Mentoring at the competition
The Raoul Wallenberg Association in Hungary has been organising Holocaust-related quizzes for secondary school students in Hungary for several decades. It had run under the title “It was a long time ago, how was it?” some ten years, but about five years ago this was changed to the more specific name “In the footsteps of Wallenberg”.
For a long time, I myself did not know about the existence of this competition, although as a history teacher I always motivated my students to take part in competitions. I once accompanied a team from my school to the regional round in Győr, which I had not been in charge yet, but the teacher who had been coaching the team could not make it and asked me to take his place. Thus began “my story”.
In the mid-2010s, I was teaching history to a very dedicated, hard-working class. Towards the end of Year 10, I told the students that there had been an announcement for a competition called ” In the footsteps of Wallenberg”, which would be exciting and require a lot of creativity. Three students entered: Luca Felhalmi, Norbert Mester and Marcell Pollreisz. They called themselves “Time Travellers”. In June 2017, some preliminary tasks were already known. For example, they had to visit local Jewish memorial sites, take photos, or post about anything related to Jewish culture and events on Facebook popular among the students. My students didn’t delay, they threw themselves into the task with great enthusiasm. They photographed synagogues, memorial plaques and visited Jewish cemeteries, not only in Győr, but also in the city’s surroundings. They also visited Budapest several times, and searched for Jewish memories during their family holidays, although, as far as I know, none of them belonged to the Israelite community.
One of the important tasks was to interview a Holocaust survivor or someone who had been a rescuer. We did all of them. A relative of mine recommended Mrs. Kati Sági Pálné from Celldömölk, who was over 90-years old but had a vivid spirit. We went to her and did the interview. At the same time, we asked for help from Mr. Tibor Villányi, the President of the Jewish Community of Győr. This led to another thread of the story. Mr. Villányi took us to the nearby village Kimle, where we met the Láber family, whose ancestors hid Jewish youth during the Holocaust. Each story made a deep impression on us. The young people were impressed by Mrs. Kati Sági’s will to live and the heroism of the family in Kimle. We produced some excellent interviews, which were presented at the Wallenberg competition and at school commemorations.
The team prepared diligently for the regional round, which it won in November 2017 in Nagymegyer (Slovakia), the first regional final to be held outside our borders. Two months later, there was the national final in Budapest, for which we were given a special task. Our students had to present a concept in collaboration with two other teams. I can’t remember the concept itself, but it was great to work with the team from Vojvodina (Serbia) and the team from Nagyszalonta (Romania). We even did a shadow play; the youngsters were indeed very clever!
In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building on Bem Square in Budapest, the team took the obstacles one after the other and finally finished in a tie for the third place! We were very happy, especially when we found out that our prize was a trip to the Felvidék (Slovakia). (This trip took place in June 2018).
A year later, the “Time Travellers” team wanted to compete again and I didn’t say no. Now a year more mature and learned, they were up to the task. We confidently won the regional final in Veszprém in autumn 2018. As a preliminary task, we again had to make a film on someone who had rescued lives. This time it was a short film about Bishop Vilmos Apor of Győr. We visited the Saint László Visitor Centre in Győr, where Mr. Renátó Kovács guided us through the exhibition of Vilmos Apor.
As usual, the finals took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Before the finals in the afternoon, the organisers made it possible to visit the Dohány Street Synagogue, just as in the previous year. I would like to mention here that my students used the opportunity of the competitions to visit the largest synagogue in Europe (Dohány Street) or the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Páva Street. Our second attempt did not do so well in the competition, this time we came sixth, but it was not about the ranking, but about the participation, the programmes and the team.
In 2019, I had to say goodbye to my “winning” team because its members graduated from school. I had planned to take a year or two off anyway, but due to the coronavirus epidemic, it ended up being a 3-year break. But for the 2021/2022 “In the footsteps of Wallenberg” contest, I managed to get three determined and experienced team members back on stage again. Blanka Erdős, Tünde Pálfi and Virág Vida from class 10.K of our school agreed to participate. They chose the name “Győr Triumvirate”.
Again, we asked Mr Tibor Villányi for help. He recommended visiting the Jewish cemeteries in Győr and its surroundings. He said that there were hardly any Holocaust survivors left. So, on a stormy afternoon in late January, we set out and toured several sites. We visited the memorial to the child victims in the courtyard of the Győr synagogue, the cemetery in Győr-Siget, the synagogue in Pannonhalma, the Jewish cemetery in Győrasszonyfa and the memorial to Miklós Radnóti, the poet, in Abda. The girls made a great film of what they saw, which we presented at the regional round in Veszprém on 21 February 2022. Many other tasks followed that day, and by the evening it turned out that we had come second, which meant qualifying for the final.
The finals took place in Budapest, on the border of Terézváros and Erzsébetváros, in the parish of the church St Teresa the Great of Avila. Ten teams competed against each other, and the competition consisted of several rounds. My students were very much prepared for the “live” production: a dramatised portrayal of a period in the life of Hanna Szenes (one of the heroes of the Holocaust). In addition, there were several worksheets, a walk through the city centre and a visit to the Jewish Historical Museum in Erzsébetváros. All very interesting and thought-provoking, and of course we were most excited about the live performance.
There was not much to be nervous about, the dramatic production was well done, but the performances of the others were also impressive. So, the competition was very tight indeed. In the end, there was only 1-2 points between the top teams. We finished in 4th place. Overall, we were happy, this is a very good result. We missed out on the trip abroad this time, but we won a valuable book prize.
We didn’t really do it for the prizes, and that’s not why I do it. The students got into these contests to gain extra knowledge and experience. Before they knew little about Hungarian Jewry and the Holocaust, now they know a lot more. They have become much more sensitive to the subject and are willing to share their knowledge with their peers and classmates. As a teacher, I am happy that my students are gaining knowledge and experience, as well as life-changing experiences. In the meantime, I meet my fellow teachers and the dedicated organisers of the competition, and we agree that, barring another pandemic, we will meet again next year.
Communicated by Dr. Attila Szilárd Tar, teacher, Baksa Kálmán Bilingual Highschool, Győr
Photos: © Baksa Kálmán Gimnázium
Featured image: © Pressenbild DPA; published by: Der Spiegel