Today is 27th January 2013 – Holocaust Memorial Day in many countries. In the UK we explore the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust issues an annual theme that helps teachers and community leaders to continue to be creative in their approach to HMD, according to their demographic.
This year’s theme is Communities Together: Build a Bridge – a theme that encompasses a key aim of Holocaust education throughout the world: to develop an understanding of the roots and ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping in society. The excellent short film, Lesson Learnt (below) sums up the importance of this particular aspect of holocaust education.
There are a number of reasons why we teach about the Holocaust. The reasons listed below appeared in the Institute of Education Report (2010) into Holocaust Education and were all responses by teachers across a variety of school subjects. The reasons included:
- To learn the lessons of the Holocaust and to ensure that a similar human atrocity never happens again
- To explore the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organization and governments
- To reflect upon questions about power/abuse of power, raised by the Holocaust
- To deepen knowledge of the Second World War and C20th history
- To explore the implications of remaining silent/indifferent in the face of oppression
- To reflect upon moral/ethical questions
- To preserve the memory of those who suffered
- To understand and explain the actions of people involved in and affected by an unprecedented historical events
The first of these reasons is admirable as an aim, but we should recognise that such atrocities have indeed happened again since the Holocaust in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Of course there are numerous other conflicts and human rights abuses that are not considered genocides but nonetheless demonstrate that we have not yet learned the lessons of the Holocaust.
As teachers we need to ask ourselves what our own intentions and objectives are when we begin to teach about the Holocaust. What do we want to achieve? What can we realistically achieve in the often limited time we have to study this complex topic?
Looking at individual stories can humanise the often overwhelming statistics that fill text and reference books. Many survivors came to Britain eventually and you might be able to find the testimony of a survivor who settled in your part of the country (especially if you are in or around London, Leeds or Manchester). Personal stories often show how much luck was involved in survival – and they also span the whole 5 years of the war and so can be looked at in parallel to a chronology of the war to enable students to examine how the events of the war may have impacted on civilians. Of course, personal stories also emphasise how ordinary people became victims, perpetrators, rescuers, collaborators or bystanders – or a combination of a number of these, depending on their circumstances at a given time.
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust – http://hmd.org.uk/resources/survivor-stories/hidden-histories-iby-knill
The British Library – http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/voices/testimonies/survivors.html
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – http://www.ushmm.org/research/collections/resourcecenter/testimony/