These free digital teacher resources are designed to help support teachers in their teaching of the Holocaust to secondary school students.
IWM consulted with teachers from across the UK who told us about the many key challenges that they face in teaching the Holocaust.
Three particular challenges kept coming up in our conversations:
Why is language so important when trying to teach the Holocaust?
What should we consider when using images in our teaching of the Holocaust?
How can you address the complexity of the Holocaust with limited teaching time?
IWM’s James Bulgin, Head of Content for The Holocaust Galleries, spoke with Jaya Carrier, History Teacher and Vice Principle at Westminster Academy School, in the Taube Family Holocaust Learning Centre at IWM London, about how The Holocaust Galleries and Holocaust Learning Programme can support teachers to respond to these questions. In these films you will find practical guidance about this and more.
Jaya Carrier has been teaching History in schools across London for 11 years, and currently works as a Vice Principal at Westminster Academy in West London. She is an Honorary Lecturer in History education at the UCL Institute of Education.
James Bulgin is Head of Content for the new Holocaust Galleries at IWM, starting work on the project in 2016. He is currently completing a PhD under the Crosslands Scholarship at Royal Holloway College, University of London, on ideas of apocalypse in Holocaust and Cold War history. His academic research focuses on issues of representation in Holocaust literature and film, and he has spoken at conferences in the UK, Israel and Germany.
Why is language so important when trying to teach the Holocaust?
Hello, my name is Jaya Carrier, and I’m one of the Vice Principals at Westminster Academy in West London, with a responsibility for Holocaust learning. I’m here at the Imperial War Museum in London to see how their new approach to Holocaust learning can support teachers and pupils in this complex and challenging subject. Over the next three films, we're going to explore some of the key questions raised by teachers around teaching the Holocaust for secondary students. To help me I'll be joined by James Bulgin, Head of Content for the Imperial War Museum's Holocaust Galleries, to discuss how IWM and its learning program can support this vital part of the curriculum.
[Title: Why is language so important when trying to teach the Holocaust?]
[Jaya Carrier] So, one of the things that has come out of the focus group and the research that IWM have done is that teachers struggle to know what language to use in talking about this really complex and difficult history, and that's something that teachers are grappling with all the time. And I mean, I've been teaching for 11 years and it's something that I’m still really keen to make sure that I think really carefully about, and that I get right. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on this with respect to teaching about the Holocaust.
[On screen: Defining the Holocaust]
[James Bulgin] Yeah sure, I mean I think it's a completely reasonable point. I think the first thing to say is that it is complicated, it is challenging, and it is something which is constantly under review. I think we could start with the word ‘Holocaust’ itself, because we use this reflectively as a kind of a catch-all term. Of course, the word Holocaust isn't contemporaneous to the events that it describes, it's something that came sometime afterwards and there's a lot of writing about that too. But it, it's important to be really specific about what we mean when we use the word Holocaust, and what the problems are that arrive with that as well. That's something that we try and be quite clear with our students about, and our visitors about as well.
[JC] Yeah, I think that also speaks to something to do with the definition of the Holocaust in terms of victims of Nazi persecution more generally, and I think that's something again that teachers really feel as though again, they want to be steered in the right way to make sure that they're making this really clear to their students. And you know, as I understand it but you know I'd love to hear your expertise on this further, is that the Holocaust specifically does refer to the mass murder of Jewish people, and that of course other victim groups were involved in kind of Nazi persecution, but actually the Holocaust is a very specific term with respect to Jewish persecution.
