IWitness Video Challenge 2016: A Teacher’s Perspective

Fri, 03/11/2016 - 5:00pm
Emily Bengels, front right, at "Auschwitz: The Past is Present"
Emily Bengels, front right, at "Auschwitz: The Past is Present"

Every other week until the submission deadline May 13, 2016, USC Shoah Foundation will share insight about the IWitness Video Challenge.







Emily Bengels, front right, with teacher Johanna Söderholm, left, and students Lacey Rubin and Natalia Smith at "Auschwitz: The Past is Present"


Emily Bengels’s students are already well on their way to submitting their project to the IWitness Video Challenge.

Bengels teaches enrichment at Readington Middle School in New Jersey, a position which includes helping students complete their own project ideas and working on oral history projects and school video/documentary making. She attended USC Shoah Foundation and Discovery Education’s Auschwitz: The Past is Present professional development program in Poland last year for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Bengels has shown many IWitness videos to students and many students have come to her interested in doing “make the world better”-type projects. So when a few students this year were interested in activism and documentary projects, Bengels asked them if they would be interested in doing the IWitness Video Challenge. One group has already begun working.

The four students are working together to find testimonies in IWitness that will go along with their project, the “Poets Undercover Guild.” They want to use poetry to stand up to acts of sadness and bullying.

Bengels said she wanted her students to do the IWitness Video Challenge for several reasons. First, her experience in Poland during The Past is Present continues to influence how she thinks about the Holocaust and its lessons for today. In particular, she believes testimony is crucial for keeping stories of strength, kindness and survival alive – so that Holocaust victims and survivors are “re-humanized.”

“It extends beyond re-humanizing Holocaust victims; sometimes, we need to re-humanize people in our own communities by seeing past stereotypes,” Bengels said. “There is much to learn from listening to the videos.”

Though she can clearly see how important her students’ acts of kindness are, Bengels isn’t so sure the students themselves always know how crucial their actions can be. So the IWitness Challenge also enables students to see their own activism in a larger context and understand how important their creative altruism really is, she said.

“This IWitness challenge isn't just about having students talk about the past or talk about what they are currently achieving.  It is also about spawning ideas for other students to carry out in other schools,” she said. “Life is precious – record your moments and share your ideas so others can move forward.”