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Meet the three lead educators, and hear what motivated us to make this course on "Photographing the Holocaust".
Hello, and welcome. My name is Claudia Reese, and I’m standing here in the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, which is my place of work. In this short film, we would like to welcome you and share a few thoughts on why we made this course. Hello, I’m Maiken Umbach. I’m a professor of history at the University of Nottingham. This course, like all FutureLearn courses, is made by academics. When academics interact with the wider public, not just the students in the University classrooms, so people like you on this MOOC, we often call this public history. I don’t like this label very much. It sort of implies that the academic experts make history, and then they share it with the public.
I would argue that all history is public history. Why is that? Well, there are two reasons that I want to briefly mention to you now. The first has to do with the fact that history does not speak for itself. History answers questions that we ask of it, but what questions we ask depends on who we are. Not just as historians, but as people living in a society, as public citizens. What questions I ask of my historical sources depends on the politics in which I live now, on the society, on arguments I might have with friends and family.
So that whole public sphere is involved in shaping the kinds of questions we ask of history, and therefore what historical narrative we get as an outcome. So this is what we’re really interested in here, in terms of this course. We want to discuss with you what questions we should be asking of the history of photography and the Holocaust that we’re looking at, and making them better in the process together. There’s a second reason about why this label “public history” is tricky. If it implies that that’s something different from academic and expert history, and that is because all history needs sources, it needs evidence, primary sources.
So without that material we can’t do anything, and a lot of questions can’t be answered because we don’t have that material anymore. It’s archives and museums who decide what is worth keeping, and therefore they play a huge role in shaping the kinds of histories that can be written. And that, as we shall see, is really important with this topic of the Holocaust. And it’s why I’m so particularly delighted that on this course we are joined, not just by other academics, but also by colleagues from one such organisation, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, who will not only contribute their expertise, but also share their collections with us. Over to you, Louise. Hi.
I’m Louise Stafford, and like Claudia, I’m part of the team at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. I’ve been here since 2013, and I lead the education team. The centre was founded in 1995 by the Smith family, and particularly James and Steven, two brothers who, following a visit to Yad Vashem, wanted to introduce the UK to questions connected to the Holocaust and the importance of looking at challenges connected today. As part of their work in establishing the centre, they spent much time with survivors of the Holocaust. And over time, the centre became a safe and welcoming place for them to come and share their testimonies and stories, a home from home. As you heard, my name is Martin Stern.
Until 12 years ago, I was a doctor. I was a specialist in the Leicester teaching hospitals, treating people mainly with asthma and allergic diseases. But I wasn’t always a doctor. I was once a child. And when I was five years old, I was at a little school, a little preschool, really, in Amsterdam. It was 1944. It was Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
Education is a critical part of the work of the centre. And, as part of their visit to the centre, students are encouraged, in addition to listening to the testimony of the survivor of the Holocaust, to spend time in one of our two permanent exhibitions. The first of these, The Journey exhibition, follows a series of rooms, in terms of the character of Leo, a composite drawn together from the testimonies of many of our survivors. The second exhibition, the Holocaust Exhibition, uses photographs, artefacts, and texts to introduce students to the history of anti-Semitism, the rise of Nazism, the experiences of victims of the Holocaust, and those of survivors. But behind the exhibition sits a huge collection.
My colleague Louise has already spoken about the role of the centre in gathering lots of survivor testimony. Much of this testimony comes with artefacts. That can be letters, that can be photos and images. My role, as a senior researcher at the centre, is to interpret recollections together with the team, and to work with researchers like Maiken to make the most of it. But we also need to think creatively in how we can use these collections in new ways, and how we can reach out to people that can not come to the centre in person. This is why we made this course. Photography is really important for Holocaust museums. It draws visitors into the story.
It helps them to imagine difficult pasts. But photos are difficult sources. They can be biassed, and they can be hard to look at, sometimes both. Exploring photos with you is what this course is about. In week one, we are going to look at perpetrator photography. If Nazi propaganda photographers take images of the Holocaust, how reliable are such photos as evidence? In week two, we are going to look at photos that are much more rarely seen today in exhibitions, in school textbooks, or in TV documentaries. These are the images taken by the victims themselves. They, if you like, tried to create an alternative archive. It is history from a different perspective.
Finally, in week three, we’re going to look at what all of this means for today. What can be learned by studying the history of the Holocaust, and the difficult role of photography in it, in terms of engaging with the visual culture of the present? Photos of victims are everywhere today, on social media, on television screens. There are atrocities, persecutions, violence going on in so many places in the world, and we’re flooded with these images. Can we bring this historic knowledge to bear on learning to deal better with the present?
Throughout the course, we’ll be joined by academics and experts from other institutions and a range of different disciplines, but we’ll also be joined by other museum professionals, and people from creative industries. So filmmakers, artists, and theatre makers, who have all grappled with this problem of Holocaust photography. And they’re going to share some intimate insights about their work with us. We’ll explain a little bit more about the structure of the course in the next text step. But for now, why don’t you use this opportunity, at the bottom of this learning step in the comments section, to introduce yourselves.
And tell us and the other learners a little bit about your motivation for doing this course, and what you hope to find out. We really look forward to hearing from you.

In this short film, the three lead educators of the course welcome you, and talk about why we made “Photographing the Holocaust”.

The course “Photographing the Holocaust” is a joint project of the University of Nottingham and the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in the UK. Over the next three weeks, we will explore photos of the Holocaust, how they shape our understanding, and how they influence the way we see images of conflict and violence today. As regular consumers of such images it is our responsibility to look carefully and think again!

In the video above you can find out more about the key players behind this MOOC and their deeper motivations. Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History at the University of Nottingham, Claudia Reese, Senior Researcher at the UK’s National Holocaust Centre and Museum, and Louise Stafford, the museum’s Director of Learning will speak about their work and how it joins up in this course.

To start with, let’s talk a little bit about what awaits you. First, to be clear, this is not a course about the Holocaust in general. Definitions and the chronology of events are easy to find: many reputable sources are online. Here, we focus on images: how they shape our understanding, how they can distort this history, and how we can best use them as evidence.

In Week 1, you will learn that many of the iconic photos of the Holocaust, which dominate museums, textbooks, and documentaries today, are perpetrator-made. Such image, used uncritically, can distort history. Nazi Propaganda images seek to manipulate viewers into seeing Jewish people as helpless, barely human, doomed to die. We also explore private images: photos taken by countless ordinary Germans, soldiers, and members of the SS. They offer different insights into the Holocaust and the motivations of perpetrators. But these photos, too, are deeply biased sources.

In Week 2, we turn to very different photos: photos created by the victims of Nazi racial policies. Eager to create their their own photographic records, Jewish people and other persecuted individuals used the camera to defend their identities, and to document what was done to them. Our explorations will range from private Jewish family albums made in the 1930s, via photos of flight and emigration, to photos by victims made in ghettos and camps. This will enable us to compare the visual language of the perpetrators with that of the victims.

In Week 3, we will look at the immediate effects of perpetrator and liberator photography on the understanding of the Holocaust by audiences after 1945. But we will also look beyond the Holocaust itself. We ask how photographic conventions of the perpetrators still influence the way some photos are taken today. Think of the famous images from Abu Grahib… Less dramatic, but even more widely viewed, are photos in news reporting about violence and refugees. Do they do justice to the victims? Are there better ways of taking and consuming such photos? How can those in the photos be empowered to take part in the creation of images? We will hear from a UN photographer and an artist who developed a photographic language that wants to do justice to the person in the image and beyond.

But in the end – all depends on us the critical consumers of images. As Maiken argues in the video, this course truly represents public history because it touches on political and societal problems that concern us all. Therefore, it works best as a collaborative effort and your input will make a real difference.

Feel free to use the comment function at the bottom of this step to introduce yourself to the educators and other learners. We’d love to hear what motivates you to take part in this course! In the first three weeks, this course will be facilitated. That means members of the team who created it will regularly log in and reply to your comments, or to themes that emerge in discussions between learners. So this is your chance to talk to us directly!

Finally, a word of warning. It is inevitable with this subject matter that some photos we will look at are upsetting. We have tried to stay away from the most gruesome images of the Holocaust. But to understand this topic, we need to explore photos of human suffering, and some photos that show dead bodies. Please use your own discretion, and do not share the content with young children in your household.

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Photographing the Holocaust

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