There is a wealth of literary and documentary writing about the Holocaust. Teachers will be familiar with the diary of Anne Frank, but there are many other first-hand witness accounts and survivor testimonies that are equally powerful and valuable for pupils to explore, either in their own right as part of an English lesson or as part of a cross-curricular teaching programme shared with History and RE. The Holocaust has also been interpreted in many different ways by contemporary writers, such as John Boyne in his novel "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" or Carol Ann Duffy with her poem "Shooting Stars".
The resources on this site offer a rich inspiration for pupils' own creative and factual writing. The survivors' unique, first-hand accounts are rich in personality and detail, offering pupils not just a description of what actually happened but an insight into each individual's response, both at the time and with the perspective of hindsight. Survivors have also written eloquently about their subsequent thoughts and feelings: see Val Ginsburg's explanation of why the Holocaust happened or Trude Silman's elegy to her friend John Chillag, both in the Reflections section of this site. The children of Holocaust survivors offer their own perspective on its impact down the generations: see Jenny Hartland's letter to her grandparents.
The table below makes some suggestions for how English teachers can incorporate these different approaches to the Holocaust into their lessons.
Pupils can produce creative writing inspired by survivor stories and reflections. Experiment with different forms, such as a newspaper account, poetry, prose, an interview with a survivor. Ask pupils to think about the ethics of producing creative writing based on living people's memories. What responsibility do they have towards the survivors? We advise encouraging pupils to write from their own perspective, rather than trying to imagine themselves in the survivor's position.
|Cultural understanding||Analyse the poems by Janet Kirchheimer. How has her family history influenced Janet's writing? How does the poet express her thoughts and feelings through language? How does her family history affect the poet's identity? Compare with other poets who draw on their family story, such as Daljit Nagra.|
|Critical understanding||Compare experiences of two different survivors, using transcripts of their interviews. Alternatively, compare an interview transcript with an extract from a published survivor memoir. What language do the survivors use to describe their experiences? How does spoken narrative differ from written accounts?|