Loose methodological guidelines for the Law at a Time of Lawlessness module

The Law at a time of lawlessness module is based on the unique combination of online sources published on the educational portal holocaust.cz. Using the database of holocaust victims, photographs and other digitalised archive documents, historians' writings, personal memoirs and pictorial material, pupils can explore the history of the Holocaust and the Second World War in an interactive way, with the use of modern technology, and discuss the key issues of modern society. The database of Holocaust victims, available on the holocaust.cz website, contains over 130,000 records of people who were persecuted and murdered during the Second World War as a result of their Jewish origin, and who came from the Czech lands or passed through the Terezín ghetto. The brief records of men, women and children are connected with the contents of the holocaust.cz portal and, through the Terezín album project, are complemented by authentic documents and photographs.

In this module, pupils are able to research authentic sources from the Prague police archives, and to learn how individual lives were impacted by the laws and decrees that constrained Jews during the Second World War and excluded them from society. On the basis of this knowledge and information, pupils will be able to search for an answer to the question of the role played by law (laws, decrees) in a totalitarian and racist regime. The Prague police documents show how these decrees affected specific people, who reacted to them in all sorts of ways. Some submitted to them, while many others resisted the racist lawmaking and violated the anti-Jewish bans and orders. The implementation and violation of these discriminatory regulations may be explored using examples of individual people who became victims of the Holocaust. During the module, pupils will be able to search for information on the period, places and people, and thus gain the necessary context in which to understand these phenomena.

However, this research in the Law at a time of lawlessness module should not be the actual goal of the whole process; rather, it should be a means by which to teach the history of the Holocaust and by which to educate people to reject displays of antisemitism, xenophobia and racism, and to be capable of understanding how unacceptable they are from the point of view of human rights. The Law at a time of lawlessness module also aims to show the essence of the aggressive policies of totalitarian regimes, and the limited opportunity of the potential victims to confront it. This aim is in keeping with one of the desired outcomes of the teaching of modern history as defined by the Framework Education Programme for Grammar Schools (RVP G). More details on the way in which the module can be included in the structure of the RVP G can be found at the end of this document.

One of the great advantages of working with the online resources on holocaust.cz is their flexibility. This means that it is entirely up to teachers themselves to decide how exactly to use the Law at a time of lawlessness module, and how many hours to devote to it. We believe that this free approach allows the module to be included in various school education programmes, and that a precise methodological description would hamper teachers. It is ideal to try out the database in advance, and to use it in the context of specific teaching aims. For the module to have the intended teaching results, however, it ought to be used in line with the following principles. The module should be implemented in three basic stages - preparation, actual use of the database and reflection. All three stages should, by means of their form and content, encourage pupils to become aware of the specific ways in which racism, xenophobia and antisemitism are displayed, and why we should not leave these dangerous tendencies unnoticed.

Preparation:

Before pupils actually start to use the database, it is a good idea to begin to look at some of the themes dealt with in the module. You can, for example, ask what law (or a law) is, and what citizens are. The Defining concepts activity can be used in order to ensure that terminology is to some degree unified ahead of subsequent work:

  • Defining concepts - at the start of this activity, each pupil independently comes up with his or her working definition of the concepts of law, a law and so on (depending on the task).

  • Pupils then work in three groups of two, one after another (always with a different partner). The pupils in the first pair tell each other their definitions, and together come up with a new one. The pupils in the second pair create a new definition from the already-modified ones. The last pair then creates a final definition, which is written on a piece of paper and then presented to the others at the end.

  • The definitions that have been written down may then be displayed in the classroom, and returned to during subsequent activities.

    You might also wish at this stage to look at anti-Jewish decrees, although this subject can also be discussed when the database is being used. As an example, we suggest the activity Anti-Jewish decrees, which is designed for group work. Its aim is to give pupils room to acquaint themselves with selected anti-Jewish decrees, and to think about their effects.

  • For the activity you will need a set of around ten decrees, the full versions of which can be found on the holocaust.cz portal (see Anti-Jewish laws and decrees). Write each decree on a card and distribute them among the pupils in each group. The pupils must not show each other the decrees. Each member of the group then, independently, draws a symbol on a piece of paper which expresses the decree. The pupils then show the symbols to the other members of the group, and they try to guess which decree is being represented.

  • In the second part of the activity the pupils work together to try and place the decrees in order in terms of how severely they would have affected people's lives. This is not about finding the right answer - which probably does not exist - but an exercise in thinking about the decrees. Pupils then explain to the other groups why they have put the decrees in that particular order.

Using the database

There are several ways in which pupils may start to use the database. They may search by name and surname, start from the various documents, from birth date etc. The form of searches and the way in which they are processed can also be varied. The approach chosen should aim to help the pupils understand the role of law at a time of lawlessness, but whether the work that emerges takes the form of a presentation, a story, theatre scenes, an image, poem or anything else is up to teachers. It is also up to teachers to decide whether to use group work, to let individuals come up with their own work, to have the results presented together, or to use them in an event involving the whole school. The flexibility of the educational model, the interactive and heterogeneous way in which the database of victims may be used, and the ability to set various kinds of tasks makes it suitable for use in inclusive education. Pupils with various talents and various abilities may use the database - some will show considerable flair for searching in context, while others will be able to connect information on the lives of several people in a logical way. Others may understand the German terms used.

