This was the first session of the series. Prior to the session, we had sent two prompts/ questions to each participant school which they were to discuss in the form of a short presentation drawing from the Anne Frank exhibition that we had shared with them earlier. This worked out effectively because the students expressed their thoughts more easily after having led off with their own presentations to begin with.
cccWe began with a short energizer, where we told them to introduce themselves to us through a short and snappy social media kind of introduction. This saw a range of diverse responses from them and was rather helpful in starting to build a conversation from there onwards.
cccThe first presentation started with addressing the socio-political backdrop of extreme turmoil and instability following the Second World War against which Hitler and his party rose to power and their effective use of propaganda to draw people to their ideas that would eventually call for a cleansing of all those who they thought did not belong to the ‘pure German race’. One of the key questions they discussed was how the people of Germany would have reacted differently had they been educated instead of brainwashed with propaganda. Here they pointed out how places of education were increasingly being turned into those for propaganda by the Nazi power with separate schools for Jews, Germans being taught about the purity of the German race, therefore being taught to marginalize others. They then spoke about how the use of propaganda led to a systematic alienation and ban on free thinking. Finally, we brought up the following question to collectively think about: what is it within society that gives the leader the kind of the power that they are able to assume as was in the case of Nazi Germany?
cccThe next group started with a brief background of the word Holocaust. They then discussed the role of the Schutzstaffel [SS]that served as Hitler’s executive force which was prepared to carry out all security duties without regard for legal restrain and became one of the most feared organizations in Nazi Germany. From 1939, the SS assumed responsibility for solving the so-called Jewish question. Next, they went on to discuss the major victims under Nazi Germany beyond the Jews, that included the disabled, slaves, homosexuals and in that context discussed Hitler’s idea of the ‘master Aryan race’ which went into building systematic alienation of those who fell outside this ‘pure Aryan race’. They then addressed the question: why did some non-Jews help the Jews while others did not? To this, they recounted accounts of some people who took up the severe potential risk of helping Jews, with particular emphasis on the narrative of Miep Gies. At the end of their presentation, a student made this observation: States, even if unable to stop a genocide entirely, would never support genocide. We spent some time discussing this thought and then made this into a home assignment for further reflection, which we would then take up at the start of the next session.
cccThe next group began with talking about the life of Otto Frank and what the Holocaust meant for him and his family at a personal level and how defeated he felt by the end of it. They then discussed in much detail the experiences of the Jews under Nazi Germany, particularly in the concentration camps where they were forced to live in the most dreadful and threatening physical and mental circumstances.
cccAt the end of this presentation, we spoke about smaller instances of everyday inequality that we still see prevalent in the world around us. Here, students brought up instances from the Capitol riots in the USA, religious discrimination in India, racism in the West and the form it assumes in the country in recent times with reference to caste and the related conversation around manual scavenging. A student pointed out how fair skin continues to be marketed as a desirable virtue with aspirational quality attached to it. This then led into them discussing how human rights should be equal for each person. Here, we brought up the debate around equality versus equity if one has to strive for freedom in the truest sense.
cccFinally, we left them with the question: Do you see your own personal role in any of the wrongs [big or small] that you see around yourself? How would you define that situation? What is the place of your own bias and mindset in driving your response in those circumstances?
cccWe gave them a home assignment at the end of the session, where they were requested to think about the statement made earlier in the session: ‘States would usually not support genocide’. We shared with them the section titled ‘Defining Genocide’ from the Human Rights Defenders module as background reading to do to think about this statement further.
Click on the links below to access reports of the corresponding sessions: