Restoring the generations? – A preliminary literature review exploring the educational potential of the “Zeugen der Shoah” DVDs.

19 May 2014

This article is a preliminary literature review undertaken for a proposed research project, surveying the field of research concerning the use of digitised videotestimonies with Shoah survivors in German history classrooms. It is set against the argument that up to now, the perpetration of Nazi atrocities has largely been treated with silence at the family level, and that this has negative psychosocial consequences. The literature review investigates to what extent educational DVDs with Shoah survivors could present an opportunity to break this silence and thus to restore generational relationships at the social level. These educational media allow learners to not only receive first-hand audio-visual accounts of what the Shoah witnesses experienced and thus to be emotionally and empathetically engaged with history learning. Learners are also made aware of the constructed nature of historical knowledge. As a result, they may begin to question how they know what they know, and what validity and consequences this knowing has. Existing pilot studies based on social-psychological analyses of learners’ responses to the topic of Nazism, as well as a study about learners’ interaction with the DVD series in Germany has shown that learners are interested in this topic, including the question of responsibility, but that they defy external pressure to feel guilty. They tend to develop sophisticated analytical competencies when their empathy is involved. The article could help teachers in other contexts, where sensitive topics need to be taught, to gain fresh perspectives on what to consider when teaching “difficult” content.