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SIDIC Periodical XXII - 1989/1-2
Fiftieth Anniversary of Kristallnacht (Pages 46 - 48)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

The Shoah in the School Curriculum
Mary Kelly


"Like the Exodus, the Shoah is an event that occurred in the history of a particular people, but that is now a conveyor of meanings to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. On the one hand there is its uniqueness and on the other hand its universal message.
Therefore, we must speak of it, as well as listen carefully to those for whom it was a primary experience. Therefore, we must learn from it ,f or it speaks to all families and peoples and nations. Therefore, we must teach its lessons, for the sake of our children and our children's children. We are beginning to move with care, with sensitivity, with respect for the feelings of the one who was snatched as it were a brand from the burning toward an understanding of how the story must be told and how its lessons must be exegeted.
Franklin H. Littell - Teaching the Holocaust and its Lessons", Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 21:3, Summer 1984, pp. 531-535.

Since about 1980 there has been a growing consciousness of the need to try to talk about the Shoah and to communicate this barbarous event, the "tremendum" as it has been called, to the younger generation. Pope John Paul 11 called for "common educational programmes which... will teach future generations about the Holocaust so that never again will such a horror be possible... never again!" Likewisethe USA President's Commission on the Holocaust has emphasized that "the study of the Holocaust should become part of the curriculum in every school system throughout the country". Nevertheless there are enormous difficulties in structuring such a course and finding the right place for it in the school curriculum. The Shoah certainly includes hi storical aspects but any approach to it quickly leads into the realms of psychology, sociology, ethics and religion.

What should be taught? It is essential:
to confront the actual facts, to know what happened, though this is terrifying,
to have some knowledge of the false ideology used to justify evil,
- to ask (though the answers will hardly satisfy) how it could have happened; what factors fostered it, including the political, economic and social?
to consider how far the so-called "contempt for Jews and Judaism" in Christian teaching prepared the ground on which the Shoah could take place;
to face up to the fact that all society's major institutions were found wanting when faced with the Shoah:
the world, for the most part, stood by without taking action;
the Churches made little protest;
the German people mostly supported the Nazi doctrine and followed the leaders.

To the extent to which they are able to bear it (and this will depend on age, background, etc.) students must be helped to feel some involvement in the abyssmal failure of society and Church in face of the Shoah and to relate the issues revealed therein to their own lives and world. It is not easy to cope with the weaknesses and failures encountered in this event but it is only by doing so that we can hope for action to change attitudes and structures wherever respect for others is withheld and injustice reigns.

As well as books and documents, exhibitions, artwork and films are available to help this process. Sometimes those who experienced thi horror and survived are able to bear their own witness; visits can be made to sites of former concentration camps. All this media is very powerful and care must be taken that the burden of the past does not overwhelm and unduly oppress the young. It would be important to give space to the "heroic acts", to the few bright lights in this dark history, for example Raoul Wallenberg, Bernard Lichtenberg, the village of Le Chambon and the unsung individuals who risked their lives for the sake of others. Material about these is now becoming available. In a religious setting the Shoah could be commemorated in the context of prayer (cf. The Six Days of Destruction, Elie Wiesel, Albert H. Friedlander, cf. p. 50).

Post-war responses to the Shoah should also have place - the foundation of the State of Israel, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various Human Rights Conventions; the examination of anti-Judaism in Christian Teaching that has taken place and the formulation of a new theology in the Church about Judaism. Skilled educators can help students to draw the lessons about the nature of prejudice, the potential for evil and for good present in individuals and in societies, the fear of the "different", the urge for power over others, etc.

