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Holocaust Education: Prevalent and Relevant

Increased demand among foreigners to study Holocaust; Increased need to heed its lessons.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 2/15/2012, 5:39 PM

There has been a growing trend to study the Holocaust, among foreigners visiting Israel, an article in the New York Times, on Tuesday, reported.  What is surprising, however, is that this feeling has become prevalent among people who do not have a personal or educational background in the area.

In fact, the article relayed that “35 teachers and professors from Taiwan, none of them specialists in the area” and “most of whom had never met a Jew,” chose to take part in a 10-day educational seminar at Yad Vashem.

Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, meaning “hand and name” in Hebrew, is the leading institution in Holocaust educational studies. It opened its international teaching branch in the 1990s and currently produces educational materials in more than 20 languages, organizes dozens of seminars and is active in countries worldwide.

The foreigners were “spared nothing. There were sessions on Nazi disputes over how to murder the Jews; propaganda art in the Third Reich; encounters with survivors; a history of anti-Semitism; the dilemmas faced by leaders of the Jewish ghetto councils,” the New York Times reported.  

Chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev said, “This is the most complicated phenomenon in human history. How could it happen? How did democracy fall so quickly? How was it possible at the height of liberalism? The only way to understand it is through the particulars, through the details.”

As the years pass and as each generation grows further and further removed from first-hand accounts of survivors, the gap widens and people, at an increasing rate, fail to internalize the lessons learned from the atrocities that transpired during the Holocaust.  Instead, it is being viewed from a distance, as an historical event, more or less removed from one’s daily life. 

As educational institutions attempt to narrow this widening gap, the question becomes: How do educators teach about the Holocaust in a way that retains in inherently and specially Jewish identity, while, at the same time, making it relevant and applicable to the international community, as a broad and encompassing human tragedy?

Yad Vashem’s director of the International School for Holocaust Studies, Dorit Novak stated, “We live in an era when young people know little and have big opinions. The Nazi regime wanted to erase any trace of the Jewish people. If you don’t understand that, you can’t understand the event.”

It should not be forgotten that while teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to an international audience remains of utmost importance, we live during a time in which the Jewish people face threats that are not all that different from those that were rampant in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

During a time in which Israel’s enemies are threatening, daily, to annihilate the Jewish state, claiming it to be a “cancer” that must “be removed,” calling for the mass murder of Jews, and remaining steadfast to nuclear ambitions which aim to “wipe out” the Jewish state in 9 minutes, the specifically and inherently Jewish nature of the Holocaust must not be forgotten.

Foreigners should be encouraged to learn about the lessons of the Holocaust. Yet, one may argue that rather than applying these lessons to other global genocides, it would behoove us all to apply them to the, once again, specifically anti-Jewish trends that exist today.