History - Lest we forget, let us first remember

31st January 2014 at 00:00
Campaigners call for Holocaust lessons in all secondary schools

Schools all over the Western world held events this week to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January. But in other regions, particularly the Middle East, the genocide is still rarely mentioned.

Now, a major campaign group is working to change this, with the ambitious aim of introducing lessons on the Holocaust to all secondary schools around the world.

The Paris-based Aladdin Project, which promotes Jewish-Muslim understanding, wants all schools to offer lessons on the Holocaust within a "matter of years". There is "no reason" for the change to take decades to deliver, Abe Radkin, executive director of the project, told TES.

"We should recognise that it was one of the darkest pages of human history and we should draw lessons from it," he said. "These are the universal lessons. We are having encouraging reactions, even from some Arab countries.

"With the support of people like Ban Ki-moon [secretary-general of the United Nations], this is a matter of a few years if there is the political will to do it. I don't see why any country should be excluded."

The plan to spread the teaching of the Holocaust comes as the Auschwitz- Birkenau State Museum in Poland announced that it had launched online lessons in Arabic and Farsi to further understanding in countries where hostility over the issue can be high.

"In terms of the number of visitors, Arabic countries and Iran hardly exist in our statistics," said Andrzej Kacorzyk, director of the museum's International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. "At the same time, we realise that it is there where the history of the Holocaust is very often presented in an inaccurate way, or even negated and used in politics.

"In my opinion, young people who do not speak English should be able to gain solid knowledge and read about Auschwitz in their native languages, and the internet is perfect for it."

Mr Radkin's organisation has arranged a series of international conferences to devise ways to bring the subject into schools in Africa, Asia and the Arab world. The first event took place in Istanbul, Turkey, where diplomats, government officials, academics and experts discussed how to introduce the topic to schools in the Middle East.

Further similar conferences, which are backed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance of nations, are planned in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Senegal and Morocco throughout this year.

"Education forms a pillar of tolerance, human rights and the prevention of genocide," Mr Radkin said. "These are early days, but there's no reason why this should take decades to do. There's consensus among educators that some sort of Holocaust education is required as part of preventing future genocide.

"In Middle Eastern countries there are political barriers. The Holocaust is identified with the creation of the state of Israel and many people feel that doing anything to do with the Holocaust will be a betrayal of the Palestinians."

The Aladdin Project, set up in 2009, has translated scores of books and films, including The Diary of Anne Frank, into Arabic and other languages in order to make them available across the Muslim world.

Mr Radkin's call for universal Holocaust education was echoed this week by Auschwitz survivor Samuel Pisar at a speech to the UN in Paris. He said that education about the Holocaust and more recent genocides was "crucial" to preventing "carnage" around the world.

Halting `hoax' claims

Campaigners in Pennsylvania, US, are calling for a new law to ensure that all students in the state's schools are taught about the Holocaust.

Democrat legislator Brendan Boyle said that the move was necessary because the idea that the Holocaust was a hoax was gaining popularity.

Mr Boyle said he wanted Pennsylvania to join five other states in the US that mandate Holocaust education, the Associated Press reported.

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