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Developing Education at Memorial Sites
The II WW devastated Europe. The nationalist extremism, as well as fascist and racist policies destroyed so much of what Europeans where struggling for over centuries. The atrocities which millions of Europeans collaborated in perpetrating, thereby victimizing and murdering millions of other Europeans undermined an established tradition of enlightenment, steadily developing the concept of human rights and its safeguarding.
After the war ended memorials were created. Through the mourning of the painful events and the understanding of their evolution sites seem to offer society a place in which it may reinstate its commitment to its shattered moral codes. They commemorate the dead and the suffering of the prisoners, in the form of actual or virtual burial grounds and monuments, as well as through commemorative acts and ceremonies. Additionally the sites are also established places of learning, inviting the public to view the historical remains and visit explanatory exhibitions in an attempt to decipher the events.
Depicting the NS atrocities touches upon issues largely unresolved. How can the depiction of atrocities be integrated into learning processes, and how can these be structured so as to have a positive civilizing effect on students and society at large? In other words, how can learning about the Holocaust be learning for human rights? The discourse tends towards a binary structure, with issues such as Holocaust Education and Human rights Education often being debated as mutually excluding options. Interactive educational methods developed at the Mauthausen Memorial site in the last years, based both on historical and pedagogical discourses, have shown that these issues can be complimentary rather than mutually exclusive. Moreover, it can bring about a much deeper introspection both historically and in relation to issues of human rights.
Having developed a pedagogical concept (published in "Gedenkstättenrundbrief" of August 2011), as well as formal, extensive training for the site's guides, the experience gathered at Mauthausen shows that deciphering the history and the topography of the sites can be achieved through engaging the visitors. In order to accomplish this, the Mauthausen pedagogical team has been developing a participatory, interactive methodology. Its aim is to create the appropriate setting for an exchange on the meaning of the events, and thus empower members of society to express their views and negotiate meanings.
The interactive method, although used regularly now in Mauthausen with tens of thousands of visitors, is in a very early phase. The aim of the project proposed is to broaden the experimental spectrum, ascertain the values of the methods and accordingly support its proliferation. It will have two main themes, one being the development of theoretical concepts as well as practical methods for the visit of memorial sites; the other being concepts and structures for the training and support of educational staff involved in the visit of memorial sites. The pedagogical work at Mauthausen was reviewed at the end of March 2012 in a three day workshop organized by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). A group of experts from different disciplines, institutions and countries joined youth groups in their regular tour of the sight, discussed the concepts and gave a rich feedback. This project will allow the continuation of the work which began with the workshop of FRA.