This essay offers a set of strategies for utilizing the words of survivors and of witnesses to genocide in the classroom. Including the voices of survivors and victims in our classroom conversations about genocide, its impact, representation, and the possibilities for its prevention is crucial to an ethical and wholistic pedagogy of genocide. Discussion of these events in the classroom often finds us confronting questions from students about truth, historical accuracy, authenticity, and authority. Addressing such questions requires careful framing that takes into account student assumptions and cultural discourses about memory and witnessing, as we work with students to develop a shared vocabulary that accounts both for the individual survivor or witness, as well as often invisible issues in the study of testimony such as technical presentation, editing, and genre.

This paper argues for the importance of working with students to develop a critical classroom vocabulary for analyzing both written and audio-visual testimonies in the classroom. Drawing on a number of conversations and using examples from assignments developed by the participants in the 2021 Silberman Seminar, this essay explores and reflects on several classroom exercises and activities for using survivor testimony in the classroom, and for navigating the multiple kinds of truth that are implicated in testimony. Acknowledging and analyzing the construction of these testimonies allows students not only a deeper understanding of the survivor and their experiences, but also great insight into how testimony, as a genre, as text and media, and as a discourse, shapes our encounters with survivors and their memories.


Thanks to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies faculty and staff for the invitation to participate in the seminar. In particular, Katharine White, Madison Howard, Douglas Irvin-Erickson, and Thomas Pegelow-Kaplan. Particular thanks are due to Justine Pas, Harry Merritt, and Ausra Park for being wonderful colleagues during our time developing this activity.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License