History GCSE: Sam Dresner grapples with his memories of the Holocaust

As a child, Sam Dresner survived several camps during the Holocaust.

He has no photographs of his family, who were all murdered when he was a boy. He uses painting as a way to recreate what they looked like from memory, and to work through his traumatic memories.

It’s only in the last year or two that Sam has come to realise how deeply he has been traumatised by his experiences. Rather than getting weaker, his memories are getting stronger with age.

He found out after the war that his mother and sister were gassed in Treblinka, he was 14 when he last saw them. Whilst looking through his work, Sam recounts the difficulty he has remembering his mother and sister in enough detail to paint their images. He manages something of his mother, but his sister’s image always escapes him. There is only one collage that he’s kept, which represents her.

He describes painting forests as another obsession of his, a result of what he saw. The Nazis used forests to carry out executions, and Sam paints them over and over.

Sam survived several concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Theresienstadt.

This clip is from the BBC series, The Last Survivors.

Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, we strongly advise teacher viewing before watching with your students.

Teacher Notes

Why do you think Sam struggles more now with the trauma of his past than he did before?

Use Sam’s film as a discussion around the nature of memory - how it changes through our lives and the importance of being able to remember one’s past. What would it be like not to have any pictures of your family if they were no longer alive?

Sam describes the anger he still feels as a result of what happened in the Holocaust. Should there be forgiveness?

Discuss how those whose families were murdered might have achieved justice after the Holocaust. Is it possible to achieve justice for crimes such as this? Look at how justice was sought after the war, such as through the Nuremberg trials.

Sam queries what sort of god could have allowed the Holocaust. Do you agree? Discuss the impact the Holocaust might have had on people’s faith.

Curriculum Notes

This short film will be relevant for teaching history at GCSE and above in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and National 4/5 and above in Scotland.

More from The Last Survivors

Frank Bright recounts the fate of his former classmates
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch addresses German Parliament
Maurice Blik confronts the impact of his experiences
Manfred Goldberg confronts the death of his brother
Ivor Perl returns to Auschwitz with his daughter