The EHRI Online Course in Holocaust Studies: Feedback Wanted

Arrival Kazerne Dossin
Tuesday, 26 April, 2016

Like all of EHRI, its Online Course in Holocaust Studies resulted from international collaboration. The idea for the course arose during the early planning stages for EHRI. In its summer schools, eventually held in 2013 and 2014, a variety of specialists from various countries would train a total of 48 people.

Online teaching materials

The question was asked whether it would be good to place teaching materials online, thereby enabling more people to benefit. A search by Giles Bennett of Institut für Zeitgeschichte (IfZ), which supervised this project, confirmed the absence online of any English-language course on the Holocaust specifically aimed at junior scholars; or, more precisely (as the course page states), at teachers, lecturers, and students.

Five chapters

After a lot of hard work and gratefully received assistance from various colleagues, the course went first online in March 2015. There are five units or chapters, each offering primary sources, often in facsimile, and background information. Although wide-ranging, these units cannot cover the history of the Holocaust in full. Nevertheless, the makers hope that the cases are useful. Textual and visual sources continue to be uploaded and translated. (This means also that the numbers mentioned below are subject to change.)

The Ghettos and the Germans and the Holocaust

The first unit is on ghettos under Nazi rule and offers 38 sources about German and Jewish ghetto administrations, everyday life and labor, the dissolution of the ghettos, and resistance. Developed by Institut für Zeitgeschichte, its texts were written by (in alphabetical order) Giles Bennett, Andrea Löw, and Dieter Pohl. IfZ also prepared a unit on the Germans and the Holocaust with 44 sources on topics such as German society, German killers, and German Jews. The accompanying texts here are by Giles Bennett, Beate Meyer, Dieter Pohl, and Sonja Schilcher.

Nazi camps and Ukraine

Thirty-six sources on the various kinds of Nazi camps are presented by Yad Vashem, alongside texts by Yitzhad Arad, Gideon Greif, Pim Griffioen, Dina Porat, Lea Prais, Therkel Straede and Daniel Uziel. The unit presented by NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies offers 47 sources on the Holocaust in Ukraine, with text by Karel Berkhoff.

Western Europe

Finally, persecution and deportation in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Italy are covered. As of April 2016, this unit, by Mémorial de la Shoah, offers as many as sixty sources, as well as texts (co)authored by Georges Bensoussan, Laura Fontana, Pim Griffioen, Christoph Kreutzmüller, Bob Moore, Francesca Panozzo, Renée Poznanski, Laurence Schram, and Ron Zeller.

Questions for instructors and students

The course title page suggests various questions for instructors and students to pose about the sources. Here are a few examples:

  • How do perpetrator and Jewish sources differ in describing similar phenomena?
  • What thinking stood behind Jewish attempts at self-documentation?
  • What information can one obtain from highly antisemitic sources?
  • How does hindsight affect postwar sources?
  • What types of source criticism are more particular to audio and video sources?
  • How do post-war interviews and judicial interrogations differ in their interest and structure?

Emphasis on sources

The emphasis on sources has resulted in the addition of various chapters with distinct discussions of source types:

University teaching

Parts of the course have been used during the EHRI summer schools and in university teaching. The author of this item is increasingly assigning sections in his MA course on the Holocaust at the University of Amsterdam. Students seem to appreciate the diversity of the sources and the ability to actually see them, alongside English translations and explanations. This is exactly as intended. From the start, students ideally would learn to appreciate the linguistic dimensions of Holocaust research and the often challenging layout and appearance of original documents.

User feedback

But the makers would very much like to hear from users. If you have used the online course in teaching, what has worked well and what has worked less well – or maybe not at all? Do you have suggestions for improvement? Your feedback is equally welcome if you have used the course for independent study. One of the nice things about websites is the comparative ease of correction and revision.

Please contact EHRI here.

Lastly please watch this space – more online course developments are on the way.

Karel Berkhoff, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Image: Photograph of the arrival in Caserne Dossin, © Kazerne Dossin, Fonds Kummer, Belgium