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LETTERS FROM JEWISH AUSTRALIA No.43

"Say NO to Prejudice"
The Multimedia Classroom Kit with a Timely Message


Chanukah - Tevet 5757 - December 1996

Racism is headline news in Australia today. It has come out of the closet to be aired publicly and people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the racism expressed in parliament. This may make it appear less politically correct to espouse racist views but what of the future?

The "Say No to Prejudice" kit is a valuable teaching resource for anyone interested in the Holocaust, in oral history, in ethnic or communal identity and, most importantly of all, as the title of the Kit suggests, in the problems of racism and prejudice. It includes a teachers' handbook which addresses the needs of non-Jewish schools and teachers with little background in Holocaust studies.

"Say NO to Prejudice" is unique in several ways. First, it describes and demonstrates an oral history process that has been specially des,igned to encourage Australian students to empathise with others and to reflect on life experiences different from their own. Second it tells the stories of Australians whose European experience led to a willing embrace of the culture and values of a country as far away from Europe as they could find. Finally, the material generated by the process has been edited into three texts - visual, oral and written - which are used as the foundation of teaching activities. The entire package promotes the values and behaviour that are central to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.

The students' booklet contains excerpts from the life stories of Holocaust survivors, with some additional commentary and questions. The stories were recorded by school students in three of Sydney's Jewish schools, using an oral history model developed by Ruth Wilson to encourage young people to identify with and feel empathy for the 'grandparent generation'.

On this last night of Chanukah, as we safely light our menorahs in windows for all to see, the following short extract from the kit, Mimi's Story - "Run for your Life", is a reminder of the need for mutual respect and understanding for all.

"The four of them walked to a nearby monastery. The chilren looked at the priests with curiosity. "Yes", they were saying, "they would take the sister and the brother on the condition that they changed their religion." "No, no, no!" Papa exclaimed. They would take their chances with the Germans, rather than have the children give up their identity. So they returned to Arboureix, and soon it was Chanuka, the Festival of Lights. Papa collected enough potatoes to make candles, with pieces of cloth for wicks. For eight days the family secretly celebrated their Jewishness. Danger was now always in the air, and both children felt it."
Mimi is one of the Holocaust survivors whose childhoods were dislocated by the loss of family and community. In retelling the survivors' stories the students have recaptured the intensity and drama of those young lives. They share with other students what they have learned about the consequences of ignorance and prejudice. After planning and conducting the interviews in small groups, the students in each group continued to work together to write down the wartime experiences they had recorded. Some wrote their accounts in the voices of the survivors (some of whom can be heard on the audiotapes), others wrote in the third person. Some wrote down their thoughts and reflections - in prose and in poetry - and these are included in the collection.

The video demonstrates graphically how the students were affected by their research, especially how their opinions and ideas have altered as a result of hearing about both the anguish and the courage of the 'child 'survivors. They speak of the need to develop a broader or global view of the nature and the outcomes of prejudice.

The group of students who interviewed Leon presented him with a silk- lined box containing various items. This is how they explained their gift:

The video has a power of its own and could be shown in a variety of situations and to a range of audiences.... as an introduction to a teachers' seminar or for young adults about to engage in the issue of History or National Memory. It would be of particular interest to other ethnic/cultural groups seeking ways to engage their younger generation in cultural and communal identity issues.

This Kit and all other relevant material needs to reach teachers and their students in order to counter ignorance and/or indifference. If you are an educator (or have contact with educators) please phone or fax Ruth Wilson on 02-93277045 (till 20th December 1996 and after 15th January 1997) and help promote a tolerant Australia.


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