The Pitfalls of Holocaust Education without Jews

February 17, 2020 | Irene Lancaster and Rowan Williams
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Holocaust education has been a mainstay of British education for some time. But the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the UK suggests that it may not be accomplishing its supposed goals. Irene Lancaster and Rowan Williams consider the nature of the problem and its possible solutions:

Schoolchildren, of course, study the Holocaust. But what is disturbing—from our own experience and that of many other teachers—is that they often emerge with only the haziest idea of the specifics. We have heard of students who have studied the diaries of Anne Frank with barely any mention of the fact that she was Jewish. Holocaust education, and even events around Holocaust Memorial Day, can come to be focused on generalities about victimized minorities. We have encountered schoolchildren who have visited Auschwitz and returned with only the vague notion that it is bad to persecute people for their religion.

What would effective Holocaust education look like? It would certainly have to involve an attempt to trace the historical roots, to look at, for instance: the history of the “blood libel”—the myth that Jews routinely kidnapped, tortured, and killed Christian children [to use their blood for religious rituals]—with origins that lie in this country in the Middle Ages. . . . It would need to look at how [Jewish] communities took root and developed, what they had to battle against and still have to combat in the form of lazy prejudices encoded in British literature and popular culture, even when the latter’s Christian rationale has long been forgotten.

Holocaust education must, . . . above all, involve awareness of what Jewish faith and culture have to say about themselves, not just what others say about them, which often recycles, however unwittingly, the stereotypes of the past. It would introduce students to what the state of Israel actually means for Jewish people, [rather than treating it] as an unfortunate but ignorable extra to Jewish identity.

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