Children of the Lodz Ghetto: A Memorial Research Project
Allowing students to be active learners and researchers is an important and integral component of teaching. The Children of the Lodz Ghetto website hosted by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum attempts to provide a hands-on location for such an enterprise. It does so by having distinct areas on its home webpage wherein students can begin tackling a difficult problem: locating missing children who were deported and living in the Lodz (Poland) Ghetto during World War II.
A valuable book of student signatures was given to the ghetto's leader, Chaim Rumkowski, during the Jewish High Holidays in September 1941, two years after the start of the war. This book serves as the foundational research tool, the objective of which is to account for the fates of thousands of students from the ghetto in the following years. The website encourages researchers to try and obtain as much biographical information as possible about the young people listed in the book.
Today's students are given step-by-step instructions in beginning the research, asked to continue to seek out additional information and, probably most importantly, asked to collaborate to review and refine the information collected by others. Thus, the site wants to convey the collective nature of the research enterprise.
Five tabs are located under the webpage's title: "Home," "Student List," "Tutorial," "Research tips," and "My Research." The "How to Use this Site" feature is critical for students with a limited knowledge of the Holocaust. It provides a detailed guide on how to go about beginning the research, with crucial links to websites related to the Lodz ghetto within the Holocaust museum's online sources. These resources will help students proceed with their individual research. An alphabetical list of the more than 1,500 names of children (out of the more than 13,000 children who signed the book) is provided under the "Student List" tab.
The website is relatively easy to navigate. However, the design is a bit cluttered on the home page with duplicate areas for moving to "Research Tip" and "Lists of Students." One potential stumbling block for students conducting research is when they arrive at the student list. It appears that information is available on students in the Lodz Ghetto and subsequent deportation. But locating information beyond deportation appears difficult to obtain. Perhaps additional links within the Holocaust Museum's own website or outside links to other Holocaust-related web pages may encourage students to continue the research beyond the basic information located on the "Lodz Ghetto Inhabitants' Database." Naturally, the basic data needs to be entered before proceeding to further information. However, in order to continue to engage students in the importance and significance of their research enterprise, having additional links that contextualize the information beyond data entry would be helpful.
The alphabetical student lists, with names highlighted of those that are currently being researched, is very user friendly. It is encouraging that when additional biographical information is obtained on an individual, it generates online discussion and comments, perhaps in some cases leading to additional subsequent research on the person.
The website does teach a prospective student the value of beginning research with basic information before proceeding on to additional research. It also teaches that the enterprise is laborious, often perhaps tedious, and collaborative, but, in the end, is critical in enlarging one's understanding of the complexity of the Holocaust.
This website reinforces the idea that beyond the numberless victims, real people, often children the ages of the current student-researchers themselves, were hapless victims. Bringing this message down to the individual level makes the research students do ultimately much more meaningful.
How to Cite This Source
"Children of the Lodz Ghetto: A Memorial Research Project," in Children and Youth in History, Item #409, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/website-reviews/409 (accessed December 9, 2013).