Friday, April 10, 2009

UW20 Students Ensure that Children of the Holocaust Are Not Forgotten

In Prof. Cayo Gamber's Legacies of the Holocaust UW20 course, research is more than just an exercise. Working with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, her students seek to learn what happened to the school children of the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.

Prof. Gamber writes: "My UW20 class, Legacies of the Holocaust, has had the good fortune to be able to make use of the resources of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). Not only do we have access to USHMM’s oral history and photo archives, all the sections I teach have been invited to be part of the beta-testing of the Lodz Ghetto Project.

"The Lodz Ghetto Project is the innovation of David Klevan, Education Manager for Technology and Distance Learning Initiatives, and one of his fellow colleagues at USHMM. The Project was inspired by a single artifact: a list of signatures. The signatures appear in an album of hand-drawn New Year's greetings presented by ghetto schools to the Jewish Council chairman, Chaim Rumkowski, and signed by thousands of Lodz ghetto schoolchildren.

"USHMM is preparing to launch a worldwide collaborative volunteer project to find out what happened to the student signatories in this album. At this point, 1500 (approximately 10%) of the 13,000 names of the signatories are listed on the site. Over time, all of their names will be added to the list.

"My goals in this project are for students to learn how

  • conducting this research teaches us about the research process, sharing information with others, and the importance of collaboration with fellow researchers,
  • engaging in this research teaches us about a specific historical situation and advances our understanding of history in general,
  • rescuing such evidence contributes to the historical record of the Shah, and
  • preserving the memory of those who suffered is made possible through contributing to this research effort.
"These goals are translated into vital research steps. Once researchers register with the site, they are invited to choose a student signatory and try to find out when the student was born, where the student lived in the Ghetto, whether or not there are hospital records or death records related to the student, if the student was sent to a labor camp, whether or not the student was transported to Auschwitz or another camp, and, sometimes, whether or not the student survived.

"The students in Legacies of the Holocaust initially conduct research on one of the signatories to learn to conduct research into various archives. Their primary role, however, is to become advanced researchers. After a half-day workshop conducted for them at USHMM, they learn to review the research conducted by others in order to see if all the research venues have been exhausted and if the researcher has reached viable conclusions about the possible fate of a given student.

"In the process, they communicate, one-on-one with individual researchers in order to discuss the research process. Moreover, in the process, they ensure that these individuals existed and that their fates mattered. Given that 200,000 people were imprisoned in Lodz, and only 10,000 are believed to have survived, the chances that individual students survived are small, but the effort to discover what happened to them remains meaningful.

"It also is worth noting that this Project expands, and sometimes changes, our understanding of history. In the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names in the Yad Vashem archives, the majority of the students from the Ghetto are listed as having perished. Those students whose names are on the list of Lodz ghetto inmates found in “The Lodz Names - List of the ghetto inhabitants 1940-1944” were believed to have “perished in the Shoah” and all were recorded as such when the database was originally constructed; however, the research that is performed by my students, and others, is able to draw from a variety of data sources via the Project and has revealed that this was not always the case.

"The success of this Project is testified to, in part, by the following e-mail in which Maria, a former student, welcomes my current students to the Project.

Dear Lodz Children Project Participants, I want to welcome you to this amazing project!

This will be my second semester participating and I know that if you find it as fascinating as I do, you will continue beyond this semester as well. This project has helped me take my research skills to the next level and has given me the satisfaction of knowing my work has already been recorded in history. I had the opportunity to research and review research done by other students, but this time around I will mostly be reviewing your research.

Throughout the next few weeks you will have many challenges while researching and the wonderful satisfaction of finding survivors. You will also have the privilege of experiencing a research rush and at times giving up will seem like the only answer. Just remember in times like these that you are possibly correcting a person’s legacy.

Best of luck,
Maria V**********
"Like Maria, I hope more of my students will continue this work beyond the current semester. It is projects like these which demonstrate that the research we conduct has ramifications beyond individual classes, beyond classroom walls, beyond the strictures of time and history, for to engage in this work is to bear witness to those whose lives may otherwise be disappeared, to engage in this work is, as Maria has stated, to redress someone’s legacy."

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