[JB] Yeah, I mean exactly right. I think, you know, what's really important from the outset is to be absolutely clear about the fact that we're not talking about hierarchies of suffering, and we're not levelling up one group's experiences (or group of individuals’ experiences) against another, that's absolutely critical. But nevertheless, it's also really important to be clear about Nazi intentions and the Nazis persecuted lots of different people, and groups of people, for different reasons. As part of that whole network of persecution, they identified Jewish people eventually for total annihilation. And that is something which is discreet from other different vectors of persecution within Nazism, so we need to talk about the specificity of that. And the word ‘Holocaust’ is the most useful shorthand that we have culturally. And of course there are others, but nevertheless the word Holocaust has become so sort of centralized in western cultural memory, or certainly in this country, that it's the most useful shorthand we have to describe it. But it's really important that we don't allow that to become a kind of a shorthand for all Nazi persecution, because that doesn't help anybody. That doesn't help any of any of us to understand the specificities of who the Nazis were persecuting, and why they were doing it. So within the whole spectrum of Nazi persecution, we could talk about the Holocaust as referring specifically to the planned or attempted annihilation of Europe's Jews.
[JC] I think again that raises a really interesting point about how you might use, in a school context, Holocaust education as a way of talking about genocides more broadly, but that it's really important from a language perspective, but also from a really deeply moral perspective, to not invoke those kinds of crass comparisons that you were mentioning James. But I do think it's an interesting thing for educators to have a think about: if you're defining the Holocaust as a genocide, how might you then talk about that with your students, perhaps in other contexts where genocides have taken place? As well as to think about how you might use Holocaust education as a way of saying how we might reflect about the modern world.
[JB] Inevitably, because this is about people doing things to other people, there are things which are common across human experience. But it's- to my mind, and certainly the approach that we take here, it’s only engaging with the details of the specificity of what occurred during the Holocaust that we can then start to think about human behaviour contemporarily, and to identify ways in which human behaviour can be observed to have kind of commonality between what was done then and what happens now. But to me, the most important thing in terms of understanding why studying the Holocaust might change our relationship to the world contemporarily, is because it's about choice and behaviour and people, real people. If we, if we don't allow the people in the past to be real people making real, informed choices, then there's nothing to glean from what they did now. So I think, I think detail is the most critical part of this.
[On screen: Perpetrator Language]
[JC] And one of the really interesting details that I found coming to the galleries was again, coming back to this idea of the choice of language, was - and I've been teaching the Holocaust for a very long time, I've been teaching history for 11 years - but I had not thought about this idea about Kristallnacht and the November pogrom, so I was interested to see that as a choice, and it was really fantastic to see that in the gallery and it really made me challenge my own thinking, so again any of your ideas about that.
[JB] Yeah, I think, I mean it's a really good example right, Kristallnacht. I've taught Kristallnacht as we, as we've come to know it. Obviously, that's the language that the Nazis used at the time. It's also the language that was used and kind of seeded out across the world's media at the time, but nevertheless it's, first of all it's taking the Nazis at their own word; this is a contemporaneous Nazi description. But also if we unpack what it's really suggesting, it suggests very directly through the use of the phraseology ‘crystal night’ to refer to, you know, broken windows from shop fronts, etc. It refers explicitly to damage done to property. That's not what the program of mass violence in November 1938 was about; it was about violence and threat and intimidation to people. And of course property being destroyed is not unproblematic, but it is far less significant than threatening people. And not just people in the streets, terrible as that is, but also in their own homes. This is a major transgression, you know, this series of violence. So by talking about ‘pogroms’, which is of course something, you know, Russian word which predates this and talks about a much longer history of violence against Jews. That's about violence against Jews, Jewish people, Jewish culture Jewish experience, Jewish lives - not about the properties that they might happen to live in or happen to own, more specifically. So I think, I think, you know, language is really important; that sometimes we can become blinded to it in the world, because we just use it reflectively, exactly as you say, we use it really reflectively without thinking about it.
Similarly actually, with things like the ‘Final Solution’: but what do we really mean when we say that? The ‘solution’ suggests a problem; there is no, there is no ‘Final Solution’ because- insofar as there was never a problem. It's impossible to have a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. But by us continually, sort of unproblematically referring to the ‘Final Solution’ to refer to mass murder of Europe's Jews, we’re somehow taking the Nazis at their own word. And that's not just an issue of kind of, you know, unproblematic use of language; that is a really big issue in terms of the way that we're really thinking about engaging with what we're talking about.
[JC] And actually I would encourage any teacher to speak to their students about exactly that: you know, are we going to give this degree of credibility when it is something that the Nazis used to describe something? And actually that's a really fantastic debate or discussion that you could have in a classroom, in terms of what terminology we're using, how we're thinking about language, and importantly how we're being careful about the language that we use.
[On screen: Specific Language]
I think one of the things that teachers really struggle with in difficult and complicated histories is the use of emotive language, particularly mindful of the fact that they're working with young people, they're working with people who, you know, may be experiencing a lot of things going on. And therefore I was interested that the choice in the gallery was, was not to shy away from the use of emotive language, it was actually very direct very straightforward. And I think that's a really good way to proceed with students, and I just wonder your thoughts about this?
[JB] Yeah I mean, it's something we thought about a lot, to be honest. And it's something that really kind of crystallized for us as we were working on the text for the galleries particularly. But I think it's really, really important that that we say exactly what we mean, and I think there is an inherent risk that if we talk about, you know, people kind of ‘succumbing’ or ‘perishing’ or ‘losing their lives’ somehow, we really lose the clarity about what it is that we're specifically talking about. We're talking about the fact that the Nazis and their collaborators, and of course there were many, killed people, and they murdered them, and I think that's something which we, which we do need to be really clear about. It even comes down to which voice we take from it. There were certain lines of text which we would say things like “400 000, 440 000 Jewish people were deported from Hungary”. And then of course in that construction we lose the active element of the sentence, which is the fact that the Nazis deported them. So, any sentences like that we inverted, and said not “these people were deported”, we said “the Nazis deported these people to here”, to make sure that the act had meaningful and proper ownership. And I think that's something we try to do throughout the galleries, just in order to make sure that we're really, really, really clear. And it means that there are instances when you may, you know, talk about “people dying”, and that is the appropriate way of discussing it, or it may be the passive construction is the right thing to do in a very specific set of circumstances because of the position that we're taking. Even in those instances, you know, we would say: “440 000, 437 000 people deported, Jewish people deported from Hungary by the Nazis because…”. It's very easy to lose that bit in the sentence or to say, you know, “six million people lost their lives”. They didn't, they didn't ‘lose their lives’, they were killed. And we need to be really clear about that, because otherwise we lose any meaningful sense of the dynamics of what actually occurred.
[JC] And I think students actually sometimes really appreciate that clarity, and if you take student voice many of them will say that, we would much prefer to have the straightforward, almost non-patronizing truth of the matter, and the use of language I think is so important in offering that for students.
Make sure you watch Part Two, where we'll be exploring how teachers in the classroom can now start to think about how they might use images in teaching about the Holocaust.
What should we consider when using images in our teaching of the Holocaust?
[Title: What should we consider when using images in our teaching of the Holocaust?]
[Jaya Carrier: Vice Principal, Westminster Academy] So I think another of the issues that teachers find difficult is the idea about imagery in teaching about this history, and I think that applies to the idea of two things. Firstly, how we make sure that we might use imagery to ensure that we really humanize the people that we're talking about, but also difficulties with deciding about the use of atrocity images in particular.
[On screen: Purpose and learning outcomes]
I think for me, when I'm thinking about this as an educator, the starting point is always: well, what is it that I want to achieve? What is the learning outcome for this? Is it that I want to challenge particular misconceptions that people might have about Jewish people? Is it to do with completely different things? And then I would encourage educators to think about it in that way, such that they can enter the classroom with an informed choice about how they might want to represent people by way of images. And particularly with respect to pre-war Jewish life, I noticed that there was a really big emphasis on that in the gallery.
[James Bulgin: Head of Content, Holocaust Galleries, Imperial War Museum] As you say, in the first space we really wanted to do whatever we could to completely deconstruct the notion that there is, or ever was, a singular group of people called ‘the Jews’. I was chatting to somebody a few years ago who said something which really, really stuck with me; he said you know, within this sector and within the subject, we still talk about ‘the Jews’ without even thinking about it. For us, in the first space we wanted to try and do whatever we could to deconstruct that in a way, which is immediate for visitors just walking into it. So we've sourced over a thousand different images of pre-war Jewish life, in all of its different forms. Because the really important thing about pre-war Jewish life, and Jewish life in general way up to the present day of course, is that there is no such thing as a singular Jewish experience. Jewish people lead completely different lives depending on where they are, their levels of religious observance, you know, the nature of the jobs that they do, and the countries they're in - all of the various different factors that impact all of us.
So we tried really hard to find different ways of doing that; we spoke to archives across the world to find varying images that just capture- each image just captures a flicker of a moment in time. But those multiple flickers of multiple moments in time hopefully do something to suggest the plurality and diversity, massive levels of diversity, of pre-war Jewish life. I think it's really almost dangerous actually to suggest that there is any such thing as a sort of, you know, a prototypical, you know, pre-war Jewish life; of course, of course there isn't. So that's- so that's something that we that we did and we tried really hard to make sure the galleries had at the core of their new approach.
Now the other thing that we did is we took individuals from some of these photographs and put- printed them onto kind of large sheets of glass that exist throughout the opening space, and throughout the galleries too. And that's an idea that we had as a method to try and ask people to think about the fact that these people, captured in a flicker of a moment in time within a photograph, once walked around on this planet in the same way that all of us did. And so of course just by seeing somebody at their actual height, at eye level, doesn't somehow kind of put them back in the world in a kind of a 3D sense, but it at least asks you to sort of think about the fact that they were once every bit as human as you or I are. And I think that seems like a simple thing to do, but somehow sometimes with black and white images, people wearing different kinds of clothes, and different types of places, doing different type of things, it’s somehow all too easy to push them into a different dimension, to say their world is not my world, and of course it is.
[JC] I think that's so powerful for students, and for teachers, to really start to think about in terms of yeah that pre-war Jewish life, and how you might use imagery to invoke that richness and diversity that you're talking about.
[JB] Yeah, and it's also about agency which is the other thing which is really important to us. That there's a tendency within Holocaust narratives to remove agency from Jewish people and Jewish individuals and communities, and to somehow make them completely sublimated within a kind of a perpetrator defined narrative, and to say: these people don't have their own chronology, their only chronology in this narrative is the chronology which the Nazis imposed upon them. And of course, that's a massive problem, that's absolutely not how it was. These people were born into the world with their own chronologies that they were defining for themselves, as we all do, and they had complete agency and choice.
So, for example we use footage from one family, called the Bed family, which is a Dutch Jewish family he went on holiday in the years before the war, and we showed their entire holiday film, unedited on its own screen within the opening space, because in watching the way that they engaged with this, there is something in their existence. You know, they were obviously from the Netherlands and they, their way of life probably would be quite familiar to a lot of us, and so, you know, they are quite close. And we see, we see this really interesting and important dimension to their film where they move the camera around and we become really aware of the part the camera plays in the way that they're sort of constructing their relationship to it and their experience of each other and the holiday, and it's a really kind of familiar way of framing experience. That they, you know, they keep on grabbing the camera off each other and it shakes as one of them drops in and out of shot, and they are living lives completely unmediated by what's to come. In that, in that space in the galleries we don't, we don't say what that is. We do later on in the galleries, and what happened is they were all deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and none of them, none of them survived. And it's really hard, it's really tough watching that film knowing that, but you really do get a sense of people who perfectly reasonably living lives, unencumbered by what's to happen, unencumbered by narratives of persecutions.
[On screen: Considering the use of atrocity images]
[JC] I think though, as I mentioned, the issue of images for educators is a two-pronged one, wherein we've spoken about the pre-war Jewish life and the fact that images can really help us in, in snapshots invoke some of that really important rich culture. But on the other hand I think something that we grapple with when we're thinking about delivering this in the classroom is how we might deal with really difficult or atrocity images, and using those with students.
[JB] Yeah, I mean I think it's absolutely right and these are exactly the same kind of thoughts and conversations and dialogues that we were having. You know, when we started on the project we consulted really widely actually, about this specific image. Because of course there is a whole school of thought within, you know, Holocaust historiography, and specifically kind of the ethics of representation around Holocaust imagery, there's a school of thought that says that these images should not be seen. You know, these reduce the people within them to sort of faceless anonymized victims, and by showing that the photos we’re somehow, in some way, kind of re-perpetrating, you know, or perpetuating the atrocity. And you know, I have a lot of sympathy with that position, I, you know, I understand it and it's something we thought about a lot.
Interestingly, when we consulted, I was really surprised, and this was probably some of the broadest consultation we did: we did it with scholars, we did it with just general community groups, we did it with various family members, you know, people who have objects within our collections and that kind of thing, and far more besides. And the consensus really widely aligned with your kind of hypothetical student voice, which was to say: but these exist, and so people need to see them and understand them. I think for me the really important thing is that when we're using imagery of this nature, is that it always needs to be very, very clearly contextualized. I think there has been a problem historically with using graphic images of atrocity as a kind of a shortcut to engender a sense of kind of shock. You know, to say: isn't this terrible? Look at this! You know, this is a horrific illustration of what, of what, you know, the Nazis did. And actually that's a problem.
[On screen: Considering the photographer]
I think, there's far more research around these images now, there's far more of a sense of where they came from, I mean, importantly: who took them. Which is a really important thing as well; these photos didn't just come out of the ether, somebody chose to frame them in the way that they did. And so I think for us within the galleries, we tried not to use kind of large graphic imageries, we tried to use very specific images in very specific instances, and to give those images real context.
[JC] I think as well, what you were saying about who took the image and how it was framed; that is such a core and important skill for any historian or any aspiring historian in a history classroom to really get to grips with. And I think some of the images used in the galleries, such as the ones about defacing Jewish shops, could be quite helpful for students to kind of unpack in terms of the provenance, as well as the actual content of the image.
[JB] Yeah exactly, I mean because I think when you look at this, any picture, you know, the first question is always, you know, who took this and why? What is it that they're capturing, and why do they want to capture this? We use one image in the galleries of a boy who's being forced to deface, as you say, his father's shop by painting the word ‘Jude’ onto the front of the shop, and he's kind of mid brush stroke as he's doing it and there's this, there's this image of this, of this kid, you know, crouching down with the paintbrush in his hand, painting this. And looming over him there's this, kind of, this, a man, you know, there's some bullish grotesque man who's sort of peering down on him. Clearly the boy is doing this under duress, clearly the man is the one who's, you know, telling him to do it. And then all around the periphery there are these, you know, as we said, in this flicker of this moment of time, there's this group around them who are sort of sneering and smiling and laughing, watching this thing, and you just think, you know, my god. This poor kid, this is, this is an inversion of everything that we would like to believe a civilized society is about, i.e. you know, adults taking care of, supporting, nurturing children. And yet somebody's chosen to freeze this moment in time and to capture this moment, and this man has made this choice.
But that photo was taken in Vienna in 1938, just after the Nazis had occupied the country. And actually that is a very specific moment of anti-semitic violence. You know, what happened in Vienna was virtually without precedent at that stage in pre-war and Nazi persecution. So that photo doesn't just testify to this absolutely abhorrent act of, you know, violence I suppose, to this boy and intimidation, it also testifies to what happened at that specific moment in time. And what happened in Vienna at that stage certainly emboldened the Nazis to begin to radicalize their preconceptions about what could be done to Jewish people, and what people would tolerate. And so, what we see within the specific context of that photo is far broader than just the shock value of seeing a grown man doing this to a young kid. And the fact it's his father's shop as well is, you know, is a really important detail, so we, within the galleries, we make sure that information is there.
[JC] I guess the other thing that is interesting in terms of teachers, is this idea about how that- how a student might bring their own experiences, and therefore they might need to be in some way safeguarded or cared for when looking at more challenging or atrocity images. You've got a lot of just, a lot of stills, a lot of photography and there are some atrocity images. I'm interested to know about why you chose some of those particular things.
[JB] It is, it is complex, I think. For me, and certainly our approach as an organization and within the new galleries, is that it's all about clarity and kind of warning, I suppose, or contextualization, in that sense, and not just in terms of the historic contextualization of the images but also the contextualization of what people are about to see. So we have, you know, we have, in our in our final space at the gallery, we have an edit of a film called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, which was made for- made by the Allies just after liberation, as a sort of a record of Nazi atrocity, which wasn't completed at the time but was completed by IWM in 2014. And the content in it is extremely graphic. I mean, you know, really, really, really disturbing, really affecting. And when IWM put the film together, when they screened it in cinemas as it was shown at the time, there was somebody who came on at the start and said, you know, you know, member of staff, member of the team, who would go on and say, you know, this is really difficult, and if you want to leave then you should, and people did. And you know, the first time I went to see it, I thought well, I've seen a lot of these things before, you know, I don't enjoy it but I feel like prepared, and it shocked me. So in this gallery we're using that film, but we've made the decision to remove some of the elements of that film. Because the reality is, we're not watching it in a cinema. Initially, I thought we would use the whole thing as a, kind of an object almost, and I watched it again, I thought, we're not, we can't provide sufficient context for some of this content. It's too much, this isn't the right place for it. But we can't take all of that out either, because it's important and somehow by removing that stuff we're removing really critical parts of the record. So we tried to strike a balance, to contextualize those things, but we've also tried to include warnings about what people are about to see, so that they know, you know. And I think the reality is, this is, this is a narrative of mass murder and I think that's really important, we need to be really clear about that and not shy away from some of those things. But I think it's also important to not just suddenly bombard somebody with something they're not expecting to see.
[JC] All of this makes me think as well, another angle to explore with students is about what it's like to be you, what it's like to have these big questions to grapple with in terms of the use of images or the use of objects in a gallery, and therefore how you might go about choosing it and what that's like almost, professionally.
[JB] Yeah I mean, when we started on this project we had huge lists of objects that we wanted to use, and a huge list of photos and films, and we had to make decisions about what to use and what not to use. And obviously those decisions were informed by conversations with experts in in this country and in various different institutions across the world, but also by our, kind of, our own, you know, knowledge and experience and expertise. But I think it is really important to engage with the fact that we had to edit the narrative, and that means that the version of this history that we present in these galleries is, I would like to believe and I do profoundly believe, authoritative insofar as it's been informed by a large volume of experts and a huge amount of reading and research. And I think the idea that history is this huge kind of volatile, dynamic mass of information which is constructed on images, and accounts, and archives, and different sources, and different types of sources. And each one of us, as we engage with it, is just finding a different path through it. It is, you know, I think, in its own way, kind of really energizing and I think, I would hope that's something which teachers can find to kind of inspire students as they engage with, not just this subject but for all of history really.
[JC] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, it's been so great to talk to you about images, your choices in the gallery. And I know that with the Holocaust Learning Programme here, any concerns in terms of student safeguarding, in terms of emotional or difficult reactions to some things which are more challenging, that they're in such safe hands with the learning team here, who I know really, really do support students, both before the gallery, in the gallery, and even after the gallery. So, thank you so much.
In part three we'll be exploring some of the issues around time pressure, and what to choose and how to structure the curriculum in terms of the Holocaust.
How can the Holocaust be taught with limited teaching time?
[Title: How can the Holocaust be taught with limited teaching time?]
