21.01.2014

Holocaust Education in a Global Context

The Holocaust has become a global reference point to raise awareness about human right abuses and state violence. How do educators handle this complex and emotionally-charged subject in fast-changing multicultural societies? What is the significance of education about the Holocaust in areas of the world that have no connection whatsoever with the history of the Jewish people and Nazi crimes? Are internationally relevant educational practices emerging, as learning and teaching about the Holocaust is expanding?

UNESCO’s new publication, “Holocaust Education in a Global Context”, brings to light the reasons why it is so vital that we keep teaching the history of the Holocaust in today’s world, regardless of where we live. Released on the 27 January 2014 – the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- the publication gathers the analyses of major historians and educators from all over the world, and explores a variety of approaches to Holocaust education and remembrance. It outlines in particular the role Holocaust education can play in tackling difficult issues of the past in diverse national and cultural contexts.

© AFS
Worshop at Anne Frank House

“With this publication, educations will have at their fingertips an up-to-date account of the most salient issues discussed in the field of Holocaust education,” writes UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova writes in the book’s foreword. “This volume will also help policy-makers grasp more clearly the objectives and implications of of dealing with this complex subject. All of this is essential to our efforts to deepen mutual understanding and respect today, in societies undergoing deep transformation, across a world changing quickly.”

The book begins by examining Holocaust education in Europe, where the genocide took place and where it is taught most extensively. It explores how Germany finds new ways to address its own sense of guilt and its responsibilities; how, in France, “entangled memories” create difficult new challenges for teachers, requiring permanent adjustment and creativity from education stakeholders; and how, in Poland, two divergent memorial perspectives – a Jewish and a Polish one – must find a way to coexist peacefully.

The book then addresses a series of issues related to education policies and methods, including research in the field of pedagogy, current trends in textbook design, and opportunities related to the development of Genocide Studies.

Providing in-depth case studies on Holocaust education beyond Europe, the final chapter shows how the universal reference of the Holocaust can become a starting point to understand, and deal with, other historical traumas. In the case of Argentina and South Africa, Holocaust education can provide a safe environment to address local traumatic issues and thus contribute to the articulation of more inclusive national cultures of remembrance. In China, it familiarizes students with new concepts, on the basis of which they can address their country’s own past of suffering and persecutions. In the case of Rwanda, it helps bring the local history of genocide into a larger perspective, making it easier for historians and educators to approach recent events. Transmitting the memory of the Holocaust is a vital part of the struggle to promote human rights and democracy globally, as illustrated in the book’s analyses of the work of institutions with strong international reach, such as Facing History and Ourselves or the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

© Shoah Memorial
Shoah Memorial

“Whether you live in Central Africa, in China, in the South Pacific, or in Switzerland, you have to be aware of the danger that genocide presents. Education about the Holocaust ultimately means to remove humanity as far away as possible from that extreme form of mass murder,” notes Yehuda Bauer, the eminent historian who contributed to the book.

The Holocaust is a shared heritage of humanity. It carries a universal message for peace and mutual understanding today. UNESCO is committed to ensuring that knowledge of Holocaust history and the lessons that can be drawn from it are taught across the world. This task that is all the more urgent as the last eyewitnesses are passing, and at a time when crimes against humanity still occur. UNESCO works to promote teaching about the Holocaust in Member States through educational activities on peace and human rights, and through a programme for Holocaust education (the only dedicated one, among all agencies in the United Nations). Studying the history of this genocide means taking responsibility for the future. It is a call to protect and promote the dignity of all, and to build true global citizenship.

Everyone must help build bulwarks against Holocaust denial, intolerance and hatred. “I see UNESCO’s leading work in Holocaust education as a contribution to fostering a culture of peace – we need to understand the past to prevent violence and discrimination in different circumstances today. Tackling the conditions for violent extremism requires a culture of peace, founded on new forms of global solidarity,” UNESCO Director-General said.

Back to top