Berlin official: German kids tired of Holocaust

However, says Shoah education will remain part of school curriculum.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS, BERLIN
March 10, 2008 23:08
3 minute read.
Berlin official: German kids tired of Holocaust

holocaust survivor 244.8. (photo credit: AP [file])

German youth are experiencing "Holocaust fatigue," the head of the German delegation to an international organization of Holocaust education and remembrance said Monday. "German children tend to show Holocaust fatigue," said Dr. Benedikt Haller, the German Foreign Ministry official who serves as special representative for relations with Jewish organizations and issues relating to anti-Semitism. The remarks came just a day before the official opening in Berlin of the office of the Task Force on International Cooperation on Holocaust Education Remembrance and Research, a group intended to foster cooperation on Holocaust remembrance activities throughout Europe. The organization, which was conceived a decade ago and has thus far operated informally, will comprise 25 countries around the world, including EU states, the US, Argentina and Israel. In remarks to a group of Israeli journalists, Holocaust instructors and American Jewish leaders, Haller, who will serve as the head of the German delegation to the international Holocaust body, stressed that "Holocaust fatigue" was not a reason to stop teaching the Holocaust in German schools. "The Holocaust has a very strong place in our national curriculum and it is not going away or [being taken] out," he said. "This is not a reason to take it out of our curriculum." Haller attributed the "over-infusion" of Holocaust education to a new generation of German educators who revolted against the generation of their parents and grandparents who had kept silent about the mass murder of six million Jews. "A whole generation of teachers were interested in refuting their parents and telling people the truth," he said. "It's quite natural that the commitment was not the same with their students [which] for them was a strange and brutal story of [their] grandparents," he said. The German official suggested that in their zeal to teach the story of the Holocaust, some teachers of the "committed" generation "overdid it a little." Haller made his frank statements after noting the "tremendous amount" of Holocaust literature and research in Germany which, he said, he has long given up trying to keep up with. He cited a German newspaper caricature published on the 60th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power that depicted a German in a bookstore, surrounded and oversaturated with books about the Holocaust. The official's remarks were later criticized by American educators as inappropriate. "As spokesman for such an elite group in Europe as the task force, he has to be at the forefront of encouraging Holocaust remembrance, and not discouraging it," said Bernita M. King, history professor at Miami Dade College. "He should be the biggest cheerleader of Holocaust remembrance," King said. "This is the wrong message to send out when there is so much more work that needs to be done," said Susan Myers, the executive director of the Holocaust Museum Houston. "With anti-Semitism on the rise, this is not the time to slow down," she said. Haller's remarks come as the number of elderly Holocaust survivors continues to dwindle. "This is not the message that you want survivors to hear as they are in their twilight years," Myers said. "As the child of a survivor, it is perplexing to hear that there is a fatigue not only about the Holocaust but about anti-Semitism," said Sylvia Wygoda, executive director of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. A representative of the New York-based American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles Chapter Executive Director Seth Brysk, said that Haller was "reporting on a phenomenon that exists in the country." "There is evidence... which indicates that there is Holocaust fatigue in Germany, but it's unclear to what extent," William Shulman, president of the New York-based Association of Holocaust Organizations and a member of the US delegation to the task force, said in a telephone interview. Other German educators said that German teens were highly informed about the Holocaust, but stopped short of saying they were "oversaturated" with Holocaust education. "Many come with the attitude 'we know already everything,'" said Dr. Norbert Kampe, director of the Memorial and Educational Site at the House of the Wannsee Conference, a lavish villa in suburban Berlin where top SS officials met in January 1942 to discuss the extermination of the Jews. The inauguration of the new Holocaust memorial office on Tuesday will be marked by an address by German Federal Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "It is quite fitting that the office should open in Berlin, the place where the Holocaust was planned and executed," Haller said. "This is an important step for Holocaust commemoration in the future."


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