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At Yad Vashem, Making Holocaust Education High-tech

August 12, 2004
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The use of computer games to teach the Holocaust has ignited some controversy among those who believe the technology trivializes the Nazi genocide of Jews. Through such technology, students could simulate scenes and take on characters — such as partisans fighting in the forest or Jews surviving in a ghetto.

“Some say, ‘How can you put a young person of today in the same state of mind’ ” as someone who lived through the Holocaust, said Doron Avraham, director of programs and curriculum development at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.

In addition, Avraham said, some have taken issue with the fact that computer games have a “connotation of entertainment” that would not be appropriate for teaching about the Holocaust.

Avraham made his comments to JTA at a conference this week that took place at Yad Vashem to study new ways to teach the Holocaust.

During the three-day International Conference on Holocau! st Education, more than 200 participants from 31 countries — including a Christian pastor from Slovakia, a professor from China and a Serbian monk — delved into cutting-edge methods for educating a new generation of students about the Holocaust using technology, art and other tools.

The conference comes nearly 60 years after the end of the Holocaust. As aging survivors die, said Avraham, it is becoming increasingly important to find new ways to pass on the lessons and history of the Holocaust.

“What is special about this conference is that usually we speak of the history and past when we relate to the Holocaust, but here we speak of the future,” Avraham said. “How we will teach the Holocaust in the 21st century.”

Among the new tools discussed at the conference were online classes for teachers and bringing Holocaust art into the classroom.

Qianhong Zhang traveled from China to attend the conference, which is now in its fourth year. She is the director of the! Institute of Jewish Studies of Henan University in the central city o f Kaiseng.

Zhang’s interest in the Holocaust began when she read the Chinese translation of Anne Frank’s diary. She said that in recent years more and more literature about the Holocaust has been translated to Chinese, spurring great interest in a subject that, until recently, was largely unknown to most Chinese.

“There are many, many students who want to know more about the Holocaust,” Zhang said. “So many students want to know why and how the Holocaust happened.”

She said some Chinese feel the Holocaust resonates for them especially strongly because of the often-brutal treatment of the Chinese by the Japanese during World War II.

Also attending the conference was Father Jovan Culibrk, a Serbian Orthodox monk. He heads the church’s committee on Holocaust-related issues, which are taught at the church’s seminaries.

Culibrk, who grew up across the river from the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia, said Serbians also feel a connection to the history of! the Holocaust after themselves suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

Some 30,000 Jews were killed at Jasenovac, he said, along with about 1,000 Serbs — among them several of his own relatives.

At Yad Vashem, Culibrk said, he and others are learning about the Holocaust in an innovative way.

“I think Yad Vashem is a unique school in the world, not only because of the subject” but because “things are taught from the heart,” he said.

Using art created during the war by victims of the Holocaust is another way to personalize the story of the period, said Yehudit Shendar, the senior art curator at Yad Vashem.

Shendar, who gave a lecture on the subject at the conference, said the photographs we usually see from camps and ghettos were often taken by the Nazis and give us a subjective view — that of the perpetrator trying to portray Jews as weak and subhuman.

In contrast, drawings, paintings and stories by the victims provide a lens into their world and what ! they themselves were witnessing.

“It’s a great way to understand w hat happened to individuals, not masses,” Shendar said. “An educator can bring something very viable and easy for the student to take home — something visual that will be retained in his memory.”

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