Holocaust Remembrance: Making Meaning through Oral History across the Generations

Gail Gradowski
Jill Goodman Gould
Anne Saldinger


Our university writing course, "Visual Media and Holocaust Narrative," brings students closer to the Holocaust through affective engagement with the stories of survivors. With its informative and performative properties, video testimony engages the intellect and emotions of the students and reveals the dignity and humanity of the interviewees. The course requires writing a proposal for a film based on the lives of the survivors as well as creating a short promotional trailer made as a digital story. Preparatory assignments include archiving work for the oral history project, reading and discussing theoretical texts, watching and discussing Holocaust films, and writing an analytical essay. After this, students work with a partner to create the film proposal. Before doing research about the historical context of the idea, location and events they choose, we offer library workshops to teach them how to find and evaluate reliable sources. We also require a 2-unit media lab, the first part devoted to learning the technologies to capture web multimedia resources, to create audio and enhanced podcasts, and to write and produce digital stories. The second is devoted to creating their own trailers. We end with a public symposium presenting the student work. It is evident that the students become personally committed to their work, and that the ideas they grapple with at each step enrich their overall learning. They engage in deep learning and develop insights about oral history, Holocaust survivors, the challenges of making accurate Holocaust films, and the Holocaust itself. Using the oral histories as the center of the course grounds the work in a profound way. Our students' work is also significant for the survivors who have given testimony, as many of them find satisfaction in their stories being used to educate and take action to prevent future genocide.