EDUCATIONIn the United States
The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research
Education in the United States is by custom and by law decentralized and power is diffuse. What is taught is determined by classroom teachers, school principals, local school boards, state departments of education, and, lastly and only in a minor way, by the U.S. Department of Education. Over the past 30 years, education about the Holocaust in the United States has been conducted by an eclectic group: individual teachers and professors, state departments of education, school district and/or individual school committees, community-based Holocaust education steering committees, nonprofit educational organizations, Holocaust Resource Centers, and specialized museums. Individual educators, schools, school districts, and states have taken the lead in Holocaust education. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as a significant resource for information and teacher staff development, offers guidance and guidelines, and while it provides direct services to those entering its portals and those reaching it on line, it has not developed a curriculum.
There is to date no systematic study to assess just how widespread Holocaust education is in the United States, but because of certain special Holocaust education programs (e.g., *Facing History and Ourselves, and the Teachers' Summer Seminar on Holocaust and Jewish Resistance), the establishment of major Holocaust museums (the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, d.c., and the Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and similar institutions in Houston, Dallas, New York, Florida, Virginia, and Missouri), the support and assistance of Holocaust resource centers and memorials across the United States, and various state recommendations and mandates, one may conclude that tens of thousands of teachers at all levels are involved in teaching about various facets of the Holocaust. In a talk at the 1995 European Conference on Holocaust Education in London, an educator from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum asserted that "it is estimated that only about 65,000 of the 135,000 social studies/history teachers for grades 7–12 mention the Holocaust at all in their lessons. The overwhelming majority provide the information in three lessons or less." Those numbers have increased significantly over the past decade, but still the overwhelming bulk of teaching about the Holocaust is relegated to a relatively small number of classrooms.
In schools, the Holocaust is generally taught in world history, U.S. history, or English classes. In literature it usually involves the reading of one book or two. Elie Wiesel's Night and The Diary of Anne Frank are the most common. Much more rarely, an entire course on the Holocaust might be taught. While educational efforts have resulted in everything from the development of curricula and curricular resources to local and regional conferences and institutes, teaching about the Holocaust in both public and private schools across the United States is most often limited, rudimentary, and lacking depth.
Yet the overall trend is toward an increase, as more and more teachers have access to staff development with remarkably rich resources for use in the classroom. Reports, anecdotal and otherwise, indicate a high degree of interest by both students and teachers of diverse backgrounds and religions, teaching in very different schools.
the early years (1945–67)
Teaching of the Holocaust in the United States has evolved as consciousness of the Holocaust has grown and is directly correlated to a sense of the importance of the event for our understanding of the past and of its implications for the future. Thus, the nature of Holocaust teaching can be divided into three eras, 1945–67 (the end of World War ii to the June 1967 Six-Day War), 1967–93 (the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Beit Hashoah, and Schindler's List all opened in 1993, and there was a dramatic rise in consciousness of the Holocaust), and from 1993 on.
For many years following the end of World War ii, there was little to no discussion or study of the Holocaust in most U.S. public schools or Jewish parochial schools. Even students in Jewish schools who were being taught by survivors of the Holocaust – who were then called refugees – report that they had never studied the event but had heard words seemingly without meaning: "camps," "death," "children." They were left on their own to make sense of so large an event. The word "Holocaust" was not yet used and if mentioned it was subsumed under discussions of World War ii and its "crimes against humanity." Little attention was paid to the Holocaust in American society, as America was forward-looking, concerned about the Cold War and not World War ii, and such concerns were reflected in school textbooks; the absence of the Holocaust in school, district, county, and state curriculum guidelines; and a dearth of curricular resources. If the Holocaust was taught at all, it was by the individual teacher who felt the need to do so.
The one exception might be The Diary of Anne Frank, which became popular after the Broadway play opened in 1955. The book was read and the play performed in schools throughout the next decades. While many students undoubtedly found Anne Frank's words, thoughts, and experiences as she moved through adolescence thought-provoking and moving, their knowledge of the Holocaust was still scant; the diary excerpt was usually the sole curricular resource on the Holocaust. Anne Frank's diary ends just as the Holocaust begins for her and few teachers followed her experience through to Westerbork, Auschwitz, the death marches, and Bergen-Belsen.
Following the capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 and throughout his trial in Jerusalem, an increasing amount of attention was focused on the Holocaust. While certain educators may have been stimulated by the Eichmann trial to teach about the Holocaust, it was purportedly the twentieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1963) that sparked the interest of Jewish educators in the United States in teaching about this history. Indeed, following the anniversary of the Uprising and a national conference held under the auspices of the National Council of Jewish Education in 1963 where the Uprising was discussed, a flurry of educational activity led to the development of curricular outlines, lessons, and units on various facets of the subject. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, though, was an atypical event and presented a "useful" history of heroism and resistance more than victimization to its Jewish students.
At the same time, more survivors began to speak out and tell their stories, and such activity also generated greater interest. Throughout this period, those involved in Jewish education were more active in teaching about the Holocaust than their counterparts in the public schools. In the public schools, such efforts were rare through the 1960s.
the middle years (1967–93)
Several factors in the late 1960s and early 1970s roused even greater Jewish interest in the Holocaust, which in turn encouraged its exploration in the wider American culture. Two of the most important were the 1967 war and to a lesser extent the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The three weeks leading up to the Six-Day War evoked in many Jews a fear of another Holocaust. "Never again" took on a direct meaning; the sense that a generation earlier Jews had been silent when the Holocaust took place spurred activities relating to Israel. The outcome of the war gave a radically different ending to Jewish anxiety and ushered in an era of ever-intensifying consciousness of the Holocaust.
Roughly during the same period of time, various school districts, including New York City; Vineland, New Jersey; Great Barrington, Massachusetts; Philadelphia; and Baltimore, developed Holocaust curricula as part of a multicultural project to reduce prejudice. With the exception of Great Barrington, each had a sizable Jewish population and also a sizable survivor population.
Further, in the 1970s, as increasing attention was focused in the U.S. and abroad on the ubiquitous deprivation of human rights across the globe, educators in the public schools began to turn their attention to the issues of human rights, genocide, and the Holocaust. The turmoil of the 1960s had argued for the inclusion of previously excluded segments of the American people in the course of study. The inclusion of women and minorities opened the door to the Jewish experience, which had previously been perceived as narrowly parochial. The opening provided by the successful television showing of Roots followed a year later by Holocaust greatly expanded interest in African American history and the Holocaust and provided another means of talking about highly divisive and explosive issues of racism and exclusion. Part of this concern undoubtedly arose in the United States, at least, from the earlier and ongoing efforts of civil rights activists. Internationally, a catalyst of such concern was the pioneering efforts of Amnesty International, the international human rights organization that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. At the same time, there was a tremendous increase in the publication of first-person accounts by survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. Concomitantly, individual teachers at the public school level – particularly social studies and English teachers – began to undertake the teaching of this complex history. Various educational conferences (especially those related to social studies) also began to include sessions on the subject and this, too, had the effect of increasing educators' attention and interest in the Holocaust.