In some countries resource centres are being established where materials on the Holocaust are available, advice is given and courses on Teaching the Holocuast are organised. For example: the World Centre for Teaching the Holocaust at Yad Vashem (Israel) and the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University, are well known. In the United States there is the International Centre for Holocaust Studies, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, New York; in Canada the Centre for Study of the Holocaust andGenocide, 2787 Bathurst St., Ont. M6B 2A2 and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, 5151 Cote Ste. Catherine Road, Montreal, PQ. 113W IM6. For England see The Holocaust Educational Trust, BCM Box 7892, London WC IN 3XX. Courses vary in length. They usually cover the following topics:
- Unique and Universal Aspects of the holocaust,
- Development of Antisemitism,
- Nazi Phenomenon,
- Stages to the Final Solution,
- Final Solution -Planning and Implementation,
- Responses of the World,
- Rescue Attempts,
- The Surviving Remnant and the birth of Israel,
- Creative Expressions of the Holocaust,
- Impact on Survivors and their children.
Aspects of particular importance for certain groups are sometimes added. For example the Catholic Institute for Holocaust Studies sponsored by Seton Hill College, Pennsylvania, included:
- Catholicism and the Jews during the Holocaust and after,
- Antisemitism and Catholic Teaching,
- Theological Responses to the Event,
- The Impact of the Holocaust on the sense of Israel in Liturgy.

In 1986 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the USA with the American Jewish Committee announced the establishment of a joint program to develop and provide material about the Holocaust for all levels of the Roman Catholic educational system, including parochial schools, colleges and universities, parish education and seminary training. It was envisaged that the program would take three years to develop. As far as is known it has not yet been published.

It is difficult to select material out of all that is available. The following bibliographies are useful guides:
a) The Holocaust Catalog of Publications and Audio-Visual Materials 1988-90, International Center for Holocaust Studies, A.D.L. of B'nai B'rith, 823 United Nations
Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA.
This is divided into subjects and each section further sub-divided into Publications and Audio-visual material.

b) The Holocaust: An Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide, David M. Szonyi, Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1985. This contains Listings of non-fiction literature on the Holocaust divided into 22 sections (143 pp.) A select Bibliography of literature of the Holocaust (34 pp.) Bibliographies on the Holocuast for young people (17 pp.) Audio-visual materials (23 pp.) Jewish Music Resources for Holocaust Programming (28 pp.) Lists of mobile exhibitions, Education and Commemoration Centres and Holocaust Memorials in the U.S.A. and Canada. The last part of the book deals with High School Curricula, two of which are described in detail; Teacher Development; Holocuast Survivors and Remembrance Services.

c) The Holocaust, A Study of Genocide, Board of Education of the City of New York, Division of Curriculum & Instruction, 1979. This is a curriculum containing outlines of lesson plans and learning activities.

d) Directory of Holocaust Related Activity in Britain, Holocaust Educational Trust, BCM Box 7892, London WCIN 3XX.

e) "American Holocaust Textbooks: Essays Review" by Allen H. Podet in European Judaism, Vol. 20, N" 2, Winter 1986, Issue N 39, pp. 40-45.

f) The Holocaust and its Significance, Yisrael Gutman and Chaim Schatzker, The Zalman Shazar Center, the Historical Society of Israel, Jerusalem.
This is an excellent text-book covering all the major issues that enter into a study of the Holocaust. It is well presented with extracts from documents clearly marked by special background printing. Questions are posed at the end of each chapter. There are many illustrations, including diagrams. When used by Christian and other non-Jewish groups, some supplementary material could be required.

g) Helping Children to Learn about the Shoah Why, When, What. How, BaRheva Dagan, Centre for Jewish Education, Sternberg Centre for Judaism, 80 East End Road, London N3 2SY.
A school programme with particular relevance to the younger age group, indicating a way the Shoah can be introduced and maintained to the benefit of older children prior to an expanded programme with youth. The Shoah is presented as part of the religious calendar and would be considered each year. This psycho-educational programme is designed for use in the Jewish School and would not be suitable for use in non-Jewish schools. Nevertheless it contains insights that have a wider application. Its methods and content might well be adapted for use in other schools. There are twenty pages of an extended bibliography which is available in Britain.

h) Periodicals:
Dimensions: Journal of Holocaust Studies, International Center for Holocaust Studies, A.D.L. of Woad B'rith, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.
Holocaust and Genocide Studies, an International Journal, Pergamon Press plc, Headington Hill Hall, Oxford OX3 OBW, England.


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