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The International School for Holocaust Studies

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"The Children of the Holocaust”
Zsolt Urbancsok, Makó/Hungary[1]


Zsolt Urbancsok works as an archivist, conducts research on local Jewish history, and teaches about the Holocaust. According to Urbancsok, "Years of teaching experience and studying at Yad Vashem in 2007 convinced me that one cannot teach the Holocaust with traditional methods.” He developed his own textbook, "The Children of the Holocaust”, geared for 13-18 year old students to learn about this historical era according to the pedagogical approach of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.
In his book, Urbancsok focuses on four Hungarian-Jewish children who were born in Makó. He places an emphasis on their personal recollections from their pre-war childhood years, the Holocaust period and their liberation from concentration camps in 1945. Many photos illustrate the texts. Each chapter opens with an overview of the historical context. In line with Yad Vashem’s pedagogical concept of teaching about the Holocaust based on the human story, this textbook introduces students to the Holocaust in Hungary through short, engaging, age-appropriate texts, questions and accompanying pictures.

Introduction for Teachers[2]

...This book’s purpose is to allow students to become acquainted with the processes of the Holocaust on the basis of personal testimonies, its operating mechanism and types of behavior (victim, perpetrator, bystander). They may learn about the consequences when a society rejects the moral values that make it a civilized one and people into human beings, i.e. tolerance, solidarity and - as Ferenc Loránd writes – the universal respect of human existence that is due to everyone, and that cannot be challenged under any circumstances…

The Holocaust, which we increasingly call the seminal event of the twentieth century, must become a part of the private and the collective memory. The death of six million Jews and the suffering of many more people must not be allowed to sink into oblivion. Therefore, we have a two-fold task: On the one hand, we have to safeguard the memory of the events that took place and the memory of the ones murdered, and on the other hand – quoting Adorno – “with regard to education the first requirement is, that Auschwitz shall not happen again.”

Teaching the history of the Holocaust has been integrated into the primary and secondary school curriculum in Hungary. Although in most textbooks a complete lesson on this topic is often outlined, teachers usually have only a couple of hours to focus on the Holocaust. The teaching and learning process is many times based on communicating the facts, numbers and data, and some (for teenagers they may be shocking) pictures. In many textbooks one finds the so-called "German narrative”, which cullminates in the genocide. Jewish people are very often depicted as quasi-supporting actors, faceless, impersonal victims of the Nazis’ plans.

The story of the Holocaust and its human-ethical aspects cannot be successfully transmitted via the traditional forms and methods of learning. In this book, which is based on the "Jewish narrative”, four young Jewish people of Makó (or connected to Makó) relate their stories. Young people speak about their fates to other young people, in order to enable students to more easily contemplate and identify with personal stories. By reading the book, students may realize, that the Jewish youngsters are like them in many ways: They have similar wishes, dreams and fears...

... The students may come to understand the operating mechanism of antisemitism, and the role of propaganda in the Holocaust through the study of the period primary sources. The unit demonstrates that the Holocaust was the sum of a sequence of steps that reinforced each other: A process that started in the "happy years of peaceful times” - whose purpose was dehumanization, and later total annihilation - led to the hell of the Nazi camps. Anti-Jewish policies (such as forced labor actions, yellow star laws and ghettoization) were legislated and instituted by the Hungarian state. Hungarian citizens, who were robbed and declared unwanted by these measures, were deported by the active involvement of other Hungarian citizens (gendarmes, policemen, financial officers, clerks, railway workers, etc.). The Nazi "Final Solution” was the last step in this process. As Péter György put it fittingly: "It is a fact, that these people were ejected from the Hungarian nation with the same motion that threw them in front of the gas chambers.” Therefore, the Holocaust is an integral part of Hungarian history.

Section from the Teaching Unit "The Children of the Holocaust”[3]

Testimonies:

Prof Péter L. Lantos was born in Makó in 1939. After completing his medical studies at the university in Szeged, he continued his studies in the UK. He became a world-renowned brain-researcher and lives in London.

Yitzchak Perlmutter was born in Makó in 1935. After the war he emigrated to Israel with his mother and sister and became a teacher. He lives in Efrat, near Jerusalem.

Leah Schnapp, neé Kun, was born in Kiskunfélegyháza. After the war she emigrated to Israel. She became an author and journalist. She lives in Jerusalem near her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Pál Bárdos was born in Makó in 1936. After the war he moved to Szeged with his family, and later to Budapest. He became an author and playwright.

Warning sign somewhere in Hungary:  „Jewish quarter. Entrance to Christians is forbidden.”Warning sign somewhere in Hungary: „Jewish quarter. Entrance to Christians is forbidden.”

In the followings weeks Jews were not allowed to go to the cinema. I could not even finish my apprenticeship: we were driven to the ghetto. Heavy regulations were placed on us, one after the other. Now the one about turning in the jewelry. I gave up my thin necklace...

Leah Schnapp, neé Kun

On Passover we did not have school anymore. I remember there was a lot of congestion in the ghetto. I was making drawings in the dust, and wanted to go to school.

Yitzchak Perlmutter

A Gendarme soldier of Makó at the entrance of the Szolnok ghettoA Gendarme soldier of Makó at the entrance of the Szolnok ghetto

There was a terrible noise and confusion in the ghetto. Close to 2000 people had to create temporary housing in a few days in a small area.

Péter Lantos

Strangely, I went home to the ghetto. We were put up in the Jewish school, and because a teacher was teaching in one of the classrooms, I found myself in my own classroom, together with my grandparents, who I was really happy about, and a related family that had two girls my age. This way there was no lack of playmates. There was food, too, because our (Hungarian) landlord was not afraid of the Gendarmes. He passed us sour cream, cottage cheese and milk through the wooden fence.

Pál Bárdos

Hungary, A Hungarian Gendarmerie paradeHungary, A Hungarian Gendarmerie parade

Our family of three received a small room in the ghetto. We could call ourselves lucky, because other, bigger families had a worse arrangement: Seven, eight people were cramped in one simple room. We had to share the kitchen and the bathroom with others. I did not care much about the kitchen, but the place that we used as bathroom I hated. It was bare and dreadful, and I could not get used to it. I hated its smell and the bare lamp bulp that was hanging from the ceiling was ominous.

Péter Lantos

The Orthodox Chief Rabbi, Moses VorhandThe Orthodox Chief Rabbi, Moses Vorhand

We were still in the ghetto when the corpse of Rabbi Vorhand was brought back on a Friday afternoon. We were standing next to the synagoge, and like children do, we were interested in the way he died, but no one spoke about it. Yossi Deutsch’s father did the rituals of bereavement. He said that the elderly rabbi was beaten up so much, that he did not have a bone which was not broken. The policemen of Makó did all this.

Yitzchak Perlmutter

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did the lives of the children and their parents change after the German occupation?
  2. How were the conditions in the Makó ghetto? Try to find example in the testimonies.
  3. Who helped the children and how?
  4. What influence did the ghetto have on Péter and his family? Why? What do you think about his testimony?
  5. Why did Pali feel at home in the ghetto? Why did Péter not feel this way, too?
  6. What was Yitzchak missing?
  7. Give examples (testimonies, photos, documents) which illustrate the behavior of the police, Gendarmerie and the mayor during the era of the ghetto.

[1] Urbancsok, Zsolt A holokauszt gyermekei. A holokauszt gyermek szemtanúinak visszaemlékezései, Makó 2010
[2] The text is an excerpt of the introduction of the book, ibid., pp. 11-12. English translation by Yeshaya Balog.
[3] Ibid., pp. 49-53.