By the mid- to late 1970s there was an explosion of activity in Holocaust teaching. Reportedly, in 1972 one of the first, if not the first, formal Holocaust education programs in a public school district was implemented in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1973, New Jersey became the first state to recommend the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide at the pre-college level. In 1975 a conference cosponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee and Temple University to explore the possibility of teaching Holocaust studies in Philadelphia resulted in the development of a curriculum for use in the Philadelphia secondary schools (grades 7–12). In 1976 in Brookline, Massachusetts, an eight- to ten-week unit entitled Facing History and Ourselves was initially developed for use in the social studies curriculum in the eighth grade, and was later adapted for inclusion in art, English, and history classes at the high school level. In 1977, the New York City Board of Education developed a major curriculum (600 pages) entitled "The Holocaust: A Study of Genocide" to be taught in its schools.
As previously mentioned, another factor that generated great interest in the subject of the Holocaust in the U.S. in the late 1970s was the televised production of the miniseries Holocaust. It had a wide impact on the general population and spawned a wide array of curricula (including one on the docudrama by the Anti-Defamation League that was widely distributed, and stimulated Holocaust teaching in schools.
A 1982 study, American Youth and the Holocaust, revealed that the material itself was of great interest to the students. Teachers were claiming that they were doing nothing special, but librarians reported a great increase in the use of the library by students, and parents reported that students were talking about this material at home, speaking with parents and grandparents who had been alive when this history happened. Because the Holocaust was of interest to students, teaching it became more rewarding. While the issue of the uniqueness and universality of the Holocaust was driving the debate in the President's Commission on Holocaust and led to heated exchanges among Yehuda Bauer, Simon Wiesenthal, Elie Wiesel, and Ismar Schorsch, students had no difficulty making all sorts of connections – valid and invalid, informed and uninformed – between the reality they experienced and the world of the Holocaust. They also reacted to the Holocaust as a singularly powerful event and treated the material with respect.
In 1984, Vladka Meed, who was a courier for the Warsaw ghetto resistance, initiated the Teacher's Summer Seminar on Holocaust and Jewish Resistance, which is currently sponsored by the Educators' Chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Education Committee of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The teachers' program involves three and a half weeks of intensive study in Poland (where participants visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka, and the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial) and Israel (until the second Intifada). Because of Meed's own role in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – she purchased arms for the resistance on the Aryan side – the emphasis was on resistance and survivor testimony. Over 500 teachers from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have participated in the seminars and it is estimated that they are reaching over 100,000 students annually through their efforts.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, numerous school boards across the United States endorsed or mandated the teaching of the Holocaust. Among them were Atlanta, Baltimore, Des Moines, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and scores of smaller cities and towns. Not all, however, provided adequate funding or time commitments, so the value of their decisions is varied. In some cases, they have mandated only a "one-day lesson" (e.g., one period, generally less than an hour) or a unit (five to ten class periods or more) in a history or social studies course.
In other cases, the Holocaust was addressed through the study of a single volume such as The Diary of Anne Frank or Night; and in still other cases teachers were encouraged to address the Holocaust when they deemed it appropriate to do so. Such leeway is likely to have resulted in some perfunctory coverage, leaving students without real knowledge of the antecedents of the Holocaust, let alone about the process of annihilation itself. Some schools have offered more in-depth instruction such as teaching the history over a period of two weeks (that is, for one 50–minute period on each of ten consecutive school days) or more. It was also in the 1970s and 1980s that the local Holocaust educational resource centers were created, taking as their mandate teacher training and getting the Holocaust taught in local schools. They later expanded their work to the state level.
the later years (from 1993)
Throughout the mid-1980s and early 1990s, various states began recommending or mandating that the Holocaust be taught in their schools. By 1995, five states (California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York) had done so, and ten others (Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington) now recommend or encourage their public schools to teach about the Holocaust. In 1995 the state of Nevada created a council to develop resources and teacher training programs. Among the aforementioned states, some have either developed state guidelines (California), a curriculum on the Holocaust and/or genocide (Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia), a study guide (Georgia), or a resource book for Holocaust teaching. In California, the study of the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide, and other human rights atrocities are included in the state's history-social science framework, in which themes are organized into a full k-12 curriculum sequence. Like Massachusetts, where Facing History and Ourselves was developed and included the Armenian experience, California has a sizable and influential Armenian population, and had a governor of Armenian descent. Tennessee has established a Holocaust Commission whose charge is to commemorate the Holocaust through education. So has Florida. By 2005, twenty-two states mandated the teaching of the Holocaust.
With the expansion of Holocaust teaching in the schools came criticism, especially from the political right. The Holocaust scholar Lucy Dawidowicz correctly asserted that most of the state-sponsored curricula are better at describing the events that took place during the period than explaining why and how they happened. As Dawidowicz observed, if teachers neglect to address the latter point then students are likely to walk away knowing some of the "whats" but possibly none of the "whys." This is particularly true of the role played by Christian doctrine in the long history of antisemitism, and the question of its influence upon the Nazis' racist antisemitism, which was the major focus of her own work, The War against the Jews. This critique had a political dimension that had reappeared in conservative critiques of Facing History and Ourselves, one of the few curricula that Dawidowicz examined that presented the issue of antisemitism forthrightly. (See below, "The National Diffusion Network.")
The city- and state-sponsored programs have legitimized the teaching of human rights infractions and genocide (including the Holocaust) for many educators. That is, they have provided teachers with important institutional support to teach about the Holocaust; and in doing so have paved the way for teachers to spend more classroom time on this history. But some decry any mandatory study of the Holocaust, claiming that such mandates endanger the quality of Holocaust teaching through superficiality, because many teachers are not well enough educated in the history themselves.
The development of the curricula and teaching guides has proved valuable in that typical social studies, government, and literature textbooks generally lack information on the Holocaust. At best, the history is allotted two or three pages, including pictures and sidebars (which often include extracts from books, newspapers, and first-person accounts). Since the text often constitutes the entire curriculum in a vast majority of classes in public schools, resources such as teaching guides fill a serious vacuum.
