WHILE SURVIVORS ARE STILL WITH US, WE ARE AT A CRITICAL MOMENT FOR HOLOCAUST EDUCATION
Wrtien by: Danni Dayan Chairman of Yad Vashem & Gideon Taylor President of the Claims Conference
As the world turns its attention to the 83rd anniversary of the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht) of 1938, and we recall with horror the antisemitic attacks on the German and Austrian Jewish communities, concerning gaps in knowledge that were noted in recent years in Europe and North America have now surfaced in the UK. Less than 80 years after the end of World War II and the Holocaust, too many residing in the UK lack knowledge of even the most basic details about these horrific events – their origins, their facts and their consequences for the Jewish people as well as for humanity as a whole.
This week, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), backed by a task force comprised of experts, historians and educators from Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and other notable Holocaust-related institutions, released the results of the most recent Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, this time measuring the level of awareness of the Holocaust in the United Kingdom. Some 2000 respondents across the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, participated in the survey. Results show a surprising lack of awareness of key historical Holocaust facts, including the UK’s own connection to Holocaust history.
While there are unprecedented sources of information regarding the Holocaust – concentration camps, ghettos, mass murders and other general facts – available in the physical and digital worlds, many still lack a basic awareness of this watershed event in recent history. The majority (52 percent) of all respondents did not even know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; 22 percent thought that two million or fewer Jews were killed.
It is a pity that awareness of the term Kindertransport – a unique and heroic effort by Jewish leaders in German, Austria and areas of Czechoslovakia, as well as concerned British citizens, to rescue some 10,000 Jewish children from the horrors of Nazi Germany and certain death – is so lacking. When asked about the Kindertransport, more than three-fourths (76 percent) of respondents did not know about this historic rescue mission. The heartbreaking decision by desperate Jewish parents to get their children out of Nazi hands – knowing they would likely never see them again – is on the verge of being forgotten. This is unacceptable. While Kindertransport survivors are still with us, we must do all we can to give a spotlight – and a receptive audience – to these critical tales of humanity at its very worst, and very best. Additionally, the history of the Holocaust in the British- controlled Channel Islands is another important chapter to this historical narrative. These two events directly connect the British public to the Holocaust, and safeguarding the historical record and shedding light on history has never been more relevant.
The interest is certainly there. While the knowledge gaps are disturbing, it is heartening to see that there is widespread support for Holocaust education in all of the countries previously surveyed – including in the UK, where 88% felt it was important to continue to teach the Holocaust, in part so history does not repeat itself. Nearly three-quarters (72%) felt there should be more resources provided for Holocaust education.
The Claims Conference, a central funder of Holocaust education, and Yad Vashem, the eminent center for Holocaust remembrance, education, documentation and research, know from firsthand experience the importance of meaningful and relevant Holocaust education. We understand the value of teaching the younger generation the history of the Holocaust, including the personal stories of the victims and survivors, to prepare them to be contributing members of a society based on morality, equality and human rights.
Surveys like this highlight the need to better equip teachers and schools, as well as organizations that support them, to help complete this important task. We must work together with the many institutions who are concerned about Holocaust education and the memory of the Shoah, and build the infrastructure that can address these issues.
Through international partnerships and connections, the Claims Conference and Yad Vashem are helping increase Holocaust knowledge and awareness worldwide. Specifically, in the United Kingdom, Yad Vashem has cultivated important partnerships with British NGOs, educational institutions and organizations to promote best practices of how new tools can provide teachers with the professional development opportunities that are so badly needed. For instance, a recent strategic partnership with University College London (UCL) and Yad Vashem, produced a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) entitled “Teaching the Holocaust: Innovative Approaches to the Challenges We Face“, seeking to empower teachers so that they are better equipped to teach pupils – the millennials of tomorrow.
It’s time to acknowledge that education can play a vital part in closing these gaps – perhaps now more than ever. As the survivor population is waning, we need to address Holocaust education globally; this problem isn’t unique to the UK. It is incumbent upon us to find ways to facilitate face-to-face meetings with survivors, so their audiences can hear their experiences and be inspired by their commitment to a better world. We cannot expect people to internalize what they simply do not know. Let us learn from the stories of survivors and victims, and let that knowledge be passed down to the generations of learners to come.
Gideon Taylor is the President of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) and Chair of Operations of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO).
Dani Dayan is the Chairman of Yad Vashem. Previously he served as Consul General to New York from the State of Israel.