[On screen: Constructing your curriculum]
[Jaya Carrier: Vice Principal, Westminster Academy] So I think the final challenge that teachers have with so many things is they are time limited, and especially if you're a history teacher thinking about how you might construct your curriculum and in a very limited time span, particularly if you're teaching it for example in Key Stage Three to Year Nine students, you need to make some pretty clear decisions about what it is you want to focus on. And to me, that issue about what it is you want to focus on really stems back to that question again of, what's the purpose of this and what's the learning outcome of this. Because, for example, in some communities we know that anti-semitism is on the rise, and therefore for them it's going to be really important to talk to the ideas about debunking myths and misconceptions about Jewish people. But in other communities it might be that the student needs a very different, or it might be that the purpose of the pedagogy is different again. So I would encourage teachers to really think about firstly, what it is they want to get out of it, but also think about where there might be other opportunities to talk about this history, be it in geography, in English, SMSC, PSHE, are all spaces where I've seen some really interesting work done on Holocaust pedagogy. And I think, yeah, trying to figure out that time critical mass, but knowing the opportunities available to you, is something that I would encourage teachers to reflect upon.
[James Bulgin: Head of Content, Holocaust Galleries, Imperial War Museum] Yeah, I mean, I think that as time has gone on, obviously there is so much research around the subject and there's so many different ways of coming at it, and it is vast, you know, it's impenetrably vast. There are, there are huge volumes of books that are written, there's huge volumes of information. I think, exactly as you say, the really important thing is to, in the first instance say you know, why am I doing this? What is it that I'm that I'm trying to get from it? And as always, to think really specifically about that. I mean, I think, the bottom line is, the one, the one common part of this subject across the board is that it's something that is in our world and there's something that is within us, and I think, I think that's really important. So, wherever we come at it, you know, we're finding those questions. But it is also a really fundamental part of western culture, and so these questions do spin off into loads of different directions. I think what I would say is that obviously, coming here is a really useful way of finding a route into the subject, because in some respects we've already done a lot of this work ourselves, and certainly we've engaged with a huge volume of different people. So, we've assembled resources from over 100 different archives across the world, we've spoken to historians in institutions across the world, we work with experts on everything we do here. So in a way, we've already kind of edited a platform, but it is very much a platform. Everything we've done here is intended to be a platform from which anyone who visits can step across and develop things in different directions, and that's really important but it is a huge amount, so choosing one thing to focus on is absolutely necessary.
[JC] I think that's really reassuring for teachers, the idea that they might be able to pick a particular avenue of inquiry related to the purpose of why they're doing it, related to the needs of their students, is really reassuring. And as you say, you guys have done some of the hard work and the thinking, as well as enabling teachers to think about some of the things and the angles that may both engage students, but also might be the lesser known stories. So again, some of the things about Jewish resistance might be really interesting to teachers.
[On screen: Engaging with the complexity of the Holocaust]
[JB] Yeah I mean, I think one of the challenges with asking people to think about the Holocaust is that a lot of people now, and I think probably students too, you'd know a lot more about that than me, but I think, I think, my experience and sense of it is that a lot of students have certain ideas about the Holocaust, or this thing that we now call the Holocaust. And they tend to revolve around very specific notions of, kind of, you know, quote unquote ‘factories of death’ and systemization and murder and trains and, you know, maybe Anne Frank or some of these kind of well-known examples. And I think the challenge is actually really just saying, the whole thing is infinitely more complex than that, and these people, or these people and these things fit within a much broader narrative. So you know, one of the things which we've tried really hard for example to move beyond in the galleries is the idea that the Holocaust is somehow just about industrialized genocide. I think that's quite a dangerous idea actually, because it suggests that somehow it's a machine that killed people and not people. And one example of that is the Einsatzgruppen shootings in Central Eastern Europe after Operation Barbarossa. I think probably nowhere near as well known or well understood as things like Auschwitz, but really important and, you know, completely different version of the narrative. In the galleries we do that with a very small number of objects and a very small amount of sources because there aren't that many, but the idea is to try and open up, you know, a window of perception into a whole dimension of this narrative, so that people become aware of it, and I think you know that's really important.
