Survivor testimonies—firsthand accounts from individuals who lived through genocide and other atrocities—help students more deeply appreciate and empathize with the human and inhuman dimensions of important moments in history. They supplement what we learn from historians and secondary sources by offering unique perspectives on the difficult and sometimes impossible situations individuals were forced to confront during moments of collective violence and injustice. At 8 p.m. EST on November 14, Facing History and Ourselves hosts Using Survivor Testimony in the Classroom, a free one-hour webinar. Register today for the special introduction to Facing History’s online survivor testimony pages and a review of how to scaffold for survivor visits to classroom settings. Ahead of the webinar, we sat down with webinar facilitator and Facing History and Ourselves Senior Program Associate for Technology K.C. Kourtz to talk about survivor testimony and the benefit of using it in the classroom.
Facing History: How can survivor testimony help further a student’s understanding of history?
K.C. Kourtz: Survivor testimony deepens a student’s understanding of history by personalizing and humanizing it. By either meeting a survivor face-to-face or listening to/watching recorded testimony, students are literally bearing witness to the human experience of survival, learning to empathize with the human and inhuman dimensions of important moments in history. It supplements what we learn from historians and secondary sources by offering unique perspectives on the difficult and sometimes impossible situations individuals were forced to confront during moments of collective violence and injustice.
How can Facing History help connect interested educators with a survivor who can speak with their classroom?
For educators in our Educator Network, we have a speaker request form that anyone interested in having a speaker visit their classroom complete.
Have you ever had an experience with a survivor that shaped how you understand a specific moment in history?
I had the unique opportunity to visit Yad Vashem with my colleagues a few years ago and met several survivors, one of whom had an amazing sense of humor. I could not get over how someone who had encountered the absolute worst of humanity could laugh so freely. I asked him this very question and he replied, “otherwise, hate wins.” I think of him and remind myself of this life philosophy every day.
What is your favorite resource or teaching strategy to recommend to a teacher interested in using survivor testimony in the classroom?
I love Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, and this accompanying lesson idea that a teacher once shared with Facing History. It complicates students’ perceptions of what it means to judge, and to forgive.
Register today to attend ”Using Survivor Testimony in the Classroom,” a free one-hour webinar with Facing History and Ourselves.