International Dimensions of Holocaust Education – the discussion

© Mémorial de la Shoah/CDJC

What is the global relevance of teaching the history of the Holocaust and of genocides?

On 31 January, to mark the Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust UNESCO organized a conference on the theme “International Dimensions of Holocaust Education” in order to explore the question with experts from several regions of the world. 

In his keynote address, Professor Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem explored the global significance of the Holocaust as the most extreme form of genocide in history and stressed the role of Holocaust education in raising awareness about the dangers of genocide. He also emphasized the importance of comparative approaches to genocides.  

Two speakers advocated for a strong focus on historical facts in education: Georges Bensoussan of the Shoah Memorial in Paris and Professor Dina Porat, Chief-Historian of Yad Vashem and professor at Tel Aviv University. Georges Bensoussan said that Holocaust fundamentally challenged the pillars of modern civilization. Education is in that regard an attempt to identify the grounds for possible violence in the roots of modern societies themselves. Professor Dina Porat analysed the relationships between policies of remembrance and how governments apply the lessons of the Holocaust in their educational policies. She presented examples of European policies, stressing difficulties related to political sensitivities around Holocaust-related issues. 

The role of Holocaust education was examined in relation to processes of social reconstruction in Argentina and Rwanda. Prof. Daniel Rafecas, a federal judge in Buenos Aires, explained how education about the Holocaust and its aftermath has helped Argentineans deal with their own recent past of military dictatorship and crimes against humanity.

Prof. François Masabo, of the Centre for Conflict Management at the University of Butare, explored the challenges of teaching and researching the genocide of the Tutsi only 17 years after it occurred. He argued that it was essential to place the history of Rwanda in the larger history of genocides and to relate education on the genocide to peace education. He also mentioned the importance, in the case of Rwanda, of the links between the implementation of justice and the capacity to teach about the genocide.

Jacques Sémelin, moderating, recalled how the purpose of education on genocides was to deconstruct the mechanisms of genocidal ideologies and representations of enemies. 

A discussion between UNESCO Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education Samuel Pisar and Ms. Hannah Rosenthal, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism focused on the challenges facing Holocaust education. Participants discussed the difficulties several countries had in addressing their past and discussed strategies to ensure inclusion of the Holocaust in education systems, notably by tackling issues of persisting antisemitism. The discussion, moderated by Ambassador Karel de Beer, Chairman of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, raised particular challenges in the Arab and Muslim States and deplored Holocaust denial in this and other parts of the world. Panellists also discussed the content of Holocaust education, the importance of reaching out to new audiences (media, police, the military, etc.) and how UNESCO and other international bodies could globally reinforce the promotion of the relevance of Holocaust Education.



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