Although we want users to approach the database with the smallest number of recommendations and limitations, we would like to draw your attention to three important aspects that it is important to take into account:

  • 1. The documents relating to individuals are, for the most part, authentic materials from the Prague police archive (currently stored in the National Archive in Prague). They have not been altered or corrected in any way. Pupils will have a unique opportunity to work with authentic historical sources and to try their hand at historians' work. This type of activity should help them to make use of heterogeneous texts as a source of inforamtion, and also to become aware of how written history is in fact created.

    Authentic materials are sometimes difficult to work with, for purely practical reasons - the manuscript may be hard to read, or some expressions may be difficult to understand. We realise that we cannot anticipate all possible complications, and we have not even tried to - this is simply an aspect of working with historical documents. We offer at least partial help in the Guide to Using the Database of Victims and Digitalised Documents, where you will find explanations of some concepts and the most frequent types of documents.

  • 2. Given the origin of the documents - this is a police archive - users should also be aware that the documents show only small fragments of the lives of those they concern. Much information is missing, or is not directly shown - pupils will thus have a certain amount of freedom and room to undertake a certain degree of detective work. The results of their research will not be easy to verify - there is no single correct answer, no single correct attempt at reconstruction. But this should become a positive feature of using the database.

  • 3. The third important aspect is contextual support for the documents in the database. The holocaust.cz portal is a rich source of detailed information on the fates of Jews and Roma during the Second World War, and the information gained in the reconstruction of particular lives and stories can thus be set in the period context.

Reflections

The final stage of the Law at a time of lawlessness module needs to be given due attention and sufficient space, since it is in this phase that pupils should have the space to recapitulate the process through which they have passed, to think about the consequences of the aggressive policies of a totalitarian state aimed at a group of people, and to be able to take away from the whole educational process something relevant to their own lives. If you are covering the module as a long-term project, it is worth reflecting at intervals on the activities that have been carried out This reflection can take place in many different ways, and it depends on the habits and style of each teacher. On a general level we advise that it should be during this stage that questions should appear such as - What was the point of the various anti-Jewish decrees? - Can these decrees be termed laws? Do these decrees comply with your definition of law? Can laws exist that are aimed against a group of inhabitants exist? Can laws go against human rights? Can such norms still be called laws? How, specifically, did these decrees affect the everyday life of people who were subjected to them? Why were people willing to enforce the observance of these laws? Could similar decrees appear today? How can we protect against their appearance?

As part of the reflection, pupils should also have the opportunity to talk about how they found the work, what they learned during it, what they would like to add and so on.

As far as form is concerned, there are several possibilities:

  • a closing discussion, during which you will ask some of the questions mentioned above

  • pupils write an essay on the subject of Law at a time of lawlessness

  • pupils keep a working diary throughout the project, where they can record their feelings and findings etc. (This method requires slightly more time, in order for pupils to get used to this type of work. The working diary should remain a private document under all circumstances, and it should only be made public, in whole or part, with the writer's consent).

  • Finishing sentences - an activity in which you write the start of several sentences on a flip chart (such as If laws are only valid for some people...). Pupils complete the sentences without talking, and then read and comment on others' points of view.

  • an activity entitled Think - tell - discuss, in which pupils are given a certain theme in the form of questions or statements, and then have to think about it briefly. For example: Do you believe that the violation of anti-Jewish laws was a criminal act? etc. The pupils then form pairs, in which one of them will be person A and the other person B. Person A then has two minutes in which to tell his or her story or opinion on the given subject, during which person B keeps quiet. He can nod or shake his head, but he cannot talk. Even if person A is searching for words, B must remain silent and A may continue, if he has another idea, or may also remain silent until something else occurs to him. For the next two minutes, the pupils exchange roles. During the final two minutes, the two pupils may then talk openly among themselves.

  • and many others...

The Law at a time of lawlessness module in the context of the Framework Educational Programme for Grammar Schools.

In creating the module and supporting materials we used the requirements of the Framework Educational Programme as a basis. In terms of areas of education, the module is most naturally suited to the People and Society section of the history education field. In terms of content, it falls into the Modern Period I unit, since it helps to fulfil one of the expected outcomes of that unit: that the pupil should be able to outline the basic characteristics of the main totalitarian ideologies, and to compare them with the principles of democracy; the pupil should be able to distinguish the causes and basis of the aggressive policy, and the inability of potential victims to oppose it. Using authentic historical documents also helps to meet another expected outcome: the pupil should be able to distinguish between various sources of historical information, the way in which they are gained and the difficulties in their interpretation, which forms part of the thematic unit Introduction to the study of history.

The module will help to develop the following key competencies in particular:

Learning competencies:

Through the use of informational texts, authentic documents, pictorial material and other resources, pupils learn to approach information sources in a critical way, to process the information in a creative fashion and to make use of it in their study.

Problem-solving competencies:

Using the content and various materials contained in the portal forces pupils to interpret in a critical way the information and findings they have gained, and to verify them. They have to find arguments and proofs for their statements, and subsequently to formulate and defend their conclusions.

Given the nature of the sources and the fact that they cannot provide an answer to absolutely all questions, pupils should also be open to using various approaches to solve problems, and able to look at the problem from various sides.

Citizenship competencies:

Learning about the history of one of the minorities living in the Czech lands, and following the way in which the lives of its members were gradually constrained, will enable pupils to defend their rights and the rights of others, to speak out against suppression of those rights and to help to create conditions that ensure those rights are met.

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