Teaching about the Holocaust as an antidote to rising hate in Europe

A shadow many thought resigned to the dustbin of history is currently spreading over the European continent.

Anti Semitism 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Anti Semitism 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
A shadow many thought resigned to the dustbin of history is currently spreading over the European continent. Politicians, steeped in National Socialism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, are taking seats in European parliaments across Europe.
Parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece, Svoboda in Ukraine and Jobbik in Hungary have gained significant political representation in their respective parliaments and portals of power. They are also parties steeped in hate and violence.
Among their recent activities are calling for lists of Jews to be drawn up, holding intimidating midnight torch rallies, beating up minorities and allegedly even murdering dissenters. While these actions may be undertaken by a few, the party platforms of the neo-Nazi parties are attempting to offer hope to a Europe reeling from a massive economic depression.
As we well know from the past, this is another strong echo of the past; the Nazis were able to gain power in Germany because of dire economic circumstances.
In some parts of Europe, unemployment among youth is over 50 percent, and these parties are specifically targeting the malcontents among their populations.
As someone who has spent the whole of his professional life in education, I sincerely believe that the greatest shield against hate is knowledge.
The more people, particularly the younger sectors of society, understand about the true consequences of Nazi ideology, the more likely they are to abhor it.
A short time ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Balkan region. While I was in Macedonia I was particularly impressed with the attitude of the Macedonian government toward commemorating those Jews who perished in the Holocaust. I was particularly touched by the government initiative for schools to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia in Skopje.
Every year since its opening, thousands of Macedonian schoolchildren visit the center to learn about the Holocaust and particularly about the murder of thousands of Macedonian Jews at the Treblinka death camp.
Speaking to my parliamentary colleagues in Macedonia and some of the participants on these visits, it is clear that these visits have a chilling yet vital effect.
While the Holocaust is a very well known subject in Israel, in parts of Europe the average schoolchild will not be familiar with even its most basic details. These visits put the children face to face with the consequences of hate and evil. They are taught to disavow hate, racism and xenophobia because of the information they absorb during these short trips.
In 2006, three Scottish academics began studying whether educating highschool students about the Holocaust has an impact on pupils’ citizenship values and attitudes, and particularly those values and attitudes relating to various minority or disadvantaged groups.
The study found that there were positive dispositions ascertained toward minorities in the aftermath of the lessons on the Holocaust. In terms of comparing the core sample with their peers who had not had the opportunity to study the Holocaust, there is evidence that the core sample had stronger positive values, were more tolerant and more disposed to active citizenship by their understanding of individual responsibility with regard to racism.
The authors of the study wrote to the Scottish authorities in their conclusions that the evidence “certainly suggests that learning about the Holocaust in primary school can have both an immediate and lasting impact on pupils’ values.”
There are many similar studies which demonstrate that learning about the Holocaust and visiting Holocaust memorials or even concentration camps has a positive effect on the moral compass of individuals and can prove to be an important buttress to the steadily growing neo-Nazi propaganda.
In 2000, the now renamed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an inter-governmental organization, signed the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust.
The stated aims of the IHRA are to mobilize and coordinate political and social leaders’ support for Holocaust education, remembrance and research at national and international levels.
While the IHRA was originally created to fight ignorance and denial with regard to the Holocaust, the teaching of the Holocaust can have a much wider impact on European society.
It can be an antidote against the hate that is on the rise in large parts of Europe. It can militate against the feelings of despair neo-Nazi groups are feeding off of. European countries should follow the Macedonian model of sending as many children as possible to Holocaust museums and concentrating resources on Holocaust education.
As Jews, we applaud the study of this great tragedy that befell our people. However, European leaders should welcome and increase these initiatives for their own reasons, primarily to teach the values of tolerance and to stem the rise of the growing neo-Nazi phenomena.
They are an vital investment in the European future.
As the essayist George Santayana famously said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Europeans must remember this dark chapter of history because there are events taking place every day which are eerily reminiscent of the National Socialists’ amassing of political power leading up to the Holocaust.
Europeans must be taught the past so they can stand in the way of these groups in ways that their ancestors did not, before it is too late.The writer is a Knesset member for Yisrael Beytenu and chairs the Knesset Lobby for the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism.