Classroom sitting in a circle discussing
Lesson

Teaching with Video Testimony

Students watch video testimony from a Holocaust survivor and engage in purposeful reflection about the survivor’s important story. 

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At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12

Duration

One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust
  • Genocide

Overview

About This Lesson

Survivor and witness testimonies—firsthand accounts from individuals who lived through or encountered genocide and other atrocities—help students more deeply appreciate and empathize with the human and inhuman dimensions of important moments in history. They supplement what we learn from historians and secondary sources by offering unique perspectives on the difficult and sometimes impossible situations individuals were forced to confront during moments of collective violence and injustice. 

The activities in this lesson support teachers and students to engage with video testimony of survivors, rescuers, and witnesses of genocide, and to discuss these important stories in a reflective classroom environment.

  • How are we affected by hearing the testimonies of Holocaust survivors? How do their stories influence our understanding of this history?
  • What can we learn from survivors about our moral obligation to each other?
  • Students will experience how the powerful stories of those who were targeted by the Nazis can affect us emotionally and deepen our investment in learning about and from the history of the Holocaust.
  • Students will explore the ways in which survivors’ personal stories can help them consider the extent to which they feel obligated to help others.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 22 videos

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process. 

Before teaching this lesson, it is important to carefully review the suggestions in the Preparing to Teach section  of the Teaching with Testimony collection. 

We have partnered with the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive to make over 20 survivor testimony videos available for classroom use. Access these videos in the Survivors and Witnesses: Video Testimony collection.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

Before sharing the video testimony, project and read aloud this quotation from Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel about the experience of hearing survivor testimony: 

. . . the idea of telling these stories is to sensitize people—that you should become more sensitive—to yourselves, to your friends, even to strangers . . . become sensitive; not only to the story of what we try to tell, but about what happens even today—because what happens even today is always related to what happened then. 1

Have students respond in their journals to the following two questions as they reflect on Elie Wiesel’s words. Then have them share one of their ideas with a partner and see if any volunteers would like to share with the class. 

  • In your opinion, what is the most valuable idea in this quotation? What makes you say that?
  • What do you think it means to “become sensitive”? How can we become sensitive to others’ stories?
  • 1 Elie Wiesel in Challenge of Memory (video).
  • Let students know that they will be watching a video testimony in which a Holocaust survivor shares story from growing up during Hitler’s rise to power, the Holocaust, or after the war. Before showing the video clip, provide students with content about the time, place, and events surrounding the story they are about to hear. 
  • Play the video and then use the Head, Heart, Conscience teaching strategy or its variation for a journal reflection. Please note that you may need to adapt one or more questions to fit the context of the testimony you shared. We recommend that students don’t take notes as they watch so they can fully engage with the survivor and their story. 
  • If you plan to show more than one video, repeat these two steps for each video before moving on to the class discussion. 

If possible, have your students arrange their desks in a circle. Then facilitate a class discussion that draws from the following questions: 

  • What ideas from your Head, Heart, Conscience reflection would you like to share with the class? 
  • How are we affected by hearing the testimonies of Holocaust survivors? How do their stories influence our understanding of this moment in history?
  • (If you showed two or more videos) What unique perspective does each survivor offer in their story? What connections can you make between the survivors’ stories—their experiences, human behavior, and/or choices? 
  • What can we learn from survivors about our moral obligation to each other?

Provide students with enough time to reflect on what they learned during the lesson. They can reflect in their journals, or on exit cards if you would like for them to share their responses with you. Consider letting your students choose one of the following prompts that resonates with them. 

  • What was surprising, interesting, and/or troubling about the testimony you heard today?
  • How does ___________’s story connect to, extend, and/or challenge what you know about the Holocaust?
  • What was a valuable idea from ________’s story that you want to remember? What makes you say that?

Extension Activities

Most of the videos in this collection include written transcripts. After students have discussed the Holocaust survivor’s story, they can work alone or in pairs to create a Found Poem that draws words and phrases from the transcript. Consider asking them to create poems that respond to one of the essential questions or that capture what they feel is the most valuable idea in the survivor’s testimony. Students can share their poems in a gallery walk.

For a deeper exploration of the essential question, “What can we learn from survivors about our moral obligation to each other?,” share the video If Not Me with your class. This video introduces viewers to Dr. Anna Ornstein, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, and to several students and teachers who were profoundly impacted by hearing her story. The video does not tell Ornstein’s story in detail; rather, it focuses on her impact on others. Follow the steps of Activity 2 and 3 in this lesson to help students engage with and reflect on the power of Dr. Ornstein’s story. Then discuss the following questions:

  •  What can we learn from Dr. Ornstein and the individuals interviewed in this video about our moral obligation to each other?
  • How can we apply these ideas to our lives today? In our families, schools, communities, and world?

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Additional Resources

Resources from Other Organizations

In partnership with USC Shoah Foundation, we created common core aligned activities to teach this material, which you can access on the iWitness Platform. The USC Shoah Foundation also developed guidelines for effective teaching to supplement viewing the videos.
iWitness Platform
USC Shoah Foundation

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