Photo: The museum's teacher Uwe Graf
The museum and teaching
Learning, defined as the acquisition of information, knowledge and skills, must also be enjoyable if it is to be successful, perhaps especially when dealing with such a sensitive theme as the National Socialist persecution of the Jews. Learning in Sachsenhausen then is not to be defined by the amount of work done by an individual nor by grade, for how is it possible to award a grade for work on this theme? It must be a style of learning that sensitises people and developments, is relevant to a person's ethical and political orientation and enables people to ensure that Auschwitz - and the long political path to Auschwitz began with stereotypes and discrimination - can never happen again.
The most appropriate style of learning is a didactic method called 'discovery learning'. This is a form of learning based around the learner's own initiative and interests. It tries to increase learner confidence and bring over an experience of success and still be enjoyable despite the difficult contents. As a way of using discovery learning the museum and memorial has developed the 'museum case study: Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp'.
The museum portrays the history of the Jews that were imprisoned at different times and for various reasons in Sachsenhausen concentration camp putting the fate of individual prisoners in the foreground. Some survived, many did not. Where it has been possible, we have detailed the lives of prisoners from their birth to their death and if they are still living, up until the present day, although the focal point of the prisoner biographies always remains the time they spent in Sachsenhausen. In many instances we know very little about the lives of Sachsenhausen's prisoners and this is also noticeable in the museum's case study. The fates of many prisoners have been well documented, but others are missing information or have only been put together from the perspectives of those responsible - the Gestapo.
The museum's case study contains various media. Prisoner's reports are available in the form of texts, cassettes or film as are copies of documents, photos and drawings. This is to enable prisoners, which the SS had tried to silence, to be visible once again as individuals and they are represented by silhouettes in the case study. This approach connects the factual knowledge gained by working through a prisoner's biography with the emotional side of learning about a prisoner.
The school pupils decide by themselves on which of the two levels they are going to work. The knowledge that they gain, the feelings that the subject releases and any remaining questions can be expressed creatively by filling out the prisoner silhouette. The museum's case study serves as preparation for a visit to Sachsenhausen and especially to the exhibition 'Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp' in barracks No.38. Visitors should be at least 15 years old.
To work successfully with the museum's case study, the following points are important and should be taken into account.
1. Pupils must have an understanding of Jewish society and its religious and cultural background. We have provided material to help in this matter in the appendix.
2. The time available for teaching with the museum's case study should be planned together with the museum staff. Three hours teaching time is really the absolute minimum, but a longer stay is recommended.
3. If there is very little time available to spend on the case study, the importance of the work done after the visit can not be underestimated. The results of the work should be presented after the visit and the following points discussed:
How did I feel / Which feelings were released as I worked through the prisoner's biographies? Which were the most important parts of the biographies for me?
4. Shortly before a visit to the memorial, it is useful to discuss the visit one more time with the pupils. It is of vital importance that the pupils understand that the layout of the camp has been changed since National Socialist times. Photos can help to give the pupils an idea of the site. In order that the pupils profit from a visit to the memorial questions about the camp should be collected before the visit.
The contents of the 'Museum case study: Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp'.