The Use of Testimony as an Educational Resource: James Griffiths and Claudia Reese (National Holocaust Centre and Museum)

The AHRC workshop on “Culture and its uses as Testimony” has addressed many burning issues in the daily work with testimony as an educational resource. The National Holocaust Centre and Museum [NHCM] welcomes the discussion of testimony in all its forms since it sees it as an opportunity to learn. Different formats of testimony can fulfill different needs in education. Awareness of their specific qualities and challenges make for a better interpretation of a source and its evaluation as an appropriate resource for education.

We agree that there should be careful consideration as to what constitutes testimony. But the fact that some representations of the Holocaust are fictional and artistic in character does not yet preclude their usefulness to education and testify to the deep existential experience of the Holocaust and the translation of its meaning for audiences today. Maybe it would be helpful to allow for the duality of meaning of testimony and work with it accordingly. On the one side the eyewitness first-hand account of a person who experienced the Holocaust, a primary source that should be interpreted with the classic tools of historical criticism. On the other: the solemn declaration by a person testifying to his experience of the story of the Holocaust and the testimony he gives to his reaction through an artistic representation in the form of film, fiction or art. In the end a secondary source that should be interpreted with the tools of artistic criticism. Both types of testimony can only give a partial view of one aspect of history and need the triangulation with other sources to give a balanced picture.

As an institution with Holocaust education as a core aim we work with testimony in various forms to achieve a twofold purpose. On the one hand we strive to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and offer a degree of reconciliation to the survivors by giving them a forum to share their testimony with a mostly young audience. On the other hand our great hope would be to form and shape the values of a new generation. Ultimately testimony in its many forms should challenge and inspire people of all ages into positive action for a more cohesive society that values its differences.

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