Education

Concept of Education

Education in the Bubny Memorial of Silence

The memorial was established as an institution seeking to address the traumatic past of the Prague Jews related to their war experience. The Bubny Railway Station was a place where they bid farewell to life in freedom although they had already been restricted for several years. Ghettos, prisons, forced labour, and extermination camps followed. It is not an easy task to tell the story of genocide, composed of fragments of human fates, to primary and secondary school students and to the public. Therefore, we decided to partially reveal cards and introduce you to the methodological starting points we use when preparing the educational programmes.

Questions in the Spotlight

The subject of the Holocaust holds a strong emotional charge. The victims’ suffering touches one’s heart; on the one hand, pupils can easily identify with it, while on the other hand, they can be cynical about it. Nevertheless, the non-critical presentation of an exhibition guide, a teacher, or a professional historian can hardly evoke a deep understanding of the intricate issue of nationalism, the relations between ethnical and religious minorities, ideology, and other complex phenomena in pupils. Merely stirring the emotions of a teenage audience cannot be regarded as a successful educational programme. Emotions, no matter how strong and important to experience the subject, can easily cloud clear thinking, and they often lead to hasty conclusions and unknowledgeable opinions about the past. We aim at working with strong stories to encourage a need to ask further questions. Most frequently, we (as well as pupils and students) ask the following questions in connection with this subject: Why did such a dreadful thing happen? How must the people have felt when boarding the transport trains? What was in the minds of people who observed the persecution? Why has someone devised such a thing? Where did such hatred towards the Jews come from? What shall we do with the knowledge we have about the Holocaust?

The shock from the brutality that remains from the genocide is the springboard for the formulation of similar questions within our programmes. To the greatest extent, the pupils seek answers to these questions through their own judgement. The educator plays the role of a coordinator of the research activity of the educational programme participants. Exhibitions, lectures, and other programmes organised by the Bubny Memorial of Silence serve educational needs as a repository of historical sources and various interpretations of the past. The educator presents his selection to be studied by the pupils. Each activity’s assignment includes a part of the above-mentioned big questions related to the Holocaust that are still vividly discussed by academics as well as the public. Although unambiguous and universally valid answers most likely cannot be achieved, it is important to relate to such questions personally. The Bubny Memorial of Silence programmes strive to equip pupils and students with such competencies that would enable them to do so.

The Holocaust as a Memento

Understanding the traumatic past of the Holocaust is a certain foundation to relate to the pupil’s environment and personality. Hardly any subject is so burdened with an expectation to show good and evil in history and thus, through the images of threshold experience, to ensure openness, mutual respect, and restraint against prejudices in perceiving the otherness in the young generation. In our programmes, we endeavour to go towards this expectation, along with pupils, by uncovering social and cultural roots of institutionalised violence. It is not our goal to transfer contemporary moral rules to the past, but rather, based on learning about the past, to think and cultivate the pupils’ ideas about ethical values. We find it important to develop the abilities of the students to capture the moral relationships among the individual figures from the past and assess how much they inspire them in their own decision-making. The study of the Holocaust provided the knowledge that evil can be absolutely banal and unclear, and heroism can be inconspicuous, modest, and forgettable. We do not eliminate questions such as ‘What would I do in their place?’ from our discussions with pupils; quite the opposite – we include them in the cognition process.

Discussion and Creation as a Joint Way to Seek Answers

Information is the basis for knowledgeable and meaningful discussion. The educational programmes we offer cultivate the pupils’ competencies for its acquisition, evaluation, and interpretation. Careful reading of a historical source or a historian’s presentation of the past, its evaluation regarding meaning and nature, and the subsequent effort to uncover the context between the sources are the activities that require pupils to develop competencies. It is an important component of our approach to education. The work with historical sources and other documents is concluded with formulated answers to the questions that the educator and the students asked at the start of the activity. The most frequent answers will include the outputs in the form of learned arguments formulated during the analysis and interpretation of the sources whose significance the students will verify during the final discussion. Nonetheless, some themes are so strong regarding personal stories and the feelings of our and historical players that they are suitable for creative artistic outputs and other forms of expression. Why not provide the world with films, exhibitions, artistic performance, or other expressions based on what we along with the pupils learned about the past? In the course of time, we will offer programmes associated with exhibitions, shorter topics suitable for history and related classes to schools, but also themes for long-term project based learning. The stories about the past lives of people will not fall into oblivion if we talk about them and bring them back to life before one’s eyes.

Educational Department Team

Bohumil Melichar
The Bubny Memorial of Silence, The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes
Historian, Historical Education and Radical Political Movements History Expert

Eliška Pekárková
The Bubny Memorial of Silence, National Museum
Historian, Historical Education and Jewish Culture History Expert