I think that we've done something similar with the V1, for example. So, we have a V1 flying bomb that that's held in sort of stasis between our galleries and the Second World War Galleries below, and we did that because we know that a lot of visitors, maybe not some of the younger students but certainly a lot of our visitors, will be familiar with the V1 in the guise of the doodlebug - you know, part of Britain's homefront experience of having doodlebugs dropping from the sky. Not many of our visitors will know that these are also an object that emanated from the Holocaust; these things were made in factories by underground workers living in appalling conditions, and so actually something which seems a really sort of central and integral part of Britain's war narrative in the public consciousness is also part of a Holocaust narrative. And so by drawing those two things together as well, we're not talking about, you know, the detail of the way that these things were made, or the mechanics or the engineering or any of those things, but we're just trying to open a door into something so that people can appreciate this whole chapter, this whole dimension, and hopefully maybe think about that themselves too.
And I suppose, I would say that's why coming to, you know, the galleries can be a really useful part of that, because I can explain that to you, and I can kind of conceptualize a little, and to a certain extent intellectualize it, but being in the space you experience it. You don't experience what the people who made it experienced, but the experience of standing in the space and seeing this thing has a sort of an immediacy, and a kind of an affective resonance which is not replicable in anything else that we do. It's why people come to galleries, because we still they're not experiences anymore, you know, we don't talk about, we don't talk about the idea that you retake the steps of somebody in these moments in time, because you don't, you can't do that, that's an absurd claim to make. But nevertheless, they are experiential spaces; we feel in them and by feeling, our responses to the content around us changes, and we think about things differently. And thinking about things differently and dynamically is so critical in terms of advancing our knowledge and our understanding. So that's what we try to do in the galleries, and I think that just appreciating that, appreciating that none of these things will ever provide a completely total version of this, and even just that simple fact is really, you know, just being clear about that with students and everybody. To say nobody, even you know the world's leading scholars, nobody has read everything, nobody knows everything, nobody can even hope to get anywhere near that, but that's okay.
[On screen: Asking questions]
I think the other thing which is really important is that we've tried really hard to create an environment in which people feel empowered to ask questions. I think sometimes with a subject like the Holocaust, because it looms in the way that it does in contemporary culture - and, you know, for a lot of really good and perfectly legitimate reasons - but it means that people somehow feel as if they can't ask questions. In good faith, not you know, in good faith about some of the issues, and to be confident to say, but you know, I don't understand that, or how did that happen, or why did they do that, or how they're thinking, and that's critical. So in the new galleries, we've tried to move beyond the idea that, you know, respectful silence is the only legitimate or possible response. And I think it's really particularly important that students feel confident to be able to ask the questions that arise, because it does generate questions, because it is so challenging, it is so difficult, and it is something which is, you know, engenders this sort of sense of “I don't get it, how did you do this? How did they do this? Why did they respond like that? I don't know why this person did that to that person”. And I think it's really important that people can ask this thing, so that's something we've tried really hard to do in the galleries as well.
[On screen: IWM’s Holocaust Learning Programme]
[JC] Yeah, and I think that again is such a really fantastic feature of doing the Learning Programme. That safe space for teachers to bring their students, wherein they can ask questions, they can have those genuine encounters with objects in the past. And also that kind of augmented reality element to the gallery as well just makes it so engaging, and as you say such a critical space for curiosity, for awe, for wonder, all of those things which are very, very important in terms of meeting the students’ needs, and in terms of grappling with this really complex history. And so, thank you so much James.
It's been fascinating speaking with James about the Holocaust Galleries and Learning Programme at the Imperial War Museum London. For further support, IWM offer a range of free online resources to help you develop your teaching practice further. From access to IWM's diverse collections, to more teacher CPD films, IWM have resources for both students and teachers to help support their learning. These can all be found on the IWM website, at iwm.org.uk/learning.
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