The importance of Holocaust Education: A new teaching resource

Chris Harris, CEO of Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, and Hannah Clark, Teacher at Scots College

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”

The quote above from philosopher George Santayana is well-known, and is an appropriate sentiment in the context of Holocaust education. The Holocaust was the persecution of and murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany from 1933 and 1945. More than 6 million Jews and approximately 5 million Roma/Sinti, homosexuals, Poles, people with disabilities, and many others were killed. Survivor testimonies describe the pain and horror of their experiences. What can we learn from this tragic, horrific time in our history?

A poll of 1000 people aged 13 plus conducted in 2019 revealed that nearly a third of New Zealanders know little or nothing about the Holocaust, and less than half of us were aware of basic facts, such as the number of lives lost during the Holocaust. In particular, the poll showed awareness among young people  under the age of 18 the horrors of the Holocaust were even lower, and in some cases, non-existent.

Currently, Holocaust education is not compulsory in New Zealand schools, meaning that New Zealand students may go through their entire formal schooling years without gaining any knowledge of this dark time in human history.

Why is Holocaust education important? 

In 2017, UNESCO released a policy guide outlining the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of Holocaust education. It explains that teaching and learning about the Holocaust:

  • Demonstrates the dangers of discrimination and dehumanisation, be it the antisemitism that fuelled the Holocaust or other forms of prejudice;
  • Illustrates how institutions can be turned against a segment of society;
  • Increases our understanding about human possibilities in extreme and desperate situations, by considering the actions of perpetrators, victims, as well as people who showed courage in the face of tyranny; and
  • Reinforces humanistic values that protect and preserve free and just societies

Holocaust education not only creates opportunities for learners to reflect on their role as global citizens, but also encourages students to view local history and contemporary contexts alongside the events of the Holocaust.

Holocaust Education in New Zealand

Holocaust education has been a challenge for so many teachers over the years. Questions such as ‘Where do I start?’ and ‘How do I tell such traumatic stories without upsetting my students?’ are commonplace. Recently, the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand introduced Just One Week, a programme that brings Holocaust education into schools and communities.

The programme is designed by teachers for teachers, and consists of a series of lessons using multimedia, and online resources and activities. Students are exposed to a range of material from cartoons, to poetry, music to document analysis, and survivor testimony, all in a safe and respectful way.  

Bob Narev, and his wife Freda Narev, are Holocaust survivors who came to New Zealand at the end of World War II.  Bob and Freda’s testimony is a powerful part of the programme, and, as one teacher commented, “helps to bring [the Holocaust] home to students, and makes them feel more connected with an event that has happened ‘so long ago.’”

The material is designed with NCEA and the junior Social Studies and English curriculum in mind, so links to achievement objectives are threaded throughout the material.  

A teacher from Christchurch notes: “The outline of work and units that Just One Week offers is really good and can be taught as a stand-alone unit for those schools that do not have ‘time’ for Holocaust teaching. It would make a really good case study for the Human Rights unit, for example. It is easy to follow and should be easily accessible for teachers that do not feel comfortable with this topic”.

The New Zealand History Teachers Association has endorsed this programme, and the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand is working with the Ministry of Education to see that it is included into the New Zealand Histories curriculum for 2022. New Zealand History Teachers’ Association Chair, Graeme Ball, considers that the teaching resources of Just One Week provide a clear understanding of the significance of the Holocaust to New Zealanders, which may help us to view our own history in a different light.  

Holocaust education seeks to shed light on a terrible time in world history. All too often, Nazi comparisons are used in modern society against various governments or people, which clearly highlight a lack of understanding of the severity of that period in history. The Holocaust resulted in the deaths of more than 11 million people, whose lives were cut short by cruelty, dehumanisation, and a gross abuse of power. Not only must we remember this tragedy from our past, we must also arm our citizens with knowledge of history so it is not repeated.  Let us learn from our past so we can have a better, more peaceful future.

The youngest Holocaust survivors are now in their late seventies. With so few survivors left to share their stories, it is up to us pass on their experiences to future generations, so history is not repeated but rather free and just societies prevail.

Chris Harris joined the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand in 2016 as its National Director of Education, bringing 13 years of History teaching experience with him, before being appointed to the role of CEO in March, 2019. Chris oversees the Centre’s strategic direction, facilitating the national and international activities of the Centre and its profile.

Hannah Clark is a secondary school History teacher, who holds a Master of Arts and a Master of Teaching and Learning, both from Victoria University of Wellington. Hannah has spent a significant period of time learning about the Holocaust, with a particular focus on the individual experiences of survivors. She volunteers at the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s