The future of Holocaust education

Remembrance isn't a static picture of the past; it's also a dynamic task for the future, which poses major challenges for the Jewish world.

Yad Vashem Chinese 311 (photo credit: Yad Vashem)
Yad Vashem Chinese 311
(photo credit: Yad Vashem)
On the 27th of Nissan we remember the victims of the Holocaust. However, remembrance is not a static picture of the past; it is also a dynamic task for the future, which poses major challenges for the Jewish world.
One of these challenges is education of our own youth. We are grateful that many survivors are still with us. We embrace them with the full strength of our love. And yet the generation of those who emerged from the jaws of the Nazi beast is increasingly retreating from our lives. Tomorrow’s Jewish children will have to remember the Holocaust without the immense emotional power of meeting actual survivors. It will be an important task of Jewish education to bridge this gap.
We also must demand that the non- Jewish world keep the memory of the Holocaust alive – and much remains to be done in this regard. True, six years ago, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations, and it is being observed in many countries. True, the amount of Holocaust education in the democratic world has increased in the past decade or two. And yet there are valid reasons to worry.
A recent UNESCO-commissioned study by Israeli educational scientist Dr. Zehavit Gross of Bar-Ilan University showed that Holocaust lessons in Western countries often lead to massive anti-Semitic reactions from students. This does not mean the dimensions of Holocaust education should be reduced. On the contrary, we need a much wider educational effort aimed at all age groups and population strata.
The message we need to get across is straightforward. He who defiles another human being’s dignity, let alone takes his life out of baseless hatred, commits a transgression against the spirit of humanity and against God who created all of us in His image. It is not enough for parliaments to make Holocaust denial punishable by law. Rather, let us repeat to the nations of the world the commandment of the Torah: “The stranger who lives in your midst… you will love him as yourself.”
OF COURSE, I am not naïve. The hatred of Jews is unlikely to disappear. We ourselves bear the main burden of responsibility for securing our existence. The fight against anti- Semitism remains a primary task. It is a sorry state of affairs when Jewish communities need police protection from anti-Semites. It is a disgrace when Jews, recognizable as such by their clothes or just by a kippa, must be watchful in the streets of London, Paris or Berlin lest they become targets of abuse and violence.
But of course, the main targets today are the Jews of Israel, who are threatened with a second Holocaust by the Iranian leadership. The debate as to whether it is permissible to compare these would-be annihilators with the Nazis is beside the point, for if they should ever succeed, the results are likely to be similar.
The threat to Israel’s very existence is not new. In 1948 Israel’s Jews faced Arab armies which invaded the newborn Jewish state with the explicit purpose of destroying it. The ability of the nascent Israel Defense Forces to defend the country was by no means a foregone conclusion. Later threats, in 1967 and in 1973, were repelled, but the enemy’s message remained clear: We want to kill you. As for Iran, despite Israeli deterrence, there are scenarios under which the Iranian regime could well attempt to use its future nuclear arsenal to “wipe out the Zionist regime from the pages of history.”
No less alarming than the Iranian intention is the miserable failure of the democratic world even to significantly slow the Iranian effort to obtain atomic weapons. Obviously, the prospect of another Holocaust against millions of Jews is not considered a reason for action.
This is a sobering thought. Of course, a nuclear Iran would be a strategic threat to the West, too. Israeli Holocaust researcher Prof. Yehuda Bauer once observed that World War II was started by an anti- Semitic regime that murdered six million Jews. However, he noted, 29 million of the 35 million people who died between 1939 and 1945 were non-Jews. This, Bauer said dryly, should give non-Jews a reason to ponder.
Yet we see that the world has not learned its lesson. We must do all we can to change this attitude. This, too, is part of the legacy of the Holocaust and its victims, whom we remember and honor on Remembrance Day.
The writer is secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.