Many curricula lack adequate depth on key topics and thus leave students with a sense that they "know" about a subject when in reality they know very little. That is true not only of the Holocaust but of all other studies as well. Some curricula and teaching guides tend to equate various human rights violations and/or genocidal events with the Holocaust, thus totally universalizing the Holocaust and ignoring its uniqueness. They do not distinguish between comparison and equivalence. By comparing the Holocaust to other events and by comparing the fate of the Jews to the fate of other victims of Nazism, we can understand the singularity of the campaign against Jews and how it contrasts with other genocides and the victimization of other people under Nazism. That is far different from equating them.
Many curricula also rely on simulations and role-playing exercises that purport to provide students with a sense of what the victims experienced or the opportunity to ascertain how they would have acted under similarly dire circumstances, faced with tortuously complex moral dilemmas or, as Lawrence Langer has put it, the many "choiceless choices."
Until more systematic research is conducted, there is no way to ascertain the quality of the Holocaust education that is taking place in American classrooms.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance, and Schindler's List. The opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles (under the auspices of the Simon Wiesenthal Center), and the release of Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List, all in 1993, resulted in a huge surge of interest by the general public, teachers, and students in the Holocaust.
The President's Commission on the Holocaust, the body established in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter that recommended the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, also recommended that "the study of the Holocaust should become a part of the curriculum in every school system throughout the country." Furthermore, the U.S. Congressional mandate that formally established the museum mandated that it meet the needs of educators throughout the U.S. by providing them with key services (including staff development opportunities and readily available advice) and curricular and resource materials in order to promote Holocaust education.
In addition to the educative experience of the museum's permanent exhibition, visited by 500,000 students each year, the museum accommodates school groups by providing on-site orientation and, in certain cases, a debriefing session at the conclusion of the visit. Upon request, the museum also provides teachers with pre-visit materials.
As part of its educational outreach program, the museum has developed a series of teaching materials. Among these are Guidelines for Teaching about the Holocaust, an Artifact Poster Set (posters with photographs of artifacts displayed in the museum), an accompanying teacher's guide, an annotated bibliography, and an annotated filmography. The latter two were specially prepared for use at various levels of schooling (elementary through college). The museum also conducts numerous conferences for teachers and administrators (both on site and across the nation) on teaching about the Holocaust. It also sponsors a series of teacher training workshops for general teachers and for master teachers, who spend a year studying how to teach the Holocaust and then work in their regions to disseminate the knowledge. The museum also is host to regional conferences all over the United States, including underserved areas that local Holocaust resource centers do not reach.
The guidelines are instructive because they reveal mistakes common in less informed teaching of the Holocaust.
1. Define the term Holocaust.
2. Contextualize what you are teaching.
3. Translate statistics into people.
4. Strive for precision of language.
5. Avoid simple answers to complex history.
6. Just because it happened does not mean it was inevitable.
7. Try to avoid stereotypical descriptions.
8. Strive for balance in establishing whose perspective informs your study of the Holocaust.
9. Make careful distinctions about sources and information.
10. Do not romanticize history to engage students.
11. Be sensitive to appropriate written and audiovisual content.
12. Select appropriate learning activities.
13. Reinforce the objectives of your lesson plan.
14. Avoid comparison of pain.
Educators find that the comparison of pain is alienating and ineffective precisely because pain is so deeply personal. Critics speak with disdain of the "Olympics of suffering."
The Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles is composed of two major installations: a view of the American experience of prejudice, aggression, violence, and intolerance, and the Holocaust. The issues explored in the first provide a context for understanding the second, and both are intended to further the cause of tolerance in contemporary America.
The museum also houses a Multimedia Computer Learning Center on the subject matter of the Holocaust. The database of the learning center, which contains 30 computers with touchscreen technology, consists of over 50,000 photographs, eleven and a half hours of videotape, nearly 4,000 text files, maps, and documents. The learning center is available for "personalized research" on the Holocaust, World War ii, and antisemitism.
Complementing the museum's exhibits, the Wiesenthal Center has numerous resources available for teachers, including films and teachers' guides as well as a poster series composed of original photographs and maps. Many of these are available on line at http://www.wiesenthal.com.
As interest in the Holocaust has increased, so has the number of Holocaust resource centers and museums. As of September 2005, there were 95 Holocaust resource centers, twelve memorials, and nineteen Holocaust museums in the United States. In addition, an organization called the March of the Living sends thousands of high school students to Poland to visit the sites of the destruction and then to Israel. The express function of many of the centers and museums is to conduct public outreach programs and/or support the teaching of the Holocaust in the local and regional school districts. Many centers assist schools in developing curricula, provide in-service programs to teachers in private and public schools, and assist teachers and students in locating speakers (including survivors and liberators), films, and adjunct materials. Many have also developed their own curricula. The historian Peter Novick has suggested that the "institutionalization of memory" will characterize the next generation of Holocaust-related activities.
The positive nature of the growing interest amongst educators in teaching about the Holocaust was not without its drawbacks.
The National Diffusion Network: Two Unique Holocaust Education Programs. One of the earliest and most influential educational programs on the Holocaust was the Facing History and Ourselves program. Founded in 1976 in Massachusetts by two public school teachers, William S. Parsons and Margot Stern Strom, this program was specifically designed to teach the universal themes of the history of the Holocaust through "a rigorous examination of its particularities." It was a paradigmatic example of the tendency within American education to universalize the themes of Holocaust education. Purporting to use both content and methodology that promote critical thinking, reflection, and the need to make connections between the study of history and contemporary society and individual lives, Facing History gradually expanded from a local to a regional to a nationwide program.
A key component of Facing History is its professional development activities, in which teachers gather to learn how to effectively teach the history of the Holocaust. Facing History reports that over 30,000 educators have been reached by the program, and that nearly 1.5 million students have been taught through its philosophical approach and methodology.
Following a three-year period (1977–80) during which the program implemented, monitored, and evaluated its teacher training and dissemination program in schools throughout New England, the U.S. Department of Education's National Diffusion Network granted the program its imprimatur, which resulted in its being placed in the network's catalog as an "exemplary model program." As a result over the past 30 years Facing History has been replicated in secondary schools and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as in several countries abroad.
Despite its resounding success and its wide acclaim by many (including members of the U.S. Congress, noted historians and researchers, and educators at both the secondary and university levels), Facing History has faced some criticism and opposition, mostly from the political right. In 1986, during the Reagan administration, the issue came to a head. While one senior official in the U.S. Department of Education recommended it as a top priority for support and funding, various reviewers called the program anti-Christian and unfair to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. One reviewer who objected to the program said: "The program gives no evidence of balance or objectivity. The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view and is not presented nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan." Such criticism resulted in the rejection of federal funding of the program. Supporters, including some members of Congress, vehemently protested such accusations. For three years, the department rejected funding for the program; but finally, in September 1989, after its fourth review, it reversed itself and approved a four-year grant.
