they faced, and how they overcame them,” Šmok said.

Second, Šmok challenged the teachers in attendance to think about how they could integrate testimony into their own courses, which was aided in how much they admired the work Šmok’s class had done.

“The participating teachers were amazed by the quality of the films produced and the fact that each single one was completely different in theme and focus,” he said.

“Memories of Witness, History and Us” is one of several electives offered to the 15-16-year-old students at the Lauder School. Others include a course on Hebrew literature taught by a prominent translator and a course on Israel taught by the former Czech ambassador to the state. This year, 11 students chose to take Šmok’s once-a-week class. Next semester, a new cohort of students will take Šmok’s seminar and create their own testimony-based films.

Perhaps the course is appealing because Šmok isn’t just any run-of-the-mill instructor at the Lauder School. He has been with USC Shoah Foundation for more than 20 years, first as an interviewer, and currently as the Senior International Program Consultant based in the Czech Republic. In addition to his class at the school, Šmok leads USC Shoah Foundation’s  Teaching with Testimony in the 21st Century teacher education program in Czech Republic and coordinates the Institute’s educational outreach in the region.

Moving forward, Šmok and the school would like to make the movies available to the entire school community to view, hopefully inspiring even more students to take the course.