Learning about WWI Jewish soldiers

September 26, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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Melbourne’s The Jewish Museum of Australia has launched its new cutting edge education program, Soldier, Son, Service.

At work

At work

This program offers students a novel way to learn about the lives and service of Australian Jewish soldiers during World War One, through interaction with primary sources and by conducting real historical research.

Soldier, Son, Service accompanies the Museum’s latest temporary exhibition, True Jews and Patriots: Australian Jews and World War One. It also contributes to the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex & Servicemen & Women’s (VAJEX Australia) ongoing research on Australian Jewish soldiers who fought in WW1. This education program is open to both Jewish and non-Jewish schools, for an extended period of time, as it also ties in with the Museum’s permanent exhibition Calling Australia Home.

The Museum has worked in collaboration with history teachers from Melbourne’s leading Jewish schools and Monash university lecturer Rosalie Triolo, to develop rich content for this unique education program. The program directly addresses the Australian Curriculum, on the subject of WW1, taught in year 9 across secondary schools in Victoria. Themes include Australia as a nation, immigration, democracy and citizenship.

Rosalie Triolo says “The Jewish Museum’s WW1 education program provides a unique opportunity for students to have hands on experiences of archival material, and to gain important research skills by gathering historical evidence for VAJEX Australia.”

Soldier, Son, Service follows in the footsteps of a range of successful school education programs, created by the Jewish Museum, such as the The Jewish Context of the Life and Words of Jesus (2013) and the Ritual Reporter (2015). The Museum’s education programs provide students with the occasion to understand historical nuances & gain impressions through exposure to primary sources.

Studying the archives

Studying the archives

Soldier, Son, Service includes preparatory classroom material, a visit to the Museum and a tour of the Museum’s current temporary WW1 exhibition.

During their visit to the Museum, students investigate personal possessions found in the suitcase of fallen Australian Jewish soldier, Dalbert Hallenstein. Dalbert died aged 25, at the battle of the Somme in France, two months before the war ended. His suitcase was donated to the Museum by his nephew, after remaining unopened by his family since his death.

Objects in the case include heart-breaking letters from his family, a Jewish prayer book, a manual for how to keep your boots clean, maps and postcards. In one of the letters, his mother Lucie writes:

Where will you be when you read these few lines I am wondering & wondering. One thing I know dear is that you will be doing your duty & that reconciled us to being parted from you.

Jewish Museum education officer, Natalie Even-Bar says; “Students are emotionally engaged when they explore and interact with the contents of Dalbert Hallenstein’s suitcase. The realisation by students that many of the soldiers were of a similar age to them, has caused much emotion, fascination and debate.”

In addition to Dalbert Hallenstein’s suitcase, the Museum has acquired replica WW1 nurse and soldier uniforms for students to try on. This gives them the opportunity to discuss what these objects tell them about being an Australian Jewish soldier in WW1.

At the end of their Museum visit, students are each given the name of an Australian Jewish soldier so that they can add to VAJEX Australia’s research, using the links and websites provided by The War Memorial and National Archives of Australia. The aim of this, as well as assisting VAJEX Australia, is to bring this period to life for students, and to expand the Museum’s knowledge about the lives and service of the Australian Jewish soldiers that fought in this war. The creative outcomes of their findings is displayed in the exhibition space and added to VAJEX Australia’s ongoing research on Australian Jewish soldiers who fought in WW1.

While this program has only recently commenced, school history teachers have already reported that parents of the students realise the value in this program, and have indicated that they would like to engage with their kids through it. Sally Stevens, head of history at Bialik College, believes that “what is unique about this education program is that the students have the opportunity for their research to be seen by other people and appreciated by the wider community.” Furthermore, she hopes that “this program will see the students take more pride in their work, as they gain a sense of achievement.”

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