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Holocaust education is essential — but we have to reimagine it

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27, exists as an annual opportunity for the global community to commemorate the victims of the horrific crimes committed by the Nazis and their supporters — and to learn about them. Remembrance means little without education, and this year, as far-right extremism has reached new peaks both domestically with the Capitol riot, and internationally, that mission is more significant than ever.

The urgency of Holocaust education has been apparent for years. When the Anti-Defamation League conducted our first Global 100 survey of antisemitic attitudes in 2014, the survey found that only 54% of those polled had heard of the Holocaust. Of those, 32% believed Holocaust accounts to be greatly exaggerated or a myth.

A September 2020 survey by Echoes & Reflections, a partnership education program of the ADL, USC Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem, found that students who reported having received Holocaust education were shown to hold more pluralistic attitudes and were more comfortable with people of a different race or sexual orientation. They also appeared to have an increased willingness to challenge incorrect or biased information, confront intolerant behavior in others, and stand up to negative stereotyping.

Encouragingly, eight out of 10 U.S. college students surveyed reported having received at least some Holocaust education during high school, with more than 55 percent having watched either in-person or video survivor testimony. But 80% of college students — remember, the majority of Americans do not attend college — is far from enough.

So what are some best practices for improving Holocaust education?

The quick answer: Get creative.

Several international institutions have pioneered meaningful new methods of educating the public about the Holocaust that we would do well to learn from.

In Morocco, group of Muslim youth called the Mimouna Association has piloted outstanding Arabic-language Holocaust education materials, developed in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, in local private schools. Among those materials are the first-ever Arabic-language guide on Morocco and the Holocaust and a USHMM-produced film in Arabic on Nazi racial ideology.

In Central and South America, a multinational initiative called the Latin American Network for Teaching of the Shoah, also known as Red LAES, was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of transmitting the memory of the Holocaust for Jewish communities across Latin America; as a result of their online exposure, one Chilean survivor’s story was picked up by the USC Shoah Foundation who, together with the Jewish Museum of Chile, ultimately reunited two childhood friends, both Holocaust survivors, who hadn’t seen each other in over 82 years.

In Oporto, Portugal, Europe’s newest Holocaust museum, which opened in January, will host over 400 students on this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Among the museum’s unique offerings will be exhibits on the hundreds of thousands of Holocaust refugees who came through Portugal, and the Righteous among the Nations who helped save them.

In the Netherlands, the Open Jewish Homes project, which was launched in 2012, allows people to visit houses formerly belonging to Dutch Jews, many of whom perished in the Holocaust. Visitors engage with the life stories of the Jewish families who lived in the homes, often from a direct descendent, as well as through photographs, films, diary fragments, poems, literature and music. This project has inspired similar initiatives in other European countries, including Germany.

As evidenced by the Echoes & Reflections study, Holocaust education is an effective tool in promoting tolerance and acceptance towards others, something that is sorely need in this period of increased divisiveness and acrimony. It is therefore encouraging to see the growth of creative and informative initiatives, especially those aimed at reaching new audiences that have historically had access to less organized education about the history of the Shoah. At a time of great division, let’s use the lessons of the Holocaust to come together.

Sharon Nazarian is Senior Vice President of International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League

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