Centropa Jewish Network

CJN is the first professional development network for teachers in European Jewish schools; building bridges, strengthening Jewish identity.

Year founded: 2010


Over the past three years, Centropa launched the Centropa Jewish Network (CJN), tested and expanded the first professional development network for teachers working in European Jewish schools. In the last three years we have been able to: --employ a full time director of this program (Marcell Kenesei); --send the director to conduct workshops in ten of these schools in nine countries; --hold two winter seminars for 56 teachers working in 22 European Jewish schools; --bring 16 teachers from 13 schools to two summer academies; --and create a network with 13 very active schools and 9 moderately active ones. These accomplishments define success by any yardstick, and here are the measurables delivered: -- 25 lesson plans or projects they use in their classrooms -- 3 exhibition projects they helped exhibit with their students -- 10 videos that their students have made, and are now sharing them with each other -- 8 collaborations between 15 schools in our network. For the first time, Centropa seminars are giving teachers in European Jewish schools the chance to work alongside their peers to create lesson plans, cross border projects and use them in schools between the Baltic and the Aegean Seas. Their students are creating projects they share with each other, flying over borders as only teenagers born into the world of Facebook can. This is new, it is unprecedented, and it is long overdue. In these first three years, we have developed our teacher base and begun to bring students together. And we are planning to expand this network to include counselors working in a half dozen Jewish summer camps and youth centers, and gauge our success with them, too. The students in these schools, youth groups and summer camps are the leaders of tomorrow’s European Jewish communities, and we want them to identify as Jews and build networks that will help them confront the challenges of the 21st century. Regrettably, all is not good news: anti-Semitism has been on the rise in much of Europe. Jewish schools in Hungary, Turkey, Greece and Romania have all seen an increase in enrollment, as parents feel their children need to be studying in a totally safe environment. When we speak to teachers in Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland they tell us that the parents in their schools are adamant about their children’s projects not being available online without password protection. These are issues this report will address, and it also details how we plan to expand over the next few years—in schools, summer camps and youth centers. We are not asking for support to start a new project. We are respectfully asking your foundation to join us in partnership, so we can continue developing a program whose time has clearly come.
In the Footsteps of Jewish Memory


Centropa specializes in working with teachers in multiple countries to create the lessons they need for the students they teach. Using our deep well of resources of over 1,200 interviews with elderly Jews, the over 22,000 old family photographs they showed us as they told us their entire life stories spanning the 20th century (and we subsequently digitized), and the 60+ short, multimedia films we produced to tell the most compelling of those stories, we created a successful program that supports teachers in designing lessons that promote tolerance, fight Antisemitism and all forms of hatred, and creates critical thinkers who question the images and messages they see and hear about Jews in their countries. 


Centropa’s project, In the Footsteps of Jewish Memory, will teach non-Jewish students in the public schools of the Visegrád countries (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia) about 20th century Jewish life, and introduce them to Jewish students their own age. We use a multi-layered approach to educate and support teachers, and offer them programs (such as video making competitions), that use the technology students love to work with. Each aspect of our program builds on and supports the other, so that teachers get the support they need - since many work in contexts that do encourage critical thinking or combating hatred of Jews - and experience themselves as part of a larger community of educators committed to the same values. Likewise, our cross-cultural student programs take students out of their own cultural context and show them that there are others just like them who value treating people who seem different on the outside like they would treat their own friends. In this way, In the Footsteps of Jewish Memory effectively addresses the local Antisemitism Central and Eastern European students continue to encounter, and the growing anti-Israel sentiment they also see and hear. 


How do we do this? By bringing teachers together in local seminars to develop lessons based on Centropa’s stories and giving them time to create cross-cultural partnerships. We also invite the most innovative educators from the local seminars to join us at our annual Summer Academy, eight days of learning and touring in the great cities of Central Europe, where they meet teachers from Jewish schools and Israeli teachers, as well. In short, in this project we will offer teachers quality resources that tell the story of 20th century European Jewish life, cutting edge professional development, and ways of teaching history – especially the history of Jews – that change the narrative they usually hear. In addition, our student competitions offer students an opportunity to explore their town’s Jewish history and other subjects – projects that our teachers tell us their students work harder on than any other.

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What is the mission and purpose of this program?

Centropa’s In the Footsteps of Jewish Memory program combats Antisemitism and misconceptions about Jews by initiating pro-active learning projects combined with face-to-face encounters with peers and Holocaust survivors. Our mission is to change how people think about Jews and how teachers teach 20th century European history. We want that in more and more European classrooms Jewish history will be taught from a positive angle – how Jews lived, and what they contributed to society, and how they lived as people and families throughout history.  Besides we aim to engage European students and teachers in dialogue with their Jewish and Israeli peers, and Holocaust survivors. In this way, European students develop relationships with people they otherwise only hear about, and are able to question the stereotypes and prejudices they hear in the media, from family members, and in other areas of society. Personal interactions have proven to be the most powerful and long-lasting way to counteract negative attitudes of “the other.”

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Program Description

We have designed In the Footsteps of Jewish Memory to be a positive effort to undermine Antisemitism in Central and Eastern European society. Using Centropa’s collection of interviews with Central and Eastern European elderly Jews about their lives spanning the entire 20th century, we will do what we have been doing for over a decade, and will create prosocial activities bringing together non-Jewish European students with Jews their own age, as well as Holocaust survivors, to teach about Jewish history and culture, and break down the stereotypes non-Jews increasingly see in the media and other aspects of society. This means, in the 2019-2020 school year we will:

  • expand our network of public school teachers in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, we will recruit teachers new to Centropa to attend our seminars and our annual Summer Academy, where they will meet teachers from Jewish schools throughout Europe, as well as Israeli teachers.
  • in local seminars, as well as our Summer Academy, we will partner teachers who work in public schools with European Jewish school teachers or Israeli teachers to create cross-cultural projects using Centropa’s stories so that they not only have a personal encounter with Jewish students their own age, but they collaborate on projects that raise awareness of Jewish history and culture;
  • In Hungary, public school students will meet with Holocaust survivors to hear their stories in person, and so students can ask questions directly and have an experience they will never forget.

Planned activities:

  • Seminars for teachers – we will conduct two seminars in the region, reaching out to a total of 60 new teachers, and bring the best teachers to our annual Summer Academy, our annual eight day trip in the important cities of Central Europe with 80 teachers from 18 countries. Centropa has worked with teachers since 2007, and we know that working with teachers has a long-term impact because they will use compelling materials and projects in their curriculum for many years. This is key for reducing prejudice in society, and our goal is for more and more teachers to include in their curricula Jewish family stories, and pro-active learning projects that engage the students more effectively than exams, or classic frontal learning modules (which is the case in most of the schools in these countries). For the Centropa Summer Academy, when we bring together 80 teachers from 20 countries (Europe, US and Israel), we will hold a session for Central Eastern European and Israeli teachers to design collaborative learning projects with our network of Israeli teachers and teachers in European Jewish schools.
  •  Video making competition for students – in the beginning of the 2019 school year, we will launch a video-making competition, where students are asked to create a 5 minute short film about their town’s Jewish history, or any selected Jewish topic. The students conduct own research through interviews, primary source documents, photographs, and sometimes they conduct interviews themselves, to tell a story that they find relevant. This way students move beyond memorization to critical thinking and interpreting history based on their own research and creativity. The competition will be open to students in Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. An official jury of four Centropa teachers will evaluate the videos, and decide on the winners. In addition, we will give an Audience Prize to the video that received the most likes and shares. (Please follow this link to check out a student video from 2017: http://www.centropa.org/border-jumping/school/jewish-history-sopron-soproni-zsidosag-tortenete )
  • Inter-cultural dialogue projects for students – A critical aspect of this project is bringing together teachers from Jewish or Israeli and non-Jewish European schools, and assist them in creating cooperation projects. Students will make a video, or an exhibition, or something  they can post on social media so that their work – and the ideas in it – reach a broader audience of friends, family, and peers. For each project, they will reflect on the time they spent together, and what they learned.  Moving beyond textbooks, non-Jewish European students will not only learning about Jews from text books and Holocaust education programs, non-Jewish European students engage in interpersonal dialogue with Jewish students their own age and, as they get to know one another, challenge hate speech and the demonization of Israel so prevalent in Europe today. Please follow this link to see an example of a project from previous year: http://www.centropa.org/border-jumping/school/sarajevo-szolnok )
  • Inter-generation projects for students – Centropa actively stays in touch with the survivors we interviewed through our two Café Centropa’s, one in Budapest and one in Vienna, where we gather monthly for Jewish holidays and various social gatherings. Although each group gets smaller each year, we feel the urgent need to create opportunities for European students to meet personally Jews who survived the horrors of 20th century Europe. In Hungary, our survivors already are used to meeting with students from all over Hungary, and with the help of our partners in Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic we will create similar opportunities for participating schools.
  • Final Event – at the end of the school year, in May, we will bring together all of the students and teachers who participated in our programs, give out prizes for the videomaking competition, and certificates and awards for students and teachers active in the inter-faith and inter-generation programs. Students work harder when they know other students will see it, and we know from other programs how well both teachers and students respond to sharing their work and comparing their experiences. We will invite dignitaries and the press, and the students will present their projects to everyone attending. By bringing together the participating students and teachers, they feel that they are part of a movement, not the only ones interested in promoting values of acceptance and inclusion. Many of these students will be learning things and doing work that goes against the values of their families, communities, and perhaps their peers. Giving them an opportunity to see others who want to break down barriers of Antisemitism and hate encourages them to keep going after the project is over, and connects them to other students who may be alone in doing the same. The Final Event is also a great opportunity to promote our activities through the press and other social media platforms, bringing the message to countless others.

