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UlrikeSchuhFricke

Teaching the Holocaust

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One new topic in the English forum is "Teaching the Holocaust". I think it might be a tempting and interesting idea to find out how this topic is dealt with in the different European states and the difficulties we as History teachers are confronted with. Following are some of my experiences and ideas.

I am a German teacher and my problems with the topic are slightly different from the ones mentioned in the mails so far.

Many of our pupils show signs of what has been called "Holocaust fatigue". They believe that they already know everything they need to know when they reach the German year ten when the 30's are one of the main History topics. The pupils' impression is not completely wrong as sometimes primary school teachers deal with some aspects like the Hitler Youth in the first school years and often other subjects than History deal with the Holocaust. At the same time we notice that the pupils do not know or remember much about the Holocaust and they do not know how it could/did happen mostly in broad daylight. But "Holocuast fatigue" makes it very difficult to motivate the pupils to once again have a closer look at what really happened and why the majority of the German people cooperated or turned a blind eye. Still today most of the ones actively involved in the genocide feel and show no remorse.

Another aspect which makes it difficult to teach this topic (and infuriates me personally) is the fact that quite a number of politicians and intellectuals want to make us believe that we should stop looking back at that time and simply should concentrate on other things. Very often the pupils feel that they are directly blamed for the things their grandparent generation did and understandably the kids resent this.

The number of witnesses decreasing makes it difficult to confront the pupils with the real horrors of the concentration camps or what it meant opposing the system. I have tried out many different ways not only to motivate my pupils for a more or less scientific approach but also to make them feel and understand what was going on. I have found that documenatries and films like "Schindler's list" are a good way to get the pupils interested in the fate of different people and make them

feel empathy.

Another approach which I have tried out successfully, is to use literature and paintings, especially the drawings made by victims of the Holocaust. With older (Sixth Form) pupils I often use Adorno's description of typical features of what he called an "authoritarian character" and which he believd to be the ideal recipient of any form of racist ideology. The list can be translated into a questionaire and the pupils mostly discover that they themselves show many signs of an authoritarian character. The initial responses are anger, frustration, disbelieve, questioning the reliability and validity of the questionaire. But after the first outbursts they want to find out what really happened and what turned people into (to use Goldhagen's title) "willing executioners" and of course that they never would turn into a willing executioner. What is even more important for me at the end of the unit we try to find out how we can avoid another Auschwitz and what our speacial situation as Germans still today is and will always be. The pupils still don't want to be blamed for the activties of their grandparents but they see that we have a special obligation not to forget and not to minimizeor downplay the unbelievable atrocity and inhumanity of the Holocaust.

One approach which was mentioned in the previous mails was to confront the pupils with statements/websites which deny the Holocaust. This sounds very interesting and I will try this out with one of my next year ten History classes. By the way denying Auschwitz and the Holocaust is a crime in Germany and directing the pupils to websites which do exactly this is a bit tricky and requires asking the parents' permission. But so far the parents have always given their consent.

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A few years ago our school was visited by a group of German students. They joined my sociology group and we discussed differences between the two school systems. It emerged during the discussion that the German students had been shocked by the fact that British students wore school uniforms. They felt very uncomfortable about this as they associated the idea with the Hitler Youth (they told me that school uniforms are banned in Germany because of what happened in the 1930s).

I got the impression from the debate that we had that German students have been far more successful at coming to terms with their history than those in Britain. During the days of the British Empire we were responsible for the deaths of millions of people. In places like Ireland and India our imperialistic policies resulted in large numbers of people dying of starvation. These are issue that are rarely dealt with in British classrooms. (Information from the web suggests that the Irish Famine (1846-50) is taught in some schools in America under the heading “Genocide Studies”.

British history teachers are far happier studying the bad behaviour of other nations than tackling the crimes of our own ancestors. Although I think it is vitally important that we study our own dark history, we must make sure we do not encourage our students to feel a sense of guilt about the country’s past. If we do, we are bound to get a negative reaction.

My view is that when teaching about subjects like genocide it is important to stress the political and sociological pressures that people were under to behave in this way. At the same time, it is important to look at those examples of people who resisted this pressure to behave in an honourable way. All good teaching involves encouraging the positive rather than punishing the negative. In Germany you have plenty of examples of people who fought against the ideology and actions of the Nazis. These people are excellent role models for your (and my) students.

