Teach the Holocaust Separately, Germans Told

Report Says Students Don’t See Connection to Anti-Semitism

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By Donald Snyder

Published October 26, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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Teaching about the Holocaust has not kept the old wounds of Jew hatred from reopening in Germany.

This is the reality that the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, implicitly acknowledged October 17 when it debated the state of anti-Semitism in the country following a disturbing government-commissioned report delivered to it last January. The report, written by a commission of nine academics that reviewed data from a large body of recent research, found that one-fifth of German citizens harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.

Lawmakers attending the debate, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, agreed across party lines on the need to act on the study’s recommendations. It was a consensus that included Bundestag Vice President Petra Pau, a member of the Left Party, which is staunchly critical of Israel. The legislators hope to have an action plan to vote on in the coming weeks.

But one of the report’s most important recommendations may prove to be among the most difficult to implement. The study calls for education about anti-Semitism in Germany to be separated from the study of the Holocaust.

“Contemporary anti-Semitism often revolves around issues that are linked to events that have occurred since 1945,” Julian Wetzel, a co-author of the report, told the Forward. She cited the ongoing Middle East conflict as but one example.

Wetzel said that curricula in Germany focus on the Holocaust, but teachers in Germany lack broader knowledge about anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic stereotypes. Among other things, she said, they have little understanding of the conflicts in the Middle East that can also animate anti-Semitism today. She questioned the assumption that traditional teaching about the Holocaust is an antidote to anti-Semitism.

Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s office in Berlin, shares this concern.

“There is a belief that if you teach young Germans about the Holocaust and the Nazi period, they won’t become anti-Semitic,” Berger said. “But this is frequently not true.” Holocaust teaching is losing its effectiveness in the fight against anti-Semitism, she said, particularly with younger Germans several generations removed from the event.


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