Why Teach About the Holocaust?

The Holocaust was an unprecedented attempt to murder all European Jews and thus to extinguish their culture; it fundamentally challenged the foundations of human values.

Study of the Holocaust underlines that genocide is a process which can be challenged or perhaps stopped rather than a spontaneous or inevitable event.

 The Holocaust demonstrated how a nation can utilize its bureaucratic structures, processes and technical expertise while enlisting multiple segments of society to implement policies over time ranging from exclusion and discrimination to genocide.

Examination of the history of the Holocaust can illustrate the roles of historical, social, religious, political, and economic factors in the erosion and disintegration of democratic values and human rights.

This study can prompt learners to develop an understanding of the mechanisms and processes that lead to genocide, in turn leading to reflection on the importance of the rule of law and democratic institutions. This can enable learners to identify circumstances that can threaten or erode these structures, and reflect on their own role and responsibility in safeguarding these principles in order to prevent human rights violations that are liable to explode into mass atrocities.

Teaching and learning about the Holocaust is an opportunity to unpack and analyze the decisions and actions taken (or not taken) by a range of people in an emerging time of crisis.

This should be a reminder that decisions have consequences, regardless of the complexity of the situations in which they are taken. The Holocaust involved a range of individuals, institutions, organizations, and government agencies at the local, national, regional and global levels. Analyzing and understanding actions taken or not taken at different levels during the Holocaust raises complicated questions about how individuals and groups responded to the events of the Holocaust. Whether the focus is on the political calculations of nations or the daily concerns of individuals (including fear, peer pressure, greed or indifference, for example), it is clear that dynamics that felt familiar and ordinary led to extraordinary outcomes.

Teaching and learning about the Holocaust may equip learners to more critically interpret and evaluate cultural manifestations and representations of this event and thereby minimize the risk of manipulation.

 In many countries, the Holocaust has become a theme or motif commonly reflected in both popular culture and in political discourse, often through media representation. Teaching and learning about the Holocaust can help learners to identify distortion and inaccuracy when the Holocaust is used as a rhetorical device in the service of social, political and moral agendas.

Studying antisemitism in the context of Nazi ideology illuminates the manifestations and ramifications of prejudice, stereotyping, xenophobia, and racism.

 Antisemitism persists in the aftermath of the Holocaust and evidence demonstrates it is on the rise. Teaching and learning about the Holocaust creates a forum for examining the history and evolution of antisemitism – an essential factor that made the Holocaust possible. Examination of different tools used to promote antisemitism and hatred, including dangerous speech, propaganda, manipulation of the media, and group-targeted violence, can help learners to understand the mechanisms employed to divide communities.

Teaching and learning about the Holocaust can also support learners in commemorating Holocaust victims, which has in many countries become part of cultural practice.

As part of their school curriculum learners are often invited to participate in international and local memorial days and commemoration events. Commemoration cannot replace learning, but study of the Holocaust is essential to help learners build the necessary knowledge and understanding for meaningful present-day commemorations and to continue this cultural practice in the future. Similarly, commemoration can help participants to engage with the emotional labor that forms a part of studying sensitive or traumatic history, creating space for philosophical, religious or political reflection that the academic curriculum may struggle to accommodate.