Anyone who has studied history knows that the human race has done some terrible things in the past. However, I remain an optimist. During every one of these black periods, individuals, bravely stood up and said it was wrong. They usually suffered greatly for rejecting the dominant ideology. However, whether they were protesting against racial persecution, slavery, child labour, genocide, military dictatorships, etc., they eventually won (although many were not alive to see it). In the same way that those on the receiving end of Jewish racial prejudice today will eventually win. As Oscar Wilde once said: “Disobedience in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion.”

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Although I think it is vitally important that we study our own dark history, we must make sure we do not encourage our students to feel a sense of guilt about the country’s past. If we do, we are bound to get a negative reaction. (John Simkin)

I think this is an important aspect. In a way one could say that in Germany we are "forced" to look at the very dark side of our history beacuse the crime committed was so terrible and has shown how thin the layer of "civilisation" really is and what human beings are capable of. If we tried to gloss over our history or turn a blind eye to its dark sides the world and the our neighbours would rightly remind us of what Germans did. But I also think that we have to teach the Holocaust in a way that pupils understand the "guilt" of the parent/grandparent generation but without making them feel guilty, beacuse this only produces resentment on the pupils' side.

At the same time, it is important to look at those examples of people who resisted this pressure to behave in an honourable way. All good teaching involves encouraging the positive rather than punishing the negative. In Germany you have plenty of examples of people who fought against the ideology and actions of the Nazis. These people are excellent role models for your (and my) students. (John Simkin)

I agree wholeheartedly as I think that we all need positive role models. And we have to show the pupils that those who said no and paid dearly for their resistance were ordinary human beings like our pupils who were afraid of pain, death, feared for their families and the loved ones. It is important to make the pupils see that no one is born a hero and no one is born a perpetrator and that it is up to the individual to choose. And they have to see that they are responsible not only for the things they do but also for the things they do not do.

Living and teaching in democratic societies we really should encourage our pupils to question rules and laws and follow Oscar Wilde's credo.

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I have always found teaching the Holocaust to be very difficult, and in some years I have even minimised the amount of time spent on this topic, although subsequently I have realised that I was wrong to do so. Why? Well apart from the obvious reasons that the topic itself is very painful, I have the added 'pressure' of having a mixed German and Jewish heritage (German protestant grandfather - leftwing anti fascist who was forced to escape from the police station after being arrested - a great story which I tell my students, German Jewish grandmother who was too old for the Kindertransport - her sister went to the USA, but managed to get out of Germany in 1938 and come to stay with a Jewish family in England - not the most pleasant experience as she was effectively treated as a servant). I am anxious not to focus on the 'gore factor' of the death camps, it is impossible to convey the sense of enormity of the genocide and I am also aware that there were other genocides that have happened, most recently in rwanda or in former Yugoslavia which have a more direct impact on the students that I teach, many of whom are recent refugees from these areas.

What I have felt to be successful are the assemblies and displays that i have produced over the last few years. Last year I found some drawings from the Children's camp at Auschwitz and was able to use them on a powerpoint presentation. This year I will be focusing on the Rwandan genocide and have some excellent paintings from a Bristol based artist who visited Rwanda shortly after the genocide. My mother has also written play about a Rwandan survivor who came to England and wrote a book about her experiences - it is based on her work at the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture, so I shall be using extracts from her play in assemblies.

Maybe other teachers would be able to share the resources that they have produced on teaching the Holocaust.

John - I am not sure what you meant by the phrase 'In the same way that those on the receiving end of Jewish racial prejudice today will eventually win' - I fear that you have fallen into the trap of equating all Jews with the offensive policies of Ariel Sharon - there are many Jewish and Israeli opponents within and outside Israel that oppose his policies towards the Palestinians and support the establishment of a Palestinian state.

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John - I am not sure what you meant by the phrase 'In the same way that those on the receiving end of Jewish racial prejudice today will eventually win' - I fear that you have fallen into the trap of equating all Jews with the offensive policies of Ariel Sharon - there are many Jewish and Israeli opponents within and outside Israel that oppose his policies towards the Palestinians and support the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Of course I was not implying that all Jewish people support the persecution of Arabs in the Middle East. In the same way I would not be referring to all Germans when discussing the Holocaust. The point I was making is that most groups have at some time in the past persecuted other groups. In the 1930s it was some Germans persecuting Jews for racial and political reasons. Today it is some Jews persecuting Arabs in Palestine for the same reasons. Those Jews resisting that process today need our gratitude as much as those Germans who bravely stood up to Hitler in the 1930s.

