Why Teach the Holocaust

The objective of teaching any subject is to engage the intellectual curiosity of the students in order to inspire critical thought and personal growth. Therefore it is essential that educators consider questions of rationale whenever they approach a subject. When educators take the time to consider the reasons for their lessons on the Holocaust, they will be more likely to select content that speaks to their students' interest and that provides them with a clearer understanding of a complex history.

The following considerations may encourage reflection on the reasons for teaching about the Holocaust:

  • The Holocaust was a watershed event, not only for the twentieth century but in the entire history of humanity. It was an unprecedented attempt to murder a whole people and to extinguish its culture. The Holocaust should be studied because it fundamentally challenges the foundations of civilization.
  • A thorough study of the Holocaust helps students think about the use and abuse of power and the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organizations and nations when confronted with human rights violations. It can heighten awareness of the genocidal potential in the contemporary world.
  • Study of the Holocaust assists students in developing an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, antisemitism and stereotyping in any society. It helps students develop an awareness of the value of diversity in a pluralistic society and encourages sensitivity to the positions of minorities.
  • The Holocaust demonstrates how a modern nation can utilize its technological expertise and bureaucratic infrastructure to implement destructive policies ranging from social engineering to genocide.
  • The Holocaust provides a context for exploring the dangers of remaining silent and indifferent in the face of the oppression of others.
  • As students gain insight into the many historical, social, religious, political and economic factors that cumulatively resulted in the Holocaust, they gain awareness of the complexity of the historical process and a perspective on how a convergence of factors can contribute to the disintegration of democratic values. Students come to understand that it is the responsibility of citizens in a democracy to learn to identify the danger signals and to know when and how to react.
  • The Holocaust has become a central cultural theme. This is reflected in media representation and popular culture. Holocaust education can offer students accurate historical knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to understand and evaluate these manifestations.

Source: Commission Education working group, 2002

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