Prof. Zehavit Gross Addresses Israeli Knesset on Holocaust Instruction
Date: 2017-02-05 Hour: 7:53
Prof. Zehavit Gross, Director of Bar-Ilan University's Sal Van Gelder Institute for Holocaust Research in the Churgin School of Education, was the keynote speaker at a Knesset Education Committee meeting marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Participants in the discussion included members of Knesset from different political parties, representatives from Yad Vashem and from memorial institutions and organizations, Holocaust survivors from Europe, the Balkans, Libya, Saloniki and other countries, senior representatives from the Ministry of Education and human rights organizations.
"International Holocaust Remembrance Day allows us to bring the topic to the global forefront on an educational, political and social level. Holocaust instruction must be meaningful, current and relevant, turning the day of remembrance into an integral part of educating towards tikkun olam (repair of the world)," said Prof. Gross, adding that this can connect people on all sides of the political spectrum, and the Arab sector.
Regarding non-Jewish students, Prof. Gross said that research shows that the only way to connect them with the topic of the Holocaust is to turn it into an integral part of global citizenship. She warned of the danger of approaching the topic from a universal dimension that could bury foundations of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial and turn Israel into the so-called "new Nazi". The current rise and growing strength of populist groups and the radical right in Europe should worry us, she said, adding that the wave of anti-Semitism engulfing the world in which innocent Jews are harmed simply because they are Jews or they look Jewish which is innocently walking the streets of Australia – in Sydney and Melbourne, Brussels, Paris or Rome should be of concern.
Despite extensive activity and investment of resources in most countries, teachers find it difficult to teach the Holocaust in classrooms, mainly because of student opposition to the subject and because of stereotypes and prejudice to which they are exposed at home and in the media, in particular. "During class, when teachers mention the word Holocaust in many cases, students express anti-democratic, racist views towards Israel and the Jews, reflecting the mood toward the subject in each country," she said.
The process of actualization of the Holocaust can be sometimes dangerous and misleading. Prof. Gross quoted a student from Florence, Italy, who recently told her: "What happened during the Holocaust is similar to what is happening today with refugees in Europe. While during the Holocaust people were systematically murdered in the gas chambers, today they systematically drown the refugees in the Mediterranean." Professor Gross added that she was concerned about the future of Holocaust education in Israel, in a world that will one day be without Holocaust survivors. The survivors were the central educational resource in commemoration of the Holocaust, but the question is, what does tomorrow hold in this field. "As a researcher and as a second generation Holocaust survivor, the question will continue to burn as to what basic knowledge on the Holocaust Israeli students will carry with them and what is the cultural-historic repertoire that they will take from school as building blocks for constructing their identity as Jews, Israelis and citizens of the world. Prof. Gross suggests building a Culture Of Remembrance based on the Jewish –Israeli cultural richness that has developed in the field that connects yesterday, today and tomorrow.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz), who opened the discussion, said that the Holocaust should be an opportunity to tackle difficult questions of racism and human rights in a comprehensive manner. MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said that the Holocaust should be seen as an event which represents the peak of human evil and human degradation from which we must learn how to form a better future. MK Shuli Mualem (Jewish Home) emphasized the need to address the Jewish aspect of the Holocaust. Increasing detachment of the Holocaust from the Jewish past prevents us from understanding the magnitude the disaster caused the Jewish people. MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), part of a second generation of Holocaust survivors, said that it is imperative to learn the lessons of the Holocaust from the survivors and that society is obligated to care for the remaining survivors. MK Yakov Margi (Shas), who initiated the discussion, stressed the need to emphasize the magnitude of the tragedy among Jews in Muslim countries. Following the remarks of the MKs, representatives from Yad Vashem and the Diaspora, Holocaust survivors and public figures also spoke.