Teaching the universal lessons of the Shoah to the world
LAST UPDATED: 02/07/2012 02:59
"Students today are better informed about Holocaust than ever," says Yad Vashem educator.
Yad Vashem Photo: Reuters/Baz Ratner
Shulamit Imber of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem faces a
gargantuan challenge when she goes to work.
As the pedagogical head of
the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, she plays an
important part in determining how future generations in Israel and around the
world learn about the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their allies
during World War II.
“Historians tell us about the past,” Imber told a
group of reporters on a tour of the museum on Monday. “The educator tries to
give it meaning.”
Throughout her career, the 56-year-old educator – who
comes from a family of survivors – has taught countless teachers and students
about the persecution of Jews before and during the war. Last year 1,400
educators came to Jerusalem to take part in seminars she helped put together
with other museum officials, and she thinks their hard work is paying
Students around the world are more knowledgeable about the Holocaust
than when she joined the museum in 1986, she said.
“We asked students in
America, together with the Anti-Defamation League, to say what they knew about
the Holocaust and the lessons they learned from it and we saw there was a rise
their knowledge,” she said.
She attributes this rise in part to formal
education but also to the place of prominence the Holocaust has in popular
Although the Holocaust ended 67 years ago when the Allies
defeated Nazi Germany, Imber said it the way it is taught is constantly
changing. Nowadays educators try to balance individual stories with a general
overview of events. At the renewed main exhibit at Yad Vashem, the faces, names
and personal items of the victims are highlighted so that visitors can connect
with their individual plight.
The new exhibit also illustrates how Jewish
communities lived before the Holocaust, rather than focusing solely on their
demise. For instance, the old display at Yad Vashem began in 1933 with Adolf
Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Visitors to the new exhibit, however, are
greeted by a video montage showing everyday life in Jewish communities across
Europe before the war.
Some say the next big frontier in Holocaust
education is the Arab world, an issue Imber said was extremely
“The conflict raises many things, it touches directly on many
emotions, and some are quick to draw comparisons [between the Arab-Israeli
conflict and the Holocaust],” she said. “Some people think Israel became a state
because of the Holocaust.”
For these reasons and others most Arabs in
Israel do not study the Holocaust at school. But Imber said Yad Vashem was
currently working with seven Arab communities in Israel to teach local students
about the Holocaust, and she hopes to increase such cooperation in the
“Some groups of Israeli Arab students have even traveled to
Poland to visit the camps,” she said.