Lesson materials

History lessons and teaching materials on World War II

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World War II is remembered very differently in different countries. In some parts of what is now the European Union, the picture is of one aggressor—Nazi Germany—and a coalition of allies fighting against it. In Central and Eastern Europe, the picture is more complex. For many, liberation by the Red Army meant the start of another form of totalitarian subjugation.

The result is very different memories of the war in different countries, and large differences in the way the story of the war is taught. Even the time frame of the war differs between countries. For Germany, Poland, and those parts of modern Belarus that belonged to Poland before 1939, the war began on September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. For Russia and Eastern Belarus, the war began on 22 June, 1941, with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Likewise, the war did not end on the same day for all. In Europe the war ended on 8/9 May, while in the Far East it continued until 2 September.

In our project we try to build some rapprochement between these different, sometimes conflicting, memories. In four sets of lessons prepared by specialists from Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany, we tackle four topics related to World War II.

Using modern, innovative teaching techniques, historical and contemporary graphic materials, and excerpts from memoirs, diaries and press material of the period, we propose a way of presenting these differences to students. We sincerely hope it will be an important—even if modest—step towards a better understanding of our memories of the largest war in the history of mankind, and thereby to a better understanding of historical sensitivities.

We have assembled real-life source materials for students to analyse, discuss, and reflect upon. At the same time, we encourage teachers to modify the lessons to suit their own practices and preferences, and in particular to look for local and personal source material if they consider that this will bring the past closer to their own students.

We launched this project in 2020 with contributors from Belarus, Germany, Poland and Russia, but our ambition is to widen the project to include other countries. In this way, we hope to expand our work of illuminating different perspectives on World War II and other complex historical events, and of propagating a variety of ways of looking at, and learning about, history.

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