Volume:4, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2012

Holocaust studies as a way to develop students’ tolerance: practical experience
Sergeeva, Marina V. [about] , Churkina, Margarita V. [about] , Churkina, Margarita V. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: Holocaust education, teaching tolerance, teaching history, students’ contests, class discussions.
SYNOPSIS: The authors share their understanding of how to teach tolerance in an instructional process and how to shape it in extracurricular activities within the concept of Holocaust Education. Both authors are Vice Principals from Saratov School - Lyceum No.15.


The world today abounds in pending problems – environmental, political, economic, etc. Among them the problem of teaching tolerance towards people of different nationalities, views, cultures or races is of utmost importance. Moreover, it is not just our problem; it is common all over the world. The history of the 20th century raises more questions related to this subject than suggests answers or solutions. That is why it is hard for a modern student to comprehend and fully understand this period of history. It is also extremely difficult for a history teacher to explain and correctly interpret to the students such political movements as Communism and Nazism which placed the value of the state above the value of an individual person with his or her individual rights and freedoms; exactly the opposite to the way the society operates today. How can we explain to our students that the policy of intolerance is terrible even on a grassroots day-to-day basis and, if exercised by a state, such policy may cause a worldwide disaster? The fate of the Jewish people during World War II proves the point.

Holocaust is relatively new for the social sciences in Russia, and its study was never encouraged in the Soviet Union. That is why many Russians still have no idea of what Holocaust means and why it happened.

Thus, the purpose of contemporary education is not only to explain what Holocaust means but also to use this “dark history” event as an illustration to provoke school and college students thinking about the consequences of racism and xenophobia – as they were exactly what the Nazis started with, eventually crowning their atrocities by murdering six million innocent Jews2. Strengthening the spirit of tolerance in school and developing a positive attitude to tolerance, as one of the most important social values must become the goals of the present-day education.

Unfortunately, school history curriculum does not include a separate topic of Holocaust. Though, in our opinion, it should become a vital part of such wider history topics as “Totalitarianism as the 20th century phenomenon,” “Nazism in Italy and Germany” as well as it should be studied in a more general course of Russian history in the section “Reasons, price, and significance of the Great Victory.” The problem should be discussed mainly by using interactive teaching techniques, and should not be limited to just a mere transfer of knowledge: how many, where, and when. The main objective is to lead young people to the conscious moral evaluation of that event, encourage their emotional response, teach them to take those distant events close to their hearts and in this way making them personal and emotionally important.

Involving students into class discussions related to the history of Holocaust makes it possible to also introduce other points of view, teach teenagers not only to utter their point of views but also bring up solid arguments and use logical reasoning, formulate questions and use them as “the tool of cognition.”3 At the same time, a teacher faces a serious problem: how to prevent a turn of a free exchange of opinions into a meaningless conversation that will deviate from the subject of the lesson. For a start, students should acquire a certain amount of knowledge based primarily on valid sources. Unfortunately, a number of available sources is still limited. But we would like to mention one important book on the German history of the 20th century published in Moscow as a result of close cooperation between the Russian Academy of Science and The Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig (GEI)4.

Using the sources cited in the chapter “Germany in the years of National Socialism,” the students can see how the attitude to Jews in the society changed when the Nazis came to power in Germany5: Jewish people were limited in their rights for property, education, trade, participation in the political life of the country. The next step was moving Jews into ghettos and pushing them to wear a yellow Star of David – all with the purpose of finally getting rid of Jews. One photo contained in the reading book leaves no student indifferent – it depicts Jewish boys with Stars of David on their clothes standing in front of the classroom, surrounded by their mocking peers.

Extracts from the Wannsee Protocol from January 20, 1942, “On Implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question in the German-Controlled Territories” help students to derive the goals and objectives of the Nazi Germany concerning the Jewish population and then compare them with the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance enacted by the United Nations Organization in 1995. Having read the memoirs recorded by Roza Bauminger, prisoner of war, about the prisoners’ labor in factories, students may better realize all the horrors of Holocaust. Due to the available sources, they will be able to build a clear picture of the Holocaust history and come to the conclusion that Holocaust did not take place by chance – it had deep roots in the long developing process of nationalistic policy in Germany.
The discussion is over when the students sum up their activities during the class and write a summary using the following key phrases:

  • During the discussion I managed to…
  • The most important knowledge for me has become…
  • While studying this subject I had the feelings of…
  • I got interested in the problems of…
  • I lacked the following knowledge and skills…
  • I would like to learn more about…
  • These questions did not raise any interest in me, I remained indifferent…
  • I participated in the discussion, expressed the following opinion, etc.

Of course, it is impossible to let students realize all the horror of Holocaust during a couple of lessons. It takes long and painstaking extracurricular work to shape the students’ understanding what intolerance may lead to. To achieve this, students should be exposed to certain historical facts. Our school’s extracurricular program (in its civic and legal section) specifies a number of activities aimed at shaping tolerance in students and developing their national self-identity based on their culture. It is of a special importance for us as we have students of over 15 nationalities and ethnic groups from the whole Saratov Region.

Our lyceum has done quite a lot during the last two years: a “cultural marathon” of the Volga Region ethnic population, contests of handmade items, drawings, and multimedia presentation “Children as prisoners of concentration camps,” “Tolerance” project, open class hours “The story of one photograph (on the subject of tolerance),” literary and musical performance “Bells of memory.”

While preparing for the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, our lyceum held a major civic project “Shell splinters in the heart” with the participation of over 300 students. The students collected materials about the war survivors, especially about those who were still children during the war. Our students managed to find some people for whom the word “Holocaust” was not just a word but also something which happened with their direct relatives. It turned out that the great grandmother of one 7th-grader Lena Petrova, was Jewish and fled from the Nazi occupied territory to Saratov Region. Lena’s parents showed us their relative’s war diary and told about her terrible ordeal. Those materials were included into the research paper sent to the 8th International Contest “Lessons of Holocaust as a way to Tolerance.” One of the stages of material collection was the students’ participation in research, contests, school museum activists’ competitions and contests where they became prizewinners and laureates.

On the whole, we are trying to design the instruction and development process the way which helps our students to learn and accept the diversity of the modern world and stop being afraid of differences. In this respect, we see the following problems:

  • Adults, primarily, still incorrectly interpret the notion of “tolerance.” In Russia, it is not uncommon for some people to understand tolerance as just indifference towards others while others believe it to be condescension to ethnic minorities. As a result, children’s views shaped by parents may be different from the knowledge and values taught at school.
  • The culture of interaction and mutual respect is among the most urgent in any school as well as in the society. Though we are perfectly aware of the fact that we are all different and that every individual has the right to be respected, we are still not always ‘correct’ and adequate in treating others. “Pedagogy of cooperation” and “tolerance” are the notions without which any changes in any school are possible.
  • For our school, the problem of teaching and developing tolerance is important in itself because daily we have to organize group interaction of 25-30 children who come from various social strata, possess different life experience, and often, poor communicative skills. To achieve an academic success with such diverse groups of students, we need to know how to interact with them on some basic common grounds.
  • And finally, teaching tolerance is impossible in the authoritarian school atmosphere. This by itself makes it extremely important for every teacher to master how to establish and sustain positive teacher-students and students-students’ communication.
  • Holocaust is an awful lesson taught to the mankind. It is necessary to speak about it. To forget or, what is more, to keep silent about it is a moral crime equal to the Holocaust itself. That is why our school-lyceum tries to develop students’ tolerance in the atmosphere of mutual respect, assistance, and responsibilities of all participants of an educational process.

1. Sergeeva, Marina V., [In Russian: Марина Владиславовна Сергеева), Vice Principal, Lyceum No. 15, Saratov; Churkina, Margarita V. [In Russian: Маргарита Владимировна Чуркина], Vice Principal, Lyceum No. 15, Saratov.

2. Альтман И.А. Холокост и еврейское сопротивление на оккупированной территории СССР. Уч. пособие для студентов. М., 2002 (Altman, I.A. Holocaust and Jewish Resistance in the occupied territories of the USSR. Teaching manual for students. – Moscow, 2002).

3. Калинкина Е.Г. Дебаты на уроках истории: Учебно-методическое пособие для учителя. – М.: РОССПЭН, 2002. – 128 с. (Kalinkina, E.G. Debates in the history class: Teacher’s Guide. – Moscow, ROSSPEN, 2002. – 128 p.).

4. История Германии XX века в новом измерении: источники, статистика, художественные документы: Пособие для учащихся средних и старших классов школ, гимназий, студентов, учителей/ Сост. И. Бюлов. М.: Олма Медиа Групп/ 2008. (History of the 20th Century Germany in a New Dimension: sources, statistics, documents and belles-lettres: Teaching manual for students and teachers of middle and high schools, gymnasiums, colleges / Compiled by I. Byulov. – Moscow, Olma Media Group, 2008).

5. Надеждина А.С. Место немецких источников в теме «Холокост» и возможности их использования в воспитании толерантности// Культурная память и мемориальные коммуникации в современных учебниках и учебной литературе: опыт России и Западной Европы. Сборник докладов и материалов международной конференции/ Сост. Т.А. Боголюбова, Н.И. Девятайкина; под ред. Н.И. Девятайкиной. – Саратов: ИЦ «Наука», 2012. (Nadezhdina A.S. The place of German sources in the issue of Holocaust and ways of their application in teaching tolerance // Cultural memory and memorial communications in contemporary textbooks and teaching materials: Russian and West European experience. International Conference Proceedings / Edited by T.A. Bogolyubova, N.I. Devyataykina; Edited by N.I. Devyataykina. – Saratov: IC “Nauka”, 2012).

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