Lucy Dawidowicz criticized the Facing History approach for other reasons. Speaking of its first curriculum volume (published in 1982), she asserted that the focus was not solely the Holocaust, but rather that the Holocaust was "a vehicle" for teaching students about civil disobedience and "indoctrinating" them to favor nuclear disarmament. She also criticized Facing History for approaching the issue of antisemitism in a facile manner, in the more general terms of scapegoating, prejudice, and bigotry. By indirection, she also lumped Facing History into the category of those programs that did not include the study of antisemitism. In her most stringent criticism, she claimed that Facing History overemphasized the importance of obedience to authority as a key component of totalitarian societies while underplaying the terror that is at the heart of such societies. Proponents assert that not all of Dawidowicz' criticism was fair. They have observed that some of her points squarely placed her among the neo-conservative members of the New Right who were and are critical of many then-current educational trends and practices, including multicultural education and social responsibility initiatives, while others placed her among those who claim that the program's approach undermines the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Deborah Lipstadt (1995) has also criticized Facing History's curriculum, calling it "deeply flawed." Noting that Facing History is possibly the "most influential model for teaching the Holocaust in the United States," her criticism is primarily aimed at the context in which the history of the Holocaust is placed. More specifically, she asserts that by attempting to inoculate students against prejudice by addressing such issues as racism and violence in the U.S., the curriculum "elides the differences between the Holocaust and all manner of inhumanities and injustices." Concomitantly, she asserts that by attempting to be relevant to a wide variety of parties, the curriculum encourages teachers to draw historically fallacious parallels, resulting in a distortion of history.
Another curricular program, A Holocaust Curriculum: Life Unworthy of Life, was developed by the Center for the Study of the Child in Detroit, and was also endorsed by the National Diffusion Network. Highly touted by many, including Dawidowicz, it addresses the Holocaust through "stories of specific children, families" in order "to uncover the human dimension of such inhumanity." In Dawidowicz's opinion, because of its approach, accuracy, and depth, it is one of the strongest curricula currently available.
holocaust education in american colleges and universities
Over the past twenty years, as at the secondary level, Holocaust studies in colleges and universities have proliferated. Holocaust-related courses are taught in various disciplines, including history, political science, psychology, English, comparative literature, religion (including Judaic studies), philosophy, German, and sociology. (No definitive study has yet been conducted on the number, type, or quality of such courses.) Since 1990 specially endowed chairs on the Holocaust have been established at universities in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, a graduate program has been developed at Clark University, and M.A. programs designed for teachers have been developed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Harvard University returned money to a donor when an academic search committee was unable to agree on a candidate to fill a chair in Holocaust Studies (although Holocaust studies are taught in the university). At least one member of the faculty felt that the Holocaust was not a proud chapter in Jewish history and therefore not worthy of a chair.
Holocaust courses were first taught in the 1970s, usually at the initiative of students. There were two such courses in 1973 and 50 times that number by the end of the decade. In a study in 1995 on university level courses offered on the Holocaust ("Teaching about the Holocaust at the University Level in the United States"), scholar Stephen Haynes surveyed 236 Holocaust educators at American institutions of higher learning. Among the major findings of his study were "courses on the Holocaust are nearly always taught as electives"; "a large majority (71%) of respondents indicated that teacher interest" was the main rationale "for offering a course on the Holocaust"; "exactly half the respondents ranked 'perpetrators' as their primary focus, while the other half answered 'victims'"; "virtually every class taught in the historical mode cover[ed] the rise of Nazism and life in the camps, [while] the phenomenon of rescue [and resistance was] treated in fewer than forty percent of syllabi"; "'bystanders' (whether individuals or nations) are treated in less than a third of syllabi"; "fewer than thirty percent cover Jewish life in Europe before the Third Reich in any detail"; and "[a]ccording to syllabi, Holocaust denial, gender issues and other victims or genocides are treated by between ten and fifteen percent of courses."
Reception of the Various Curricula, Mandates, and Programs. In many quarters, particularly among teachers who perceive the value in teaching this history, the development of state-sponsored curricula and/or mandates/recommendations has been valuable, providing teachers with an invaluable imprimatur. At the very least, the curricula have provided teachers with a starting point. Many, in fact, begin with such curricula and then develop their own teaching strategies and learning activities to meet the needs and interests of their students.
It is also true that in those states that have mandated and/or recommended the teaching of the Holocaust, the response by individual teachers has been mixed. While some teachers wholeheartedly embrace this subject matter and the need to teach it, others are more ambivalent. When teaching about the Holocaust, the latter may simply go through the motions, providing coverage (often superficial) rather than going deeply into key topics and issues. They may also engage students in low-level cognitive activities (e.g., rote memorization of dates, places, people, and events) rather than challenge students to analyze and wrestle with the totality of the subject matter. Finally, some teachers simply cannot see the relevance of the Holocaust, claiming that an event that took place "so long ago" has little or no meaning for their students. But many more find that the issue of relevance disappears in the classroom as students respond to this material positively and make their own connections between contemporary events, however distant from the Holocaust, and what they are reading. In rural Tennessee, illiterate adults are learning to read using Holocaust narratives as their text.
Research. Despite the proliferation of curricula, curricular resources, educational programs, and conferences on teaching about the Holocaust, there is still a dearth of research on the efficacy of teaching about the Holocaust.
The issue that has been explored in most detail is the extent to which the Holocaust is addressed in textbooks, particularly social studies and history texts. Despite the fact that textbooks in the 1980s and 1990s began to address the Holocaust in more detail than those in previous decades, both past and more recent studies comment on the dearth of topics addressed as well as the lack of depth.
holocaust education in catholic schools in the united states
One of the central revolutions in Catholic education in the last forty years has been in its depiction of Jews, Judaism, and the Holocaust. This is due to the release of two essential Vatican documents separated in time by over thirty years. The two documents gave rise to renewed understandings of Judaism within Catholicism and placed a central emphasis on the study of the Shoah or Holocaust in Nazi Germany. The first is the Vatican statement, Nostra Aetate, "In Our Age," released on October 28, 1965. This document is part of the larger, significant cultural changes of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to bring Church teachings into the modern world. In Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church reversed centuries of its teachings and proclaimed a renunciation of all its past persecutions and negative portrayals of Jews and Judaism. It specifically states that, "moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, (the Church) renounces all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews." This statement represented a radical shift in the manner in which Catholics looked at and learned about Judaism and the Holocaust.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the study of the Holocaust grew around the world from a matter of interest within Jewish communities to a significant field of academic study within the realm of twentieth-century Western history. By the mid-1970s, courses or units of study about the Holocaust appeared within both secular and Catholic universities, colleges and secondary schools. Catholic institutions began sporadically to offer courses on the Holocaust and to partner with Jewish programs on specific training for Catholic educators to increase and enhance their knowledge about the Holocaust and encourage them to teach it in their schools. This development was aided by the release of the second key Vatican document in 1998, "We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah" and its subsequent guide for implementation in 2001, "Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See's 'We Remember.'"
