October has become a special month for the participants of the History Begins in the Family project. Over 30 young people from Poland, Germany, and Ukraine had the chance to meet virtually twice a week and immerse themselves in the time period 1933-1945 approached from the perspective of the three countries. Nine intensive online sessions, discussions, home tasks, and the following informal communication provided the basis for integration and learning.
The online curriculum has been designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the mentioned historical period, including the topics of historical policy, politics of memory, critical thinking, and post-truth, virtual trips to the places of remembrance and meetings with the eyewitnesses, as well as exploring the practical tools for further oral history research. For online learning, the following facilitation tools have been used: virtual boards, like Mural, Padlet, the Mentimeter assessment tool, a game-based learning platform (Kahoot!), etc.
We have made use of the Mural virtual board as a space for group interaction and participants’ work results. Our major goal is integrating youth from the three countries and a critical look at the common pages of history. In this regard, we tried to explore the memory of families in terms of the stories and legends about the Second World War, we communicated our understanding and reflections to one another. After our virtual meetings, we want our participants to talk to their relatives about the war and totalitarianism, about the memories passed down through their families, about the stories and stuff preserved. We expect such family stories in December. A reasonable question here is: So what? Why does it matter? Learning the family history and discussing it in an international team leads to dialogue. Wars and misunderstandings are often the results of speculations and prejudice. I would like there to be less prejudice in relationships between peoples, and more space for meetings and understanding instead.
OLEH OVCHARENKO, a facilitator, a project mentor
The pandemic did not prevent young people from learning about places of remembrance. The online sessions on Bergen-Belsen, Oświęcim/Auschwitz, and Lviv served as windows into these places. This time we have also tried out a new format of involvement in the study of a space and historical contexts, namely a virtual quest. This quest trip has introduced Lviv and the local context of the Second World War to the young project participants.
As far as it was not possible to invite participants to the city, we focused on developing a virtual quest. The quest was based on the stories of three eyewitnesses, Leon Wells, Krystyna Chiger, and Stepan Horechyi. The tasks were hinged on certain facts from these stories. On the one hand, solving these tasks helped participants to expand their competencies in searching sources and improving presentation skills with the help of digital tools. On the other hand, it helped participants to focus on learning and discussing in micro-groups the issues of violence, loss of home, multiplicity and uniqueness of personal experiences, moral and ethical choices, the local perspective of changing states and borders. The interactive format and competitiveness helped to reinforce collaboration and teamwork even at a distance.
TARAS NAZARUK, a project expert, the virtual quest co-developer
The main task of the session on digital tools was to demonstrate how oral history materials can be transformed into interesting and accessible multimedia formats. During the workshop, the trainers told about different options for presenting the collected material and technical peculiarities of the process.
It was important for us to inform the participants about the details of working with video, photo, and audio materials, how best to convey the interviewee’s thoughts to the audience. We also explained the technical issues behind the process, like best practices in recording video and audio interviews at home, how to make the most of your smartphone while working upon visual oral history projects. What matters today is not merely to know how to collect oral history materials, namely interviews, but also to be able to meet the needs of modern audiences while processing them. We live in the age of digitalization, and it is unlikely to get somebody’s interested without creative ideas for project presentation.
ANNA DOROZHKO, a project expert
How did the project participants like the online course? We asked representatives of each country to share their impressions.
Firstly, thank you for the opportunity we have been given so far. Secondly, the most interesting part for me was communicating with participants from other countries and discovering how each of us feel about a particular event, phenomenon, or subject. What I also found interesting was our online guided tours to the places of remembrance and comments of people living close to them. This expands your perspective. Thirdly, I would appreciate even more communication with other participants for the exchange of opinions and views. I’ve learned a lot of new things so far, and I’d rather not list them, because they are too many :).
VALENTYNA KASIAN, a participant from Ukraine
I am very happy that my studies in Germany enabled me, a Lithuanian, to take part in this project. Therefore, I hope that in future it involves more countries, among others Lithuania, too, so that the history of more nations is being represented and could be compared. Nevertheless, I think that so far the history of Ukraine has represented the experience behind the Iron Curtain of the whole Eastern Europe very well, adding to that the particular Ukrainian tragedy – the Holodomor, about which I would like to know more. Hence the most awaited sessions for me were those which I would call practical ones, preparing us, hopefully, for visiting the three historical sites, which, especially Lviv, I am eager to explore.
ROBERTA BARTKUTĖ, a participant from Germany
I find the idea of the project, based on learning about family stories, to be extremely attractive. It is a great way to get the young generation interested in the subject of the complicated Polish-German-Ukrainian history. At the online sessions, I got particularly interested in a few topics, namely the presentation of the history of the Bergen-Belsen memorial and getting to know the places of remembrance in Lviv. My attention was also drawn to the issues of the culture of remembrance and the historical policies in Poland, Germany, and Ukraine, because these are controversial and therefore very interesting issues. Exploring the topic, as well as the points of view of people from Ukraine and Germany, allowed me to see the bigger and deeper picture of the issues. Therefore, I liked the idea of working in the international team. I am glad that the young generation is still trying to keep in mind and think of the difficult, demanding but nonetheless important history, which is our heritage, after all.
SYLWIA CABAJ, a participant from Poland
The end of the online program marks the halfway point of the project activities. Under the guidance of our mentors, the participants are already getting ready to conduct an oral history research, record the memories of their relatives and friends, and present the processed content at the December session.