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Why is history important to us: Lety concentration camp memorial

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            Over 170 teachers and professors from various schools all over the Czech Republic have gathered to improve their teaching methods in the history field, share their personal views regarding history education and learn more about various ideas of passing knowledge onto their students in ways that they are able to comprehend the new information and grasp the important principles of the discussed topic.

On August 26th and 27th, The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes held their 12th summer school program. This year, the main thought circled around Why is history important to us?. These were some of the topic questions that guided the workshops: How do we decide what is important in history? What can we learn from historical events? How can we utilize the past events in order to live better present-day lives?

For the eight time, the event took place at the DOX Centre for Contemporary art. The gallery is a modern building in the center of Prague, where visitors encounter a representation of international contemporary art, architecture and design.

The summer school was primarily intended for teachers of history and social science related subjects with the emphasis on contemporary history. The guest teachers were offered a variety of specified workshops and chose which ones they were eager to attend. During the workshops, the organizers introduced them to some newly developed school supplies and materials to use in their history classes but at the same time a handful of concepts on how to work with the youngsters.

The summer school program was financed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport of the Czech Republic. The event was free for all the registered participants.

Memorial Lety: a curatorial workshop

One of the workshops was merely focused on the introduction of the Memorial Lety near Písek Concentration Camp Memorial. It is located near the city Písek, in the South Bohemian Region. The construction of the memorial is expected to be finalized in May 2023.

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Čeněk Pýcha, as a member of The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, in collaboration with the members of the Roma Culture Museum organized a curatorial workshop. A specialized group of the museum staff is currently working on an exposition set in a newly built visitors building. The two-hour lecture was based on the development of  this new exposition. Through the lesson, the museum curators tried to express to the listeners the way how they think of the persecution of Roma and Sinti ethnicities and the Holocaust itself.

The teachers worked in groups directly with the exposition materials and learned how to use them to pass on the information to the younger generation. The main point was to motivate the participants to teach about this topic in particular, introduce them more closely to a less discussed topic and broaden their knowledge in general. The teachers are aware of the events, however some of them feel like they lack resources to deepen their background because the topic is in majority of Czech schools rather overlooked.

The workshop gave the teachers an opportunity to dive into some sources that they would normally not have the access to. As the main coordinators of the event say, the principal goals of the workshop have been reached since the participants expressed outward enthusiasm in the topic.

At the end of the workshop, the teachers shared their observations and key points they learned. They even asked a number of additional questions and were interested in planning a school field trip to the museum near Písek.

The workshop was also quite beneficial to the museum workers that are developing the whole idea. They presented their thoughts and work to the audience and received feedback from the teachers at the workshop. That can definitely help them on their further development of the project. Besides the positive reactions that proved their effective and hard work, they also received some original ideas which they consider to be very inspiring.

Memorial Hodonín u Kunštátu

Even though Lety u Písku is a more known memorial amongst the Czech citizens, do not overlook the already existing Roma and Sinti memorial in Moravia.

These days, the curators recommend schools to visit an already opened museum at Hodonín u Kunštátu. There they can encounter the Memorial to the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti in Moravia and to the victims of the Roma Holocaust. There, the museum members can offer a guided educational tour of both the museum and the memorial for 8th and 9th graders of primary schools and also for high school students. Specialized lectures can also be shaped to fit the requirements of University students. Families can also visit the memorial. A worksheet guides them through several activities – for instance working with artifacts.

Plans for the future

In the future, they would like to open a summer school program of their own. Currently their primary focus is the development of educationally purposed school visits for children.

            On the 1st of March in 2023, a brand new Center of the Roma and Sinti will be inaugurated in Prague. This center will be a great opportunity for the schools in the Central Bohemian Region and schools generally closer to the capital city. Their history classes could be enhanced by a visit to the museum. In collaboration with the Memorial Lety, project days will be held at the Prague museum as soon as the building is finalized. The two places are planned to be connected in various ways. Although the Prague museum will not be completed yet, new educational programs will already be available this September. This project will involve the Holocaust witnesses personally visiting schools and providing first hand lectures to the students.

Most of the teachers already do have knowledge about the Roma and Sinti Holocaust and what the era has brought in general. However, they are not prepared just yet to include the topic in their everyday lessons. Thanks to the summer school program and mainly thanks to people such as Čeněk Pýcha, Veronika Kolaříková and Dušan Slačka the interest on this matter is growing and teachers in general have more options (material sources, personal visit) on how to help their students understand the Roma and Sinti Holocaust.

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