MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

Preparation

The first stage should include the organizational issues, substantive preparation, as well as emotional preparation of pupils. The idea of visiting the Auschwitz Memorial has to be discussed with the pupils and sometimes also with other teachers and parents (especially in the case of children younger than 13).

• ORGANIZATIONAL PREPARATION

A decision on organizing the visit has to be made jointly and result from the pupils’ needs and interests, and not only from the school’s command or requirements of the curriculum. Therefore, it is necessary to talk to the young people about their own motivation, interests and potential doubts related to it before. The talk will allow for creating an atmosphere favoring visit, thanks to which it will be easier for young people to overcome potential fears and become convinced about the participation in the project.
After obtaining the pupils’ approval, the teacher should clearly determine the purpose of the visit and requirements for its realization. In this respect, the MCEAH employee, with whom it is possible to discuss the various variants of the visit and adjust its programme to the needs and opportunities of the young people, will be helpful.

• SUBSTANTIVE PREPARATION

After selecting the variant of the visit and agreeing its details, it is necessary to commence substantive preparation of pupils. Initially, the teacher should make the young people familiar with the place which they are going to visit. The history of the former German Nazi camp of Auschwitz should be presented, along with the basic information about Poland and the town where the camp was established. In this task, the teacher may be aided by pupils who can prepare materials and then present them in class. The pupils should be made familiar with the events which led to the establishment of Auschwitz and which occurred during its operation. The scenarios presented below may be helpful in the conduct of such lesson. The pupils should be aware of who the prisoners and the victims of Auschwitz were; therefore, it is necessary to briefly discuss the German national policy in the war period where racism and anti-Semitism played an important role. Becoming acquainted with such premises will allow young people to understand of what happened in the camp better. Due to the fact that Auschwitz is today the symbol of the Holocaust, it is also necessary to outline the course of the extermination of Jews. Moreover, it is necessary to draw attention to who were the Jews, their relationsZwiedzający Miejsce Pamięci. Fot. PMA-B with other nations in Europe before and after the Holocaust. In this respect, various methodological studies may be helpful, e.g. “Jak uczyć o Holokauście. Poradnik metodyczny do nauczania o Holokauście w ramach przedmiotów humanistycznych w zreformowanej szkole” and “Zrozumieć Holokaust. Książka pomocnicza do nauczania o zagładzie Żydów” (R. Szuchta and P. Trojański, Warsaw 2012). A visit at a synagogue or a museum where exhibitions devoted to Jewish history and culture are shown may be very valuable. Those who have more time may also visit the Auschwitz Jewish Centre with its exhibition presenting the life of the Oświęcim Jews before the Holocaust. Pupils may also visit a local Jewish cemetery on their own. It is also worth recommending them to talk to older family members and find out whether any of their relatives were deported to Auschwitz or to other concentration or extermination camps.

These activities are aimed at activating the pupils and encouraging them to ask their own questions and find answers during the visit at the former camp. An interesting form of becoming prepared for the visit may be screening of a documentary or a feature film whose subject matter is related to Auschwitz or the Holocaust. A meeting with a history witnesses, who survived the camp or who remember the times when it functioned, may also be of great importance. Due to the fact that the generation of witnesses is passing away it is possible to use video recordings of accounts of former prisoners or documentary films, among which the following deserve special attention:

  • “Auschwitz”, dir. by Tadeusz Wudzki (1991).
  • “From the Auschwitz Chronicle”, dir. by Michał Bukojemski (2004).
  • “The Liberation of Auschwitz”, dir. by Irmgard von zur Mühlen (2005).
  • “Man on the Run”, dir. by Marek Pawłowski (2006).

Another important issue is the awareness of the nature of the Auschwitz Memorial Site where the visit takes place. Pupils should know the significance of this place for Poland, Europe and the world. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss with them the symbolism of Auschwitz for various national groups and its social, political and cultural connotations. Using this opportunity, it is also necessary to discuss the issue of commemorating the war victims and the Holocaust in Poland and abroad. Young people should be aware of the culture of memory means and its forms and manifestations. This knowledge will enable better preparation for meeting in the Museum with various forms of commemoration which result from the national and cultural differences of people who arrive in here. In this context, it is also important to plan one’s own form of commemorating the victims on the grounds of the Memorial Site. The teacher should discuss with the pupils how they want to commemorate the murdered victims. The form and the manner of commemoration should never be imposed. It should result from own needs and sensitivity of young people.

• EMOTIONAL PREPARATION

The last element is the emotional preparation when it is necessary to inform the pupils about what they are going to see and what they can expect and what psychical difficulties they may come across during the visit. The look of the camp relics and awareness of the tragedy of this place may trigger various reactions in young people (crying, hysteria, improper behaviour, even laughter) which often are a way of hiding true emotions for fear of exposing them to peers. Therefore, the teacher’s role during a class preparing for the visit in Auschwitz is to indicate to the pupils of how they should deal with their emotions. Young people should also have known of what kind of attitude is expected from them and how to behave in such a special place. The pedagogue or the group leader should make the pupils familiar with such principles beforehand and during the visit support the tour guide in his/her work by careful observation of the pupils in order to provide them with any assistance necessary at a given moment.