Two model educational programs are indicative of the kinds of changes that took place within Catholic education regarding teaching about the Holocaust, and the manner in which these changes occurred. In 1987, Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, established the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education. The center was founded in direct response to statements from Pope John Paul ii "to recognize the significance of the Shoah, and to promote the necessary historical and religious studies on this event which concerns the whole of humanity today." The center offers training programs about the Holocaust for Catholic educators, which include opportunities to travel to the historic sites of the death camps and ghettos in Europe and to study that history in Jerusalem. Through partnerships with both the March of the Living International, a Jewish organization supporting Holocaust remembrance, and Yad Vashem, the center offers Catholic educators a variety of educational programs within the particular perspective and context of Catholic learning. It also distributes literature for Catholics on how to study and to teach about the Holocaust. Among the many publications available through the center are the widely distributed compilations of "The Holocaust – A Guide for Catholic Schools" and "Teaching the Holocaust in Catholic Schools." Over 2,000 copies of the first text have been distributed. "The Holocaust – A Guide for Catholic Schools" contains the central points that guide novice educators when teaching about the Holocaust within a Catholic setting. The second publication collects the statements made at the center's sixth annual Education Conference in 2003. This document includes rationales for teaching about the Holocaust within Catholic education; practical guides for educators teaching this history; and specific descriptions of successful programs that are currently being offered in Catholic institutions around the country.
A second education model for Catholic education is the "Bearing Witness" teacher training program. In 1995, the Washington, d.c. Archdiocese of the Catholic Church partnered with the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to create a training program for Catholic educators to learn about the Holocaust within a Catholic context. The "Bearing Witness" program focuses on the Church's history of antisemitic persecution of Jews through two millennia; the roles and responsibilities of Catholics during the Holocaust; the specific history of the Holocaust itself; and the effort of the church to renew its teachings on and relationships with Jews, Judaism, and the history of the Holocaust since the Second Vatican Council. The program has become a national model incorporating support and resources from the National Catholic Educational Association, the national Anti-Defamation League, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. More than 600 Catholic educators have participated in the program, which is now being offered through its annual summer conference in Washington, d.c., and in regional programs in cities across the United States.
Catholic education in the United States is not so much aunitary system of education as a group of autonomous schools organized on a consistent pattern, affiliated with local Catholic dioceses or religious orders. These schools exist to promote the transmission of Roman Catholic religious teachings and moral values along with traditional learning. With the Second Vatican Council, the Church placed study of the Holocaust among those "religious teachings and moral values" to be taught in Catholic schools. In 2001 with "Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See's 'We Remember,'" the church again reminded her faithful that "Holocaust Education in Catholic contexts should strive to educate students about Jewish culture and history; the development of anti-Judaism and antisemitism; Christianity's participation in World War ii and the Holocaust; and the role Catholic values can play in preventing future atrocities… [T]he issues of the Shoah and of Jewish-Christian relations are vast topics… Their enormous importance requires their integration wherever possible throughout the Catholic curricula… These issues need to be integrated into other parts of the daily life of Catholic educational institutions through special events such as commemorations of Yom Hashoah, film showings, drama, art, exhibits, colloquia, and public lectures."
In response to this guidance, 98 percent of Catholic schools in the United States currently incorporate Holocaust education into their school curricula, liturgies, and memorial services. This is achieved by including learning opportunities about the Holocaust in history classes, literature programs, and religious studies courses. This mandate from the Catholic Church to her schools stands in stark contrast to the years of indoctrination against Jews that marked centuries of Catholic teaching prior to the Second Vatican Council. The inclusion of Holocaust education in Catholic schools in America is a sign of the revolution in the Catholic Church that has brought Catholicism and Catholic education into the twenty-first century.
[Daniel C. Napolitano (2nd ed.)]
With the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the release of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List in 1993, there has been a renewed and powerful wave of interest in teaching about the Holocaust in the United States. More and more journals (e.g., Social Education, the official journal of the National Council for the Social Studies; The Social Studies; Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies) are including articles and essays on a fairly regular basis on teaching about the Holocaust; and as a result, an ever-increasing number of teachers are sharing their ideas, methods, and successes. There are several Internet listservs, including Holocaust Listserv, whose focus is teaching about the Holocaust, and these, too, provide an avenue for educators to discuss both historical and pedagogical issues, as well as to share information about resources. As a result of such efforts, the field of Holocaust studies is slowly but surely becoming more sophisticated and pedagogically sound.
For a discussion of four of the earliest major Holocaust curricula developed and implemented in the United States, see Glynn et al., American Youth and the Holocaust: A Study of Four Major Holocaust Curricula (1979); for a discussion of Holocaust education in Jewish institutions, see "Education on the Holocaust," in: I. Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, vol. 1 (1989); L.S. Dawidowicz' "How They Teach the Holocaust," in: idem, What is the Use of Jewish History? (1992); K. Shawn (1995) "Current Issues in Holocaust Education," in: Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies, 9, 2 (1955), 15–18; M. Fine, in: Habits of Mind: Struggling Over Values in America's Classrooms (1995); D. Lipstadt, "Not Facing History," in: The New Republic (March 6, 1995), 27.
[Samuel Totten and
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
The context of teaching the Holocaust in Israel, the national home of the Jewish people, in which the majority of Holocaust survivors chose to settle after World War ii (approximately 250,000 displaced persons), is very different from that in any other country. Clearly, the social and historical context of Israeli society has a profound influence on Holocaust education and remembrance and in many ways is still perceived as a "biological wound," according to the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld. Moreover, not only has the Holocaust become an integral part of Israeli popular culture, referenced and represented continually in literature, films, theater productions, and television programs, it has also become associated with many Israelis' national/Jewish identity.
In Israel, the Holocaust is taught both as a discrete subject and as part of a broader topic, such as the history of world civilizations. Since the Holocaust is part of Jewish history and Israeli history, and its commemoration is part of the national calendar, aspects of this subject are often addressed in many educational settings. It is also important to note that the Holocaust is often taught in a variety of disciplines in schools, including literature, history, music, theology, drama, computing, foreign languages, art, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and others. Numerous high school students are engaged in Holocaust-related projects throughout the school year. For example, pupils have composed music to Holocaust poetry and given public performances in their communities; interviewed Holocaust survivors about their life stories; created art exhibitions on Holocaust-related themes; and collected Pages of Testimony from old-age homes (Pages of Testimony are part of an ongoing project sponsored by Yad Vashem to document the victims of the Holocaust).