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Demonstrated Need

Central and Eastern Europe has been in the focus of Centropa’s activities since its establishment and over the years we have developed our educational program in many countries in the region, but the so-called Visegrád countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic) were always especially important because of the following reasons: The 20th century unleashed hell unprecedented throughout Europe, and by the time 1989 arrived, when Central Europeans were dancing in the streets and on top of walls, the vast majority of its Jews were nowhere to be found. Over ninety percent of them had been murdered between 1939 and 1945. Hundreds of thousands of those who survived the German-inflicted hell of the Holocaust had said goodbye to Europe in the late 1940s, never to live there again.

Yet some Jews remained. They had survived the horrors that began for them in 1938 and 1939 and more than a few thought that surely Communism was the strongest antidote to Fascism, which is why, in 1948, they stayed. But all-too-soon their hopes were dashed as they watched in horror as eleven Jewish men hung from ropes in a Prague prison, and then again, only twenty years later in 1968, they watched as 20,000 Jews were fired from their jobs and had their Polish passports taken away. And if they were Czechs and Slovaks in that year, more often than they were fired from their jobs or demoted.

In recent years all four of these European countries became members of the EU, and were seen as the newcomers with the biggest potential. Yet today in each of these countries there are authoritarian governments in power. In Poland and Hungary, right-wing governments white wash their countries’ involvement in WWII, putting all the blame on Nazi Germany, denying responsibility of their predecessors. Slovakia and the Czech Republic remain officially uninterested in acknowledging and/or combating Antisemitism in any form. While these four countries have different educational systems, they have the following in common:

  • Holocaust is taught in a vacuum, lacking a holistic approach that includes learning about Jewish life in Europe before the war, and the aftermath and post-war effects of the Holocaust, not to mention the lessons it should teach us about modern forms of Antisemitism today;
  • Natural segregation is present in most of the public schools in these countries, providing a fertile soil for xenophobic and Antisemitic views. All four of these countries have very homogeneous societies with a small number of Jews, and students finish high school without ever meeting a Jewish person, or any other minority. 
  • Anti-Israel sentiment has grown, conflating classic Antisemitic ideas with Israel bashing and denying the right of Israel to exist, though compared to Western European countries these voices are not quite as strong

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Program Accomplishments

Over the past 5 years we have held 10 seminars in the Visegrád countries, reaching a total of 250 teachers. We have held 5 student competitions where 65 teachers and more than 500 students have actively participated, and we received 35 cross-cultural projects. We also held 40 Café Centropa events where students met survivors. In total, we have reached more than a 1,000 students with our programs who have been actively involved, and another 6,000 – 7,000 who have seen, witnessed, or interacted with the projects in some way.

Today 200 schools in these countries use Centropa’s contents and methods. By including how Jews lived – not only how they were murdered – in our stories, as well as introducing teachers to new pedagogies at our seminars and Summer Academy, we have changed the way teachers teach, and made sure that their students have the opportunity to meet with survivors, learn in an engaging and creative way, and meet with Jewish students their age. For all of these reasons, those non-Jewish students who have had the experience to work on a project with a Jewish or Israeli peer no longer accept or are receptive to Antisemitic views.

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How do you measure the success of your program?

As described also in the Common application form, we always use both qualitative and quantitative tools for measuring our success. Based on the numbers we show above we evaluate that we were successful in reach-out. Every year we had 30-40 new teachers in the Visegrád countries who got acquainted with Centropa during our seminars, and 70% of these teachers stayed in touch with us to some extent, and accomplished projects. With more teachers involved we also reach out to more students. Every year we actively involve 150-200 students in our programs. Besides reaching out to new teachers and students it is also important to keep those in the tent who have been working with us previously. In addition, we have conducted a series of online surveys mostly with our teachers, but we also received feedback from the students who have participated in the projects.

We have been conducting such projects for six years now, and we have grown our program both in numbers and also in quality. One indicator that shows us the real success is when we see the same teachers come back every other year with new students, and improve the work of their students. 80% of the teachers who participate in our programs come back and do projects almost every year. It means that the vast majority of the teachers we work with have already incorporated our materials, methods, and projects into their teaching, and it speaks to the long-term investment mentioned above: teachers continue to use the projects they develop with us, reaching dozens of students as the years roll by. 

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