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Those Jews resisting that process today need our gratitude as much as those Germans who bravely stood up to Hitler in the 1930s.

Absolutely.

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A good web-site to visit is Jews for Justice - www.jfjfp.org Or try typing in 'Self Hating Jews' into google for a interesting perspective. Noam Chomsky and Woody Allen make this list.

This is how I feel about teaching the Holocaust from a British perspective.

What most concerns me about the Holocaust and teaching the Holocaust to our students is the huge emphasis that is always put upon the idea, "This must never be allowed to happen again." Which is of course buttresses the idea that this was the last act of genocide to happen on the planet in the last 59 years. The Isreali's have been pursuing a policy of racial genocide against the Arabs since the Holocaust. I find it hypocritical to devote teaching time to the Holocaust without then subsequently talking about the genocide of the Palenstinians, Kurds, Cambodians etc... A key question is; why has the Holocaust become so entrenched in our consciousness, that our government feel the need to hightlight this the only act of genocide worth studying? Or to re-phrase this quection; when we study Vietnam, or the events at Hiroshima, why do we not also call these events genocidal?

When teaching in Briatin I was disgusted to find that the chapter in the text book of the bombing of Hiroshima, wanted students to debate that it was right to drop the atomic bomb. This shows a blatent contradiction in how we deal with acts of mass murder.

It is also wrong in my view, to portray the systematic execution of the Jews, as a crime which is in someways worse than other crimes. Depicting the Holocaust as the ultimate act of evil, somehow makes other acts of seem 'less evil' and detracts from all the misery and suffering that other people in the world have endured, due to Western foreign policy. This buttresses the idea that Jewish lives and Europeans lives, are worth more than South East Asian lives, or South American lives or Arab lives or African lives. In teaching British history why not cast aside the Holocaust and devote that time of looking at our own acts of genocide. We don't need to spend any time looking at other countries crimes, we have enough of our own to look at.

I don't either want to downplay or minimise the attrocities of the Holocaust, but elevating the Holocaust above other acts of genocide is I feel is dangerous.

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Dear John,

teaching the Holocaust and stressing its historic importance does not mean not having a critical look at atrocities which happened before and which happened afterwards. But the importance of the Holocaust is (I am afraid I am repeating myself) that for the first time in history -unfortuantely not the last as Cambodia, Rwanda etc. show- the political leaders of a country devised a plan, implemented the logistics, used the methods of "trial and error" to find out the most effective way of killing many people in the shortest time possible and eventually used the means of industrial production to kill a people. It was the first planned and most effective genocide which did not originate from and was not justified by a war, riot or attempted revolution.

When teaching the Holocaust or better the Third Reich I do not limit my lessons to the genocide of the European Jews but also talk about the genocide of the romanies, the systematic persecution and murder of homosexuals, Jehova's witnesses, the Polish political and intellectual elite and those who fought against the system.

I also mention that there were quite a number of people in the defeated/conquered European countries who gave the Nazis and the SS a helping hand; the film "Shoah" shows a number of impressive and depressing examples.

I might spend more lesson on discussing the Third Reich and World War II but 19th/20th century history of imperialism or the wars on the Balkans then and now, Africa, the decolonisation process with its wars ... are also part of either the History or Politics curriculum.

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I find it hypocritical to devote teaching time to the Holocaust without then subsequently talking about the genocide of the Palenstinians, Kurds, Cambodians etc...

We don't need to spend any time looking at other countries crimes, we have enough of our own to look at.

I don't either want to downplay or minimise the attrocities of the Holocaust, but elevating the Holocaust above other acts of genocide is I feel is dangerous.

It might be a good idea to use this quotation as the basis of our first International Student Debate.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=116

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Teaching the Holocaust is the matter of a long thread in Schoolhistory.