Since 1982, a minimum of 30 hours of Holocaust studies, as part of the discipline of history, has been mandated in all state Israeli high schools by the Israeli Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (the official updated directive was published on December 1, 1998 in Ḥozer Mankal Number 59/4). History teachers mostly devote 20 to 30 classes to this topic, usually taught in the 11th and 12th grades, and a question related to the history of the Holocaust has become an integral part of the history matriculation exam given to high school students. In addition, Israeli students who choose elective subjects as part of their matriculation, such as Hebrew literature or Jewish philosophy, also are tested on aspects related to the Holocaust. Since 1999, the Holocaust has become a recommended part of the junior high school curriculum as well.
Even the youngest children are exposed to this important aspect of Jewish history. Students begin hearing about the Holocaust in preschools, and even those in day care listen to the two-minute siren at the annual commemoration.
Courses on various aspects of the Holocaust have been taught in all major Israeli universities by world-renowned scholars such as Professors Yehuda Bauer, Israel Gutman, David Bankier, Dan Michman, Daniel Blatman, Dalia Ofer, Otto Dov Kulka, Dina Porat, and Saul Friedlaender. At the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, many graduate students have concentrated in Holocaust studies. In addition, courses on the Holocaust are also taught every semester in almost all Israeli colleges and preparatory programs for those students who seek a teaching certificate.
Israeli teachers are often encouraged to attend seminars in order to obtain obligatory continuing educational credits that are recognized by governmental authorities. They also participate in such courses in an effort to improve their salaries, retain their teaching licenses, and/or to improve their teaching skills.
In the early 1980s, many Israeli high school teachers came to the realization that they had to begin preparing classes on their own in order to adhere to the new requirements of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport. In an effort to help teachers comply with the mandate to teach the Shoah, Holocaust memorials began to offer courses for high school teachers, specializing in Holocaust history and pedagogical techniques. Over the last decade, teachers of younger grades have also turned to memorials, requesting age-appropriate educational materials and suggestions on how to answer younger children's questions on what happened during the Shoah.
As a result of this situation, Holocaust memorials and professional teachers' organizations have developed continuing education courses that usually contain academic and pedagogical components, featuring lectures by scholars and educational experts. A number of organizations annually offer teacher-training seminars throughout Israel, such as Yad Vashem, the Ghetto Fighters' House, Massuah, Moreshet, Beit Terezin, and others.
In recent years, many of these institutions have worked together to organize teacher training seminars of 56 or 112 hours, especially in outlying areas. For instance, in 2004–05, Yad Vashem was simultaneously coordinating twenty teacher-training courses throughout the country. In Sederot alone (south of Ashkelon), 120 educators a week attend a course on educational methods in teaching the Holocaust. In addition, teacher training courses are now offered in Hebrew via the Internet for continuing education credit recognized by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.
Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yomha-Shoah) is a national day of commemoration in Israel. It is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 27th of Nisan and ending the following evening, according to the traditional Jewish custom of marking a day. It is important to note that on the Jewish calendar, Yom ha-Shoah falls soon after the Passover holiday (in which Jews remember their liberation from bondage in Egypt) and a few days before Israel's Independence Day. Places of entertainment (such as theaters, dance halls, restaurants, and cafes) are closed and memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country. There is extensive national media coverage of the special events that take place on this day.
The central ceremonies, in the evening and the following morning, are held at Yad Vashem and are broadcast on television. Marking the start of the day, in the presence of the president of the State of Israel, dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors, and their families gather with the general public to take part in the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem in which six torches are lit, representing the six million murdered Jews.
The following morning, the ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for two minutes throughout the entire country. For these two minutes, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars pull off to the side of the road, and everybody stands at silent attention. Afterward, the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives of survivor groups and institutions. The martyred dead are remembered as individual human beings with personal identities.
Other sites of remembrance in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters' House (Beit Loḥamei ha-Getta'ot), Massuah at Kibbutz Tel Yiẓḥak, and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai (named in honor of Mordechai Anilewicz, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), also organize memorial ceremonies, as do all schools and universities, military bases, municipalities, and even many places of work. Throughout the day, both television and radio stations broadcast programs about the Holocaust. Special Internet-based dialogues are also organized. Traditional prayers, such as kaddish and El Maleh Raḥamim, as well as poems and last letters composed by Holocaust victims, are recited at many ceremonies. Holocaust survivors, who are now passing the torch of memory to future generations, are invited to tell their personal stories in schools on Yom ha-Shoah.
Many ḥaredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) prefer to observe the 10th of Tevet rather than Holocaust Remembrance Day. During this traditional fast day known as the "Yom ha-Kaddish ha-Kelali," psalms and prayers are recited for the martyred. Some ḥaredim refuse to stand at attention for two minutes on Yom ha-Shoah while the siren is sounded, claiming that this is not a traditional Jewish custom of expressing sorrow. However, the vast majority of Jewish religious leaders have ruled that one should stand at attention out of respect.
Visits of school children to Holocaust memorials and museums, such as Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem founded in 1953; the Ghetto Fighters' House at Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta'ot in the northern part of the country, established in 1949 by Holocaust survivors, among them ghetto fighters and partisans; and Massuah at Kibbutz Tel Yiẓḥak, are organized on a daily basis. At Yad Vashem, during peak periods prior to Yom ha-Shoah, it is not uncommon to see more than 40 groups of visitors a day (each group comprising on the average 30 persons).
According to the data collected by the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, more than 100,000 high school students visit Yad Vashem every year. These students come from all over the country, representing different religious streams and socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, in recent years thousands of Arab and Jewish students (including new immigrants and children from disadvantaged homes) who study in the system of vocational schools supported by the Israeli Ministry of Welfare and Labor have visited the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.
According to the statistics compiled by the Ghetto Fighters' House, their museum has been visited annually by 120,000 drop-in visitors, and over 75,000 individuals participate in the museum's educational programs. Students from both the Jewish and Arab sectors visit the Center for Humanistic Education located at the Ghetto Fighters' House. Additional smaller centers, such as Beit Terezin, Moreshet, Nir Galim, Ot va-Ed, Shem Olam, Ginzach Kiddush Hashem, Yad Lezahava and numerous others work with thousands of students every year.
For approximately twenty years, Israeli students have been traveling on study tours to Poland, primarily to bear witness at Nazi extermination camps like Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Treblinka. In addition, many school groups visit other sites, such as preserved synagogues, Jewish cemeteries (particularly where well-known Jewish personalities or religious leaders are buried), and the areas where ghettos were created by the Nazis and their collaborators. It is estimated that 20,000 Israeli high school students participate in study trips to Poland every year. The journeys to Poland, which are overseen by the Israeli Ministry of Education, are a rite of passage for Israeli youth soon to begin their army or national service.
