Growing up in BoroPark in the 1960s I was literally surrounded by people with numbers tattooed on their arms – my neighbors on both sides, people I saw in shul and the bakery – yet the Shoah was rarely ever discussed. One of the first times I ever heard it mentioned was in the context of Meir Kahane’s (then) bold cry of “Never Again!” which was energizing a young generation of Jews, often to the chagrin of their parents. Even in Israel, Yom HaShoah wasn’t officially established – and even then after considerable debate – until 1959 (see Levi Cooper’s article).
To be sure, if the Holocaust was not a topic being discussed, Holocaust education was primitive, at best. Few resources were available, and those – like the films Night and Fog and Ambulance – were hardly appropriate for the 11 and 12 year olds who were viewing them.
We’ve come a long way since then. There are dozens, if not more, of Holocaust centers worldwide. Many universities feature Holocaust study programs. The Holocaust has thoroughly pervaded our culture – from books and articles to music, poetry and art, from annual commemoration programs to Poland pilgrimages – so much so that it can be argued that, for at least two generations of Jews, their identity and the Shoah are profoundly bound together. And to be sure, Shoah consciousness pervades Israeli politics, whether consciously or unconsciously, as policy-makers struggle with questions of survival.
The exponential growth in Holocaust awareness and knowledge has brought about significant changes educationally as well. More people are aware, more resources are available, more thought is being given to what to teach to whom and when and how and why. At the same time, serious questions and challenges are emerging. As the Shoah has been popularized in general culture, there are calls for understanding its universal message, as opposed to the particular one pertaining only to Jews. One needs to look no further than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, a project of the US government, and Simon Wiesenthal’s Center’s Museum of Tolerance. One would need a full-time team of scholars and educators and a considerable library to fully explore these issues; this issue of Jewish Educational Leadership is dedicated to opening some critical questions regarding Shoah education.
The question of universalism and particularism regarding the Shoah both opens this volume, with Galia Glasner Heled, and closes it, with veteran Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff. This theme takes on particular twists in light of student trips to Poland, popular both in Israel and in the US. What is the value of these trips? What do they do for our students, and to our students? Rona Sheramy presents a perspective on more than twenty years of the March of the Living, while Jackie Feldman provides a critical analysis of the Israeli counterpart (and forerunner) of that program. David Bernstein, a veteran educator, historian and tour guide to Poland, re-examines his own views and educational messages of these trips, especially as they relate to our view of the Poles themselves.
On the educational side, Shirah Hecht summarizes recent research on best practices in Shoah education. Paul Radensky identifies major themes to avoid, and major themes to emphasize, in Holocaust education. Yad Vashem’s Daniel Feldman presents their approach to Holocaust education in the early years, and another perspective on how to begin early Shoah education is presented by Nance Adler. Rafi Cashman and Esther Goldberg Gilbert present different facets on the value of stories and personal narratives in Shoah education. In our online edition, Chanah Lightstone and her colleagues presents a historical review of Shoah education and a model for adult Shoah education, which has elements that are appropriate for schools as well.
In our Features section we present an excerpt from a book on Holocaust education by British researchers Geoffrey Short and Carole Ann Reed, in which some of the central issues in Shoah education are raised. And Levi Cooper shares a relatively unknown piece of history regarding alternative dates for Shoah commemoration.
As educators, we have been entrusted with the sacred task of preserving and passing on the memory and legacy of the Shoah. The questions we face are not only practical, as in what are the most effective ways of doing that, but essential – what memory and what legacy will we pass on, and toward what ultimate goals. May we be successful.
Note: This publication has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.