This week the world commemorated “Holocaust Memorial Day” and while here it was mentioned, and even a debate was held in the Knesset, Israel will have its own Holocaust Memorial Day in April. (The UN sponsored Day, which was last Friday, got dubious prominence in Israel because the leading government party, the Likud, decided – out of ignorance- to hold a big party event celebrating their power, on this day).

Both days have the same purpose: To Remember. To make sure that the horrors of the Holocaust are remembered and thus help prevent further atrocities.

In Israel, Holocaust Memorial Day (both of them) is the time to remember the destruction of the Jewish people during the Nazi era in Europe.

Elsewhere, other horrific events that took place in distant and not so distant history are commemorated as well, such as the massacre in Rwanda (in 1994) and the Armenian genocide (at the beginning of the 20th century).

And 1.5 million Armenians, or 1 million Rwandans is also an astonishing number and the Rwandan genocide is less than 25 years ago!

The origin of the world “Holocaust” is from the Greek, with a meaning more or less of “Burnt Whole”. It has been used on and off to describe real or imagined disasters, and for the past several hundred years has been used to describe the violent death of masses of people. Churchill used the word to describe the Armenian genocide, and after WW2 the word slowly became to describe the Nazi “Final Solution” and by the 60’s, it was accepted terminology.

Israel has been extremely protective of the word “holocaust” and no doubt the Jewish holocaust was different than any other event, both with respect to its organized nature as well as its size.  . Lately, in Israel the word “Shoah” which is a Hebrew word and means more or less ‘Catastrophe” which I suspect is mainly done to preserve the “uniqueness” of the events.   

The importance for modern-day Israel of the Shoah, cannot be overstated and to this day the events of that dark era play a role in the lives of many people, from survivors, children of survivors and grandchildren of survivors. (I don’t want to discuss here its political and diplomatic importance where Israel uses and exploits it for all the wrong purposes).

It also plays an important role in the lives of tour operators, tour guides and airlines, who profit from the industry that has arisen around visits to concentration camps in Europe by Israeli youngsters, which are organized by the Ministry of Education and the schools.

These tours, which are organized to increase the awareness of Israeli young people of the Holocaust, are an extension of the substantial education in Israeli schools on the subject of the Holocaust.

This is not the place to enter into a discussion on the side effects of these “Auschwitz Trips”, but the educational value needs to be very carefully evaluated. Every year, pictures of Israeli youngsters, wrapped in the Israeli flag, acting as if the Auschwitz grounds are theirs make headlines but fade into oblivion as fast as they appeared, because the population is not interested at best, and probably many feel the same way.

The emphasis on Nationalist values in the education system in Israel in general, and to an even greater extend when it comes to Jewish Education will lead automatically to these values (and worse) when talking about such a traumatic event for the “Jewish National Entity” as the Holocaust.

But, when Holocaust education and trips to Auschwitz only result in the “Them against Us” mentality, when Jewish nationalism is placed in front and everything and anything else is neglected, dismissed or treated as inferior, we are promoting exactly the values that caused the atrocities to occur in the first place and were condoned and accepted as the right thing to do.

Educators in Israel, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett in the forefront, are strongly promoting national values, but national in the sense of “Jewish”, in the sense of “everybody is against us” and “only we by ourselves can protect ourselves and the Jewish people”.

“Never Again”, is a slogan that is hard to argue with. But it applies just as much to homosexuals, gypsies and handicapped killed during the Nazi era and if in Israel education is limited to the Jewish victims, our education system has totally missed the point.

If we do not teach our children, in the framework of Holocaust Education, that killing people because they are different (in color, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else) is the ultimate wrong, and concentrate only on ourselves, we are bound to create people who will tolerate atrocities against “others” and in the worst case take part in them or even initiate them.

 


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