All guides of Israeli school groups in Poland must be certified by the Israeli Ministry of Education upon their successful completion of a seminar of 270 study hours. These trips in the main are funded by the pupils themselves or by their families. A few Holocaust museums and memorials, such as Yad Vashem, have developed alternative Holocaust-related programs within Israel for those pupils who do not journey to Eastern Europe.
After their return from Poland, pupils often assume leading roles in the coordination of ceremonies on the 10th of Tevet (a fast day) and Yom ha-Shoah in their respective schools, as well as in their youth movement groups, such as the Israeli scouts. In addition, some pupils are required to make presentations of their trip in school and in essence become witnesses passing the legacy of remembrance to future generations.
Over the last five years, a number of new textbooks on the chronology of the Shoah for Israeli high school students have been published, including Nili Keren's Shoah: A Journey to Memory (1999) and Israel Gutman's Shoah and Memory (1999). Keren's book is divided into four sections, focusing on the following major topics: "Prelude to Genocide"; "The Perpetrators"; "The Victims"; and "The Bystanders." Gutman's book, officially authorized by the Israeli Ministry of Education, is part of a two-book curriculum set, coupled with a book about the Jews in world history over the last decades edited by Eliezer Domke.
In the words of the late Abba Kovner, a ghetto fighter and well-known Israeli writer, "perhaps this is the pedagogic imperative of the post-Auschwitz generation, to try and engrave into the memory of the coming generations the message of our generation, a difficult but a true and an honest message…" Obviously, the future trends of Holocaust education and remembrance in any country, even in the State of Israel, remain open-ended.
By the early twenty-first century, Holocaust survivors, many of whom were pioneers in building the state of Israel and soldiers in defending its borders, were dying. Many educators are struggling with the challenge of how to remember the Holocaust without the presence of survivors.
[Shulamit Imber and
Richelle Budd Caplan (2nd ed.)]
Much as in the United States, in Germany education is the responsibility of the 16 Laender (federal states) rather than the national government of the Federal Republic. The Holocaust is a permanent part of public discourse in Germany, seen on television and in cinema, and written in works of German literature and daily newspapers. It is also a regional presence in the almost one hundred memorials, museums, and sites of destruction and devastation within Germany. In Berlin alone, the Holocaust is remembered in a memorial, a museum for the history of German Jews, in street signs and on lampposts and in plaques on buildings. The same can be seen elsewhere within Germany.
January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, is annually commemorated as a National Day of Remembrance. There is a special ceremony in Parliament, and there is considerable coverage in the news, though some students are oblivious to it. Furthermore, November 9, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, is also an occasion for public programs. In recent years it has had to compete with the anniversary of the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, an event directly experienced by larger segments of society.
The Federal Republic is dedicated to distinguishing itself from Nazi Germany, remaining democratic, protecting human rights and human dignity, and combating antisemitism. Teaching National Socialism and Holocaust – the two are almost always combined in German teaching – is one means of training a new generation to respect the values and maintain the responsibilities of the postwar generation.
More importantly, Germany is undergoing a significant transformation. It is becoming an immigrant community as well, where this history is alien to the immigrant students. It is simply not their own and how they will identify with it and respond to it is an open question in German educational research.
The Holocaust is taught as a part of the subject "History." It is dealt with as a major topic of German and European history in the twentieth century. But it is not restricted to history, as the Holocaust permeates German literature and poetry. Naturally within Germany the focus is often on the perpetrator and seldom on the victims, most especially in German research. But the Holocaust is taught as part of civics lessons and citizenship lessons in religious (Catholic and Protestant – and certainly Jewish) schools. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany.
The Nazi persecution of the Jews may be studied first at the age of twelve (in the sixth grade), but it is not compulsory then. At the age of fourteen or fifteen all students are taught twentieth-century history and it is in this context that National Socialism and the Holocaust are taught. Typically some sixteen to twenty lessons are scheduled for the period of National Socialism. Teachers must decide how to allocate their time, but since this material is covered on the examination for university admission, some basic standards and content are followed.
Aspects of Holocaust history may also be touched upon in classes on biology (racism), art (works of art produced during the Holocaust period or by artists dealing with this topic afterwards), and music (e.g., music composed in Theresienstadt).
In a Report to the International Task Force (see below, "The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research"), German representatives related that
In history lessons the Holocaust is dealt with as a major topic of German and European history in the 20th century.
In civics students study the political, ideological, and psycho-social conditions which made the Holocaust possible, and the planning and organization of the genocide. Another important topic is the way Germany dealt and deals with this part of its history.
Since the Holocaust is a major topic in postwar German literature (novels, plays, poems, essays), it is often addressed in classes on contemporary literature, starting in sixth grade. This can also include literature translated from other languages (e.g., Primo Levi, Imre Kertesz). It can be combined with media studies dealing with feature films.
Classes on religion deal with the attitudes of the churches towards the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the theological efforts to create a new Christian approach to Judaism, and the ethical challenges for every human being which are involved in the history of the Holocaust.
Teacher training differs from state to state and school to school. Courses on the Holocaust and study trips for teachers to historical sites are offered by teacher training centers, state agencies for political education, associations (e.g., the trade union for teachers, foundations of political parties), and by memorials. Teachers are entitled to take part in such courses as part of in-service training, but they can also choose other topics instead.
Germany sponsors just under a hundred memorial museums on victims of the Nazi regime. They are connected to "authentic" sites and deal with the victims, the perpetrators, and the sites of the crime. They differ in quality and effectiveness and often tell the story of their particular site and not necessarily the story of the entire Holocaust. The victim groups at each of the sites differ. For example, euthanasia sites deal with the victims of euthanasia while some sites, especially in the former East Germany, tell the story of both National Socialism and Communism.
It is estimated that over the past decade three million people a year have visited these memorial sites; many of them, perhaps even most of them, schoolchildren. These visits can play an important role in the education of German school children, although their value is dependent upon the preparation and skill of the teachers and the museum guides.
Textbooks are the responsibility of the states but it is safe to say that the amount of space devoted to National Socialism and the Holocaust has increased over the past two decades in Germany as elsewhere, especially within former East Germany. German teachers can also choose from an abundance of additional material and media. How these materials are used is in the hands of the teachers.
In Germany as elsewhere, there is great interest on the part of the students in studying this period, great interest in the questions about values the material raises and in what it says about earlier generations – now grandparents, or even more often great-grandparents. The Holocaust permeates German society, and contemporary German youth can grapple with it unhampered by the direct associations that made this history so problematic for earlier generations. How they – and the children of immigrants – will respond to it is an open question. But there is evidence of growing interest, and on the university level, at least, of serious confrontation.
