Millions of people were made refugees during the Second World War as they tried to flee persecution and extermination during the Holocaust – and so many of them in vain. Not since 1945 has there been so many refugees seeking protection. Today, organizations like the UNHRC estimate that there are more than 66 million people seeking protection. Many of these millions are experiencing horrors, living under precarious conditions with uncertain futures.  

Less and less refugees from the 1930’s and 1940’s are able to share their experiences, but their stories are an important source for young people. After the refugee situation in 2015, the topic of flight, expulsion, and integration became a lively topic of discussion in schools in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, and it still is today. With the intention to pick a topic that is of interest to  young people and put it into historical perspective, the PH Luzern and the University of Applied Sciences Vorarlberg came together to develop a learning app with video testimonies of Holocaust Survivors who share their stories of fleeing.


“Fleeing the Holocaust. My encounter with refugees”– a learning app for youngsters

How does the app work?

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The app aims to engage students through video interviews and access to the experiences of refugees. On the app, students meet  survivors, their stories of flight and expulsion become tangible to them, and students learn what it meant to flee from the Holocaust and about the historical context of their struggle for protection. The events the survivors describe are from 70 or eighty years ago, but through this  interactive app, their stories are available to students in an accessible, relevant, and engaging manner.


einstieg-mockup.jpgUsers are met with five video testimonies and encouraged to define their individual learning path, by choosing one survivors’ story.After watching the video, which is about 20 minutes long, the users are challenged  with interactive questions about the survivor’s story. For instance, users are asked to correctly place key events from the survivor’s story on an interactive timeline. Furthermore, students are encouraged to write down their own feelings, reflexions, and thoughts.  Their responses become part of a document called “my own witness record” that can beeasily shared with their peers and teachers through an integrated e-mail function.

Learning with historical documents  

After watching the video interviews students have to select two historical documents or pictures to work with that refer to the survivor’s story and provide historical and biographical context. Students are asked questions about these documents, such as:


Deutsches Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10919 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0


Q: This is the Dancy Concentration Camp, a transit Camp north of Paris. Paul Schaffer passed through this Camp. Who do you see on the Picture, is this a German or French Police man?

Picture Vienna:  Jews were forced to clean the streets from Austrian patriotic and anti-fascist slogans.


© Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Q: How do the bystanders react ? Do they look away? Are they joking about the humiliated Jews? Do they act against the humiliation of their fellow citizen?  

Other tasks encourage students to formulate their own opinion or to engage empathetically.  

Examplef: What hindered or helped Sophie Haber’s flight? Who helped or hindered  her flight from National Socialism?

From Switzerland to Haifa to China: Places of refuge


The five survivors stories presented in the app “Fleeing the Holocaust” are very diverse, but the reasons for  their flights are similar–they were fleeing from the antisemitic politics of National Socialism and its allies.  The circumstances for the refugees were also similar. The flight was dangerous and it was very difficult to find a country that would accept them as refugees. Hellmut Stern managed to find refuge in Harbin in the very northern part of China. Sophie Haber crossed the severely protected Austrian-Swiss border. With the help of Paul Grüninger, a Swiss police man who was later awarded  the title „Righteous Among the Nations“ by Yad Vashem, she was able to stay in Switzerland. With the help of a Swiss Diplomat, Eva Koralnik also made it to Switzerland, and just barely escaped the Deportations in Budapest. Paul Schaffer was brought up in Vienna, and after the „Anschluss“ he and his family fled to Belgium, then France, where he was captured and Deported to Auschwitz. On board of an illegal ship Avraham Gaffni, born as Erich Weinreb in the alpine city of Innsbruck, escaped to Palestine.

With the app students get a deeper understanding of the conditions that helped or hindered survival during the Holocaust. The aim of the app is also to help students to develop a sensitivity for refugees today and to learn that Europe is not only a place of arrival for refugees, but was also once a point of origin. We encourage students to build their own historically informed opinion. Every learning path that starts with the video testimony of a Holocaust survivor ends with a stimulus to reflect on today’s refugees situations and needs.

“Fleeing the Holocaust” was developed for Austrian, German and Swiss Schools. In Fall 2018 several training seminars will take place for teachers. The App is till now only available in German, a French version is in the planning. “Fliehen vor dem Holocaust” can be downloaded from the Google PlayStore, from the Apple Store, and online at . Let us know what you think about our app and how your students received the app.


Moritz Wein © Igor_Ripak_DSC-7542 (1).jpg

Author Bio: Moritz Wein is a project and communication officer at the department of National Socialism and the Holocaust: Memory and Present at the Holocaust Education Institute of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education.  This institution offers teacher trainings, develops learning material, and conducts research. Previously, he worked as an educator at Mauthausen Memorial and as a Human Rights officer at the Austrian Students Union. He studied political science at the University of Vienna, Sciences Po Paris and at University of Marburg’s Center for Conflict Studies.


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