To stop the defamation of the Jewish people... to secure justice and fair treatment to all

Sign Up For One Of Our Newsletters
Volume 17, No.1 / Spring 2003            
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust
Using Testimony in the Classroom

About Testimonies

Importance of Testimonies in Holocaust Education

Using Testimony in the Classroom

Recorded Testimonies of Survivors (1946)
Nechama Tec


Historical Background: Jews in Poland

Writings of Nechama Tec
  • Intro
  • Dry Tears (6th Grade - College)
      • Overview
      • Questions & Activities
Leo Lieberman, Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

As educators we have dedicated our lives to informing students about basic truths, about historical data, about cosmic perplexities in the hope that we can help them become more moral and more sensitive human beings. Those of us who have committed ourselves to Holocaust education are most keenly aware of the challenge that is before us. How can we bring into the confines of our classroom an event so mind shattering that sometimes even to discuss it seems to trivialize it, to make it no longer an event but a theme. And yet not to approach this most pivotal moment of twentieth century history would be to do a disservice to the memory of those who have no voice. Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and foremost Holocaust scholar, tells us, "The quest for knowledge is what makes humans survive even if it hurts."

And so we turn to two-dimensional texts, to both fiction and non-fiction (and the chasm between the two is blurred) to gain insight and we realize these limitations. Abraham Lewin who writes extensively and well about the Holocaust admits, "It is hard for the tongue to utter such words, for the mind to comprehend their meaning, to write them down on paper." Even memoirs and diaries that recount first hand experiences are still few in number and fragmentary at best and sometimes it is hard to reconstruct the voice and persona of the writer when his words are reduced to a textbook entry for our students. And yet witnessing and giving testimony, putting on paper the historical truth does strike an emotional and psychological chord within our students for they are brought to comprehend what Primo Levi recalled in his own memoir The Reawakening, "I had a torrent of urgent things to tell the civilized world."

In many of these memoirs, these written testimonies, we find a poignancy to Eugene Heimler's words recorded in his own testimony Night of the Mist, "There were messages I had to deliver from the dead." Through these and other recordings of survivor testimony, our young people can be drawn into a fuller understanding of what once was mythical into what has become the experience of human beings.

In addition to the written testimony is the voice of the survivor, the actual testimony of those who saw the horror and have "escaped to tell us." The actual testimony of witnesses provides us with a three dimensional life-breathing force, from which we cannot escape and which we cannot deny. When this testimony is presented first-hand to our young people, it becomes a mind shattering and mind-altering experience. As one student remarked after a witness appeared in the classroom, "I have seen the past and it became real."

As the years pass, there will be fewer witnesses to speak to us and we will have to rely on film and literature to carry the message, to develop the theme. But now this is a precious legacy and we should, whenever possible, avail ourselves of the opportunity. When a survivor brings forth his testimony in the classroom, when contact is made between student and the one who gives testimony, the slander of the denier evanesces. The wise teacher prepares his students for this experience, for the challenge and the opportunity, for questions that can be asked, for the experience that will take place.

The use of survivor testimony, both written and oral, helps all of us to face the bitterest of truths, the most shattering of experiences, the pity and the terror of tragedy and to come forth a bit humbler, a bit more dedicated and hopefully a bit wiser than when we entered.

Dimensions Online
Volume 18, No. 1, Fall 2004
Yehuda Bauer

Volume 17, No. 2, Fall 2003
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust--Part II

Volume 17, No.1, Spring 2003
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust-- Part I

Volume 16, No. 1, Fall 2002
Remembrance and Commemoration of Two Catastrophes: September 11th and the Holocaust

Articles from the Print Editions of Dimensions
Dimensions continues to be the leading journal in Holocaust studies -- appealing to both serious scholars and the mainstream audience.
The Hidden Child Foundation®

The Hidden Child Foundation®
We hope to reach all former Hidden Children. As the last survivors, we must tell our tragic stories - for now and for the future, we must bear witness to the Holocaust

Frequently Asked Questions about the Holocaust

e-mail to friend

Education Related Press Releases

e-mail to friendHelp ADL Combat
Hate on the
e-mail to friend E-Mail This Page  
e-mail to friendComments and Further Information about Dimensions  
ADL On-line Home | Search | About ADL | Contact ADL | Privacy Policy

© 2003 Anti-Defamation League