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
Significant academic, pedagogic, and political interest in the Holocaust came relatively late to Sweden. Scholarly studies about Sweden's response to the wartime genocide of European Jewry were few before the late 1990s, and the country's first undergraduate course on the subject was offered only in 1996, at Uppsala University. In public secondary and middle schools, individual teachers had taught the subject prior to the 1990s, but support and encouragement from educational authorities remained tepid, even though the Holocaust was one of the few historical subjects specifically named in the national läroplan (curriculum) issued in 1994. There are numerous reasons for this apparent contradiction. One of the most important underlying reasons is the particular manner in which Sweden's history of World War ii has been and is generally taught in schools and interpreted in historical studies. Though the country succeeded in retaining its neutral status during the conflict, its extensive economic and cultural ties with Germany throughout the Nazi era, coupled with the fact that it was never occupied, led, in the postwar decades to the teaching of nationalistic interpretations and myths about the war. Because of this the mainstream of Swedish society was taught about the war and the Holocaust with a narrative that militated against a deeper exploration of the sometimes troubling way Sweden in fact reacted to Nazism in Europe, and to the persecution, plunder, and extermination of the continent's Jewish population.
As elsewhere in Europe following Communism's collapse, and most importantly after Switzerland (another neutral during World War ii) was subjected to negative international attention concerning the raft of evocative economic issues often subsumed under the phrase "Nazi gold" during the mid-1990s, interest in Sweden in Holocaust subjects quickened. Acceptance of the notion that even neutral Sweden had something to learn from the numerous tragedies of the war gained currency. These international developments coincided with a sharp rise in domestic antisemitic, nativist, and xenophobic incidents, which resulted in sometimes violent manifestations of attitudes that were by no means limited to marginal neo-Nazi groups. For example, by mid-decade Sweden was an international center for "white power" music while authorities in Stockholm allowed the notoriously antisemitic "Radio Islam" to remain on the air, even when faced with international protest.
In early 1998, politicians from Sweden's long-ruling Social Democratic Party, in a response predicated both on their own domestic circumstances and seeking to preempt the kind of international pressure Switzerland had been subjected to, launched an ambitious public information campaign whose aim was to educate Swedish citizens about the Holocaust. The project was entitled "Levande historia" ("Living History"), and it was for Sweden a unique public educational effort steered directly from the office of Social Democratic Prime Minister Göran Persson. With the notion that Sweden could draw some moral and historical lessons from the Holocaust endorsed from the nation's political center, the "Living History" project generated unprecedented interest from the media, parents, and teachers alike. The centerpiece of the campaign was an abundantly illustrated primer of Holocaust history, Om detta må ni berätta; en bok om Förintelsen i Europa, 1933–1945 ("Tell Ye your Children…"). Written by Stéphane Bruchfeld and Paul A. Levine, the book was sent to families and others only when specifically requested, and requests for the book (which was translated into the languages of Sweden's primary immigrant populations) vastly exceeded government expectations. In the initial months after publication in January 1998, hundreds of thousands of copies were requested by parents, teachers, children, school administrators, unions, studie cirklar (publicly funded teaching groups), corporations, and others. By 2005 close to 1.5 million copies had been requested and distributed in a nation with a population of around 9 million. The book also received international attention, and has been translated by education ministries and private publishers in more than a dozen languages.
On the domestic front, the government declared January 27 Holocaust Memorial Day and financed the establishment of the Uppsala Program for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, a research and teaching institution at Uppsala University (initiating a trend followed by other Scandinavian governments). In June 2002 the government opened the original information project's permanent successor, the public education agency now called Forum för Levande historia (The Forum for Living History). This agency's mandate is to educate Sweden's population about the Holocaust and other genocides in an attempt to promote tolerance in a democratic polity.
The prime minister's initiative also led directly to two major international developments in Holocaust (and genocide) education. Evolving from a May 1998 meeting in Stockholm among diplomatic representatives of the British, American, and Swedish governments, the still expanding International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research is today an intergovernmental body consisting of diplomats, academics, and experts in Holocaust education from some twenty nations, largely but not exclusively European.
Sweden's other significant international initiative was the four major intergovernmental conferences called the Stockholm International Forum(s). The first was convened in January 2000 and highlighted Holocaust education, remembrance, and research. It was the first large international gathering of the new millennium and attracted representatives from fifty nations and international agencies, including some thirty heads of state and government. The fourth and final conference convened in January 2004 on the theme "Preventing Genocide: The Responsibility to Protect."
Yet alongside these notable successes interest in Sweden in Holocaust education seems to have peaked quickly, and is already waning. As a result, Swedish society's bearbetning (reworking) and understanding of its encounter with genocide remains tentative. A recent survey among Swedish youth about attitudes towards Holocaust education found some worrying trends, with more students responding affirmatively to the statement "There is too much talk about Nazism and the extermination of the Jews" than did so in 1997, before the Levande historia project. Some representatives of the cultural and media elite have criticized Holocaust education through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As is the case in other countries, even some teachers with a laudable interest in the subject often lack sufficient empirical and conceptual understanding of Holocaust history and memory. This is not surprising in Sweden given the fact that teacher-training colleges have shown little interest in integrating internationally recognized methods of Holocaust pedagogy into their programs. Academic interest in the subject remains marginal, regarding both research and the development of undergraduate and graduate courses in Holocaust history, representation, and memory. Protests against continued public investment in Holocaust education are often heard, and seem to be the product both of traditional attitudes and a studied indifference to Jewish issues. In a society with such a short history of engagement with Holocaust studies, the apparent backlash against the subject's recent visibility seems, at best, premature.
[Paul Levine (2nd ed.)]
The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research was initiated by Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson in 1998. It consists of representatives of government, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations. Its purpose is to place political and social leaders' support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance, and research both nationally and internationally.
Membership in the Task Force is open to all countries. Members must be committed to the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust of 2000 and must accept the principles adopted by the Task Force regarding membership. They must also be committed to the implementation of national policies and programs in support of Holocaust education, remembrance, and research. The governments comprising the Task Force agree on the importance of encouraging all archives, both public and private, to make their holdings on the Holocaust widely accessible. The Task Force also encourages appropriate forms of Holocaust remembrance.
Countries wishing to create programs in Holocaust education or to further develop their existing information materials and activities in this area are invited to work together with the Task Force. To this end, Liaison Projects can be established between countries and the Task Force for long-term cooperation.
The Task Force has its own website (http://taskforce.ushmm.org) and maintains an international directory of organizations in Holocaust education, remembrance, and research; an international calendar of events; a directory of archives; listings of remembrance and educational activities; as well as additional information about the Task Force.
Task Force countries (as of June, 2005) include:
[William Shulman (2nd ed.)]
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