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...?showtopic=2410

Ulricke on "Holocaust fatigue" :

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...opic=2410&st=31

2 messages on the French views :

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...opic=2410&st=36

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...opic=2410&st=49

Dan 's views about genocides have been set last year,

when European leaders decided that there should be a

"Journée de la mémoire de l'Holocauste et de la prévention des crimes contre l'humanité"

Daniel

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What most concerns me about the Holocaust and teaching the Holocaust to our students is the huge emphasis that is always put upon the idea, "This must never be allowed to happen again." Which is of course buttresses the idea that this was the last act of genocide to happen on the planet in the last 59 years. The Isreali's have been pursuing a policy of racial genocide against the Arabs since the Holocaust. I find it hypocritical to devote teaching time to the Holocaust without then subsequently talking about the genocide of the Palenstinians, Kurds, Cambodians etc...

It is also wrong in my view, to portray the systematic execution of the Jews, as a crime which is in someways worse than other crimes. Depicting the Holocaust as the ultimate act of evil, somehow makes other acts of seem 'less evil' and detracts from all the misery and suffering that other people in the world have endured, due to Western foreign policy. This buttresses the idea that Jewish lives and Europeans lives, are worth more than South East Asian lives, or South American lives or Arab lives or African lives.

I feel that I have to challenge some of the points that you make here John, (but I am also anxious not to take this discussion away from the original point of the posting, so will keep this fairly brief).

Of course there is a desire for acts of future genocide to be prevented (if that utopian idea is possible) and that is why we study events such as the Holocaust (but also why we study the slave trade and the Crusades for example). I would dispute the fact that most teachers don't discuss other genocides, I know from my own experience that I have discussed the Rwandan genocide with my students and will be doing a series of assemblies and displays on this topic - in fact if you look at the following website you will see that this year's Holocaust memorial day is about the two topics: http://www.holocaustmemorialday.gov.uk/200...ion/tmemory.asp

I would also challenge the statement that you made about Israel pursuing a policy of racial genocide against the Palestinians. The dispute in Israel/Palestine is (mainly, but I accept not exclusively) territorial rather than racial / religious. There has not been an attempt to systematically annihilate the Palestinians, with the exception of a few extremists such as Meir Kahane (whose assassination was not mourned by most Israelis).

The second quote is also a fallacy - I don't believe that the vast majority of people accept this idea of weighing up the 'value' of different genocides - this is a very dangerous path to tread - in fact the rise of antisemitism across Europe has partly risen out of the idea that the so called 'Holocaust Industry' is helping Jews to become 'dominant' again.

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Guest Gidz

I am inclined to add my feelings behind Dan and not behind Andy. It's a shame some people have to be so full of victriolic and rhetoric - where is your spirit of the objective and parity driven historian, Andy? All I can sense is tension and anger which I don't believe befits this topic. I agree with your notion that the debate must be widened to include the unfortunate events and tragedies experienced by all nations, creds, colours, religions and societies but not whilst you attack one or other nations.

Dear Moderator - isn't this also straying from the topic of "Teaching the Holocaust"?

Just a little disappointed right now.....

:)

Gidz

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Guest Gidz

Sorry Andy - I meant John......

In my focus of disappointmnet I got a name wrong.

Sorry Forum

:)

Gidz

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Hi. I just want to know, do any of you have the same difficulty teaching the history of slavery?

That is an excellent question, although maybe we should start a separate thread about it. In my teaching I have attempted to challenge the impression that Africans went passively to their fate as slaves in the Americas. In the same way that I challenge the notion that Europe's Jews passively accepted what happened to them. This element of resistance is an important opportunity to show the strengths of the human race in spite of overwhelming difficulties - examples range from the activities of Nat Turner: http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/DIASPORA/REBEL.HTM

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASturner.htm

to the Warsaw uprising

http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/TIMELINE/WARUP.HTM

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWwarsawU.htm

However, I wonder if the majority of teachers that teach the slave trade really challenge themselves in the same way that they do when teaching the Holocaust (which I guess is the crux of your question). I would surmise that they don't - the (false) perception may be that these events happened so long ago that they don't impact on our society as much as the Holocaust which is still so recent that we have survivors to tell the tale. There has also been a certain 'whitewashing' of the history of antislavery as John Simkin could tell you - it is easier to teach about the Wilberforces and Clarksons of the campaign rather than the Equianos and Sanchos simply because they had a higher profile (there's a surprise!).

There is another crucial issue at stake here - how do we make History relevant to our pupils - I would argue that the Holocaust AND Slavery are vital topics to teach in terms of their relevance - racism, prejudice, genocide, human struggle, state oppression the list goes on - the way to get over 'Holocaust fatigue' is to make the Holocaust relevant to everyone.

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