From 4 to 12 July, an international event – the Centropa Summer Academy for Teachers and Educational Staff – took place in Vienna (Austria), Prague, and Terezín (Czech Republic).
This year’s Summer Academy theme was “The History of European Jewry in the 20th Century, the Holocaust and the Cold War”. Seventy teachers and educators from 17 countries took part in the international event. Lithuania was represented by 3 participants: 2 history teachers from Kalvarija gymnasium and Paberžė gymnasium (Vilnius district), which have Tolerance Education Centres, and the Education Programme Coordinator from the International Commission Secretariat.
The international event took place in two countries. The seminar started in Vienna: the director of Centropa, journalist, and cinematographer Edward Serotta introduced the objectives of the Summer Academy; the participants attended a lecture by historian Philipp Blom and watched documentaries produced by the Centropa organization on the history of the Jews of Vienna, the stories of the “transport of Jewish children” to Great Britain (1938–1940) and the personal stories of people who survived the Holocaust. Teachers from around the world had the opportunity to explore Vienna’s Jewish quarter, visit the synagogue, and take part in a Shabbat dinner. The organizers of the seminar provided a unique opportunity to interact with Holocaust survivors – to hear their stories first-hand. Representatives from Lithuania met Julius Neumark, born in Kaunas in 1940, who was rescued from the Kaunas ghetto. You can read his story in the book ‘Rescued in Potato Sacks.’
After a few days in Vienna, the seminar moved on to Prague. Arriving in the Czech Republic, the participants of the international event learned about the essential events in Prague in 1989, which paved the way for the development of a democratic Czech Republic. Participants visited Jewish synagogues and the Jewish community in Prague. One day of the seminar was dedicated to a visit to Terezín to learn about the history of the Terezín ghetto. Teachers were divided into groups and given the task of visiting various sites representing aspects of the life and functioning of the ghetto. This was an invaluable introduction to the city’s history, which was turned into a ghetto between 1941 and 1945. At the end of the day in Terezín, all the groups gathered at the main memorial for a ceremony in honour of the victims of the Holocaust.
The Centropa Summer Academy was a very informative and intensive event, which was not only educational but also aimed at exchanging pedagogical experiences and developing lesson plans using the visual and historical material received, which would be universally – suitable for use in different countries.
The event’s last day was dedicated to reflection and the presentation of the lesson plans developed. Many participants said that the Summer Academy had provided them with knowledge, information, and methodological material and contacts with teachers from other countries. Participants from Lithuania appreciated the connections with colleagues from Poland, Ukraine, Germany, and the USA. The contacts made will inspire new international projects. According to Arunė Vaičiūnaitė–Levuškinienė, a teacher from Lithuania, “the Centropa Summer Academy gave the participants a variety of experiences and an opportunity to get to know the educational systems of other countries, to participate in them and to educate thoughtful young people.”
The international event was organized by Centropa, an organization that has been organizing seminars in Lithuania and other European countries for more than ten years.