Holocaust Educational Trust Blog

A space for featured guest bloggers and members of the Holocaust Educational Trust team to comment and reflect on timely issues.

The Holocaust on film: Facing the challenges of using cinema in the classroom

In the latest in our blog series to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, Rachel Burns, Secondary Education Advisor at Film Education, writes about the challenges of using films to teach students about the Holocaust, and discusses how these challenges can be overcome.

The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2013 is "Communities Together: Build a Bridge". When we think of the things that make up communities, we often think of the public spaces -- the market squares, the cafes, the places of worship, and yes: the cinemas.

By encouraging and facilitating young people to watch films in a cinema environment, part of Film Education’s remit is to help build strong community relationships between schools and local cinemas. Furthermore, the experience of collectively viewing a film with classmates then later discussing ideas and representations stimulated by the film, can contribute both to learning outcomes and to community cohesion.

When it comes to representing the Holocaust on film, of course, these discussions can take on multiple extra layers of complexity. That is why over the past year, Film Education has partnered on several projects with the Holocaust Educational Trust. This week, for example, our organisations are jointly sponsoring educational screenings of the film "Good" at cinemas across the UK.

Even for those schools that are not able to bring students to the cinema, a powerful way of collectively commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day can be to show film representations of the Holocaust. Film interpretations of any historical period can be an engaging, if controversial, teaching tool and this is particularly true when considering using film to teach sensitively about the Holocaust.

The educational resource Film Education and the Holocaust Educational Trust developed this year, Thinking Film, Thinking History helps teachers to use film in their lessons in a meaningful way. It contains short extract from numerous works all of which fall within the loose definition of "Holocaust film". The questionable historical accuracy of some of the films included may raise some eyebrows, but that is precisely the point.

Films are highly crafted artistic constructs so it is critical that when teachers use film to support understandings of the past, they model ways to decode and deconstruct the meanings represented. Thinking Film, Thinking History offers opportunities for students to develop these transferable skills in analysing and evaluating moving image texts as historical sources. The focus on key concepts such as representation, significance and interpretation are particularly relevant for students of history but are important for any student reflecting on the past.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, teachers of all subjects may wish to or may be expected to engage with teaching and learning about the Holocaust. Film Education’s HMD topic resource provides some practical guidance relating to best practice when using film in this context. A key principle is to treat the film text as you would any historical source material; that is, it requires interrogation in order to evaluate its authenticity and usefulness in understanding the past.

When a film represents aspects of the Holocaust and is followed up by a sensitive teaching about the subject, the collective impact can be profound.

Lord Merlyn-Rees Memorial Lecture 2013
Communities Together: The survivor's perspective

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