In this blog on the inclusivity of Holocaust Education, I argue that the modern-day tendency towards inclusivity has contributed to the Jewish nation becoming the forgotten victim of the Holocaust.
When I was a schoolboy, I had many discussions about the Second World War. A boys-only, predominantly Church of England school, there were just a handful of Jewish pupils and my school experience was very much culturally Christian. I lost count of the times when we discussed the evils of the Holocaust that I was “informed” that it wasn’t just the Jews who were murdered in concentration camps. There were just as many who died by an aggregation of other groups. The logic was simple: 6 million versus 6 million.
Who Knows What
In a recent survey of young American adults (18-39), almost 1 in 5 said they believed the holocaust was a myth, had been exaggerated or they weren’t very sure what happened. Almost 2/3 did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and one in 10 believed that Jews caused the Holocaust.
This extraordinary level of ignorance of the darkest period in human history is a true indictment of the American education system, and the organisers of the teaching curricula should hang their heads in shame. Many feel that the education of the Holocaust has been so sanitised and watered down that people have become numbed to the atrocities and see them as an aberrance in human history.
A Sordid Educational Approach
I was recently asked by a publisher to be a beta reader for a book that was written from the viewpoint of a character who was an historical Nazi doctor. I was told that it was written (by a non-Jew) as an antidote to the “sanitisation” of Holocaust history. What I read was so gruesome and ghoulish, that while there was clearly more than an element of truth in the writing, that I could not see it in any way helping the cause of Holocaust education. Instead, I felt it would appeal to the vilest elements of society that would appreciate it, not for its educational message, but in celebration for its unspeakable depravity.
The Prime Motivation for the Holocaust
While the numerical arguments of the victim groups selected for death are valid, there is no doubt that the Holocaust was about the Jews. As discussed in my previous blog, Jews were murdered in massive numbers by Einsatzgruppen, well before the concentration camps were even built and not in any way exclusively by the German nation. The principle aim of the Einsatzgruppen was the Final Solution to the Jewish Question (German: Endlösung der Judenfrage.
The Truth – but not the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
In 2008, the former leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn made reference to the “millions murdered” in his Holocaust Memorial statement. The notable absence of who the victims and the perpetrators were did not go unnoticed. In 2017, the statement from President Trump on Holocaust Memorial Day cited “the victims, survivors, (and) heroes of the Holocaust…” without mention of Jews or antisemitism.
Genocide has taken many forms throughout humanity’s history. The treatment of Uyghur Muslims in present day China represents a stain on the Chinese administration. There are numerous examples of discrimination and persecution in modern times that could and should be identified. The unique case with the Holocaust, is that the plan was not the mere persecution or subjugation of Jews, but the intent on their complete annihilation.
The website of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust mentions the term identity-based hostility, but nowhere does it mention “Jews” or “anti-Semitism.” If the website was dedicated to genocide, then I would entirely understand that the Jewish nation couldn’t possibly claim exclusive rights, and neither do they. The history of the Holocaust is, however, integrally related to the Jews. I absolutely would welcome a Memorial Day for Genocide, but that would need to be with a separate organisation, on a separate event and on a separate occasion.
What We Don’t Talk About
Several historians blame the style of Holocaust education on the failures to educate people. Without a doubt, the subject is a difficult one to discuss and even among the Jewish community, only a section is willing to talk about it. They blame the sanitisation of Holocaust storytelling and the biased way that facts are lifted to portray a palatable narrative. That is understandable. The loss of our ancestors to the unprecedented levels of brutality of Nazi Germany is not a popular subject across the dinner table.
One criticism levelled against the British approach to Holocaust education is that all too often, the exclusion from Britain of most refugees from Europe in the 1930s is overlooked, and the emphasis focuses on the relatively small numbers of children in the Kindertransport – certainly not on the tens of thousands of adults who were turned away – not the thousands or millions who might have sought refuge in the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1930s when Britain, as the mandatory power, kept the doors shut, and continued to block Jews from entering Palestine – even after the war – even after the discovery of the concentration camps. The UK put Jewish refugees in displaced persons camps in Cyprus and Germany.
The Unfairness of Fairness
While we are all keen to be inclusive in the way we approach justice and fairness, we should be always mindful for when the goals of inclusivity do not undermine the message. It is entirely unfair to the Jewish nation that they should feel that their ancestors died as Jews and remembered as people. We must not allow our modern approach to Holocaust teaching betray the very people it is designed to protect.
There has been much recent discussion regarding the history of Britain and its complicity and normalisation of slavery of black people. It seems incomprehensible how this could have happened and even more so, that it went on for more than 2 centuries. It is absolutely vital that the education about our dark past should never cease.
I was recently discussing the history of slavery with a West Indian friend of mine. He said there are elements in our society who argue in knee jerk whataboutery that the people of other nations were also subject to slavery so that black Africans can’t claim exclusivity on it. He feels this inadvertently takes away the acknowledgement of the history of enslavement from his ancestral past. So how did I feel when my peers at school argued that the Holocaust wasn’t just about the Jews? I have more than an inkling at how the descendants of black slavery feel when they hear its equivalent.
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