About the guide

Kristina Smolijaninovaitė Civil Society Forum e.V., Berlin, Germany

992 words

Since its initiation in 2020, the Confronting Memories programme has devoted its work to generating dialogues through history to help build bridges and promote peace. Its methodology is centred around multiperspectivity as a strategic approach to teaching students how to understand other perspectives on history in addition to our own.1 Within the framework of this programme, various media have been created and events organised to serve this purpose: the exhibition ‘Different Wars’ that examines how World War II is depicted in school textbooks in six countries; short films on the commemoration of World War II and an observation on the current war in Ukraine; public discussions; webinars; summer schools for history educators; and now this pedagogical guide.

The contributors to the programme are history teachers, historians, civil society representatives, non-formal educators, and creative producers from across Europe.2 It is our goal to find common ground to unite us in our mission to develop empathy towards one another. This mission is all the more urgent in light of the continuous challenges posed by polarisation in political standpoints as well as civil and military conflicts in the region.

This pedagogical guide focuses on World War II and its commemoration in Europe, as shared experiences of the conflict as well as contested historical legacies continue to influence us all. The same war is remembered differently in different countries, which has given rise to many different cultures and practices of remembrance, based on national identity. These differences have in turn led to differences in the way the narrative of the war is taught in different states and European regions. In Western Europe, the narrative is usually focused on one aggressor – Nazi Germany – and a coalition of allies fighting against it, with the Holocaust being a central focus of remembrance. 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. Commemoration practices in Central and Eastern Europe, which focus on the crimes of Stalinism, are therefore fundamentally different from commemoration practices in the West.

National history and identity is usually the reference point and the ultimate concern in teaching history at schools and educational institutions. In our programme, multiperspectivity is at the core of the approach in selecting and developing materials for history lessons on World War II, in order to go beyond strictly national narratives of history. To this end, this pedagogical guide provides tools to teach complex histories through selected World War II memorial sites in Europe.

We chose to work on memorial sites, as their integration into the physical landscape provides a tangible link to the past that allows students to experience history more immediately through physical encounter and interaction. Through a memorial site, one is easily engaged and persuaded that whatever history presents is not just imagined but tangible. Learning about the past can be challenging: whereas history has to be constructed by historians through meticulous and rational research aiming at objective retelling, memory is subjective and emotional. Memorial sites and places of remembrance usually emerge from public collective memory, at local, national, and international levels. Their importance to a given society marks them as sacred places that people feel bound by duty to connect with. Moreover, memorials are closely related to commemoration ceremonies and processions, making them a vivid expression of the policies of the state or political regime to which they belong.

This guide also discusses the debates surrounding the intersecting and conflicting memorial landscapes of World War II in Europe, identifying the challenges in creating a common European memory of the war (see Chapter 2). At the heart of these debates is the question of whether a unified European memory is even possible. This guide provides several strategies, most importantly the need to accept and engage with the diversity of memories, an approach that requires developing empathy towards the Other and makes the practice of self-critical reflection a prerequisite for mutual recognition. Additionally, Chapter 2 provides a wider overview of the European memorial and museum landscape, to showcase remembrance strategies, limitations and failures that will hopefully be helpful and enriching to history educators.    

History educators and historians worked jointly on this guide with such complexities in mind to present eight powerful examples of contrasting World War II memorial sites from Germany, Moldova, Poland, and Russia. Their task was not to present the best-known memorial sites, but rather to provide some inspiring examples to educators that illustrate the diversity of memorials emerging from this conflict. The selected examples fall under the following four categories, also elaborated upon in Chapter 2:
  1. Official memorials of military campaigns
  2. Official memorials of victims
  3. Museums dedicated to historical events
  4. Unofficial memorials / private initiatives
Additionally, this guide outlines pedagogical recommendations for the use of memorials as a teaching tool that history educators may choose to apply and adapt to their own specific teaching context and country. In Chapter 3, ‘Pedagogical Recommendations’, we suggest three types of teaching strategies:
  1. Classroom-based learning activities
  2. Classroom and visit-based learning activities
  3. Visit-based learning activities
With the publication of this pedagogical guide on the teaching of World War II through the use of memorials, we hope to facilitate dialogue and raise awareness on multiperspectivity between history teachers and non-formal educators on the remembrance of this global conflict, and to enhance trust-building processes across borders, going beyond the scope of national narratives. Together with its learning activities based on memorial sites, this guide offers recommendations that can be adapted for history classes, workshops, and other similar educational activities.

Addressing uncomfortable episodes of history through our educational practices – inside and outside the classroom – can create pathways to facilitate critical and open discussions of our national histories, with the goal of promoting such core values as human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

This guide is available in four languages – English, German, Polish, and Russian – to make it as useful and accessible as possible to different groups of educators.

1 Multiperspectivity refers to either 1) various present-day views on/interpretations of a specific historical event/period, or 2) different perspectives over time on a specific historical event/period (pasts-presents-futures). See Chapter 3 for a full discussion of the term.

2 In this guide and the programme Confronting Memories as a whole, Europe refers to geographical Europe, including all countries from Norway to Greece and Portugal to Russia. In 2023 the programme will broaden to include additional Eastern Partnership countries, among them Armenia and Georgia.

This website uses different cookies. We use cookies to personalise content, provide social media features, and analyse traffic to our website. Some cookies are placed by third parties that appear on our pages. You can find more information and options to choose from in our Privacy Policy and Configurations for usage.

Accept Deny