Holocaust Education in Varying German Context
Contribution to panel on congress of European Child Survivors, in Zagreb 5/2016
Preliminary version – update including discussion at Zagreb shall be provided early in June.
Child Survivors are recognized as time witnesses. They keep contributing in Germany, mainly for school-children. Just a few of us are left, but the requests from schools, communities, institutions are also limited. We can most of the time react upon the demand. Beyond our engagement as living witnesses, there is an enormous amount of documents, museums, internet-presentations etc., easily available for those interested. Related to holocaust education, there are public debates, demonstrations, political activities. It would be misleading, if we would consider only “official” articles about holocaust education, as provided in standard educational books. Rather there are various kinds of public statements about the social significance and role of the holocaust. We have to watch the educational impact thereof upon both children and adults.
We shall ask: “How does impact work?” There are so many conflicting, contradictory, rapidly changing impressions, that we need a mosaic, in order to get a picture.
Different groups in Germany have and provide completely different impressions about holocaust, its background and its role for current and future society.
Change over time Looking back over the decades we can say: The holocaust education, as well as German society itself, markedly changed over time. After 1945 the occupying forces even tried to educate part of the German population, by forcing those living near a KZ (concentration camp) to visit the camp, and confront the horrible crimes. Films presenting those citizens from near-by, who were forced to watch, display defiance, while empathy or even sorrow for the victims was missing.
A few years later already USA wanted German support against communism, and thus most die-hard Nazi would get back on their post. Schoolbooks followed historians, and these came to widely varying conclusions regarding evaluation of Nazi crimes.
When I was a school-boy 1950 – 1958 it was confirmed over and again, that human history was taught all the way from A to B, say from Apes as our ancestors until Bismarck – excluding by and large both World Wars – many teachers thus avoided questions about their role along the crimes in war and holocaust.
In the 1970ties broader holocaust education was caused mainly through the film series “Holocaust” from USA. The fate of victims, the long-term impact upon Child Survivors from then on has been researched, including context, in more appropriate detail. This includes the tendency in Germany, not only of Nazis, to suppress memory and responsibility regarding the holocaust.
Meantime now there is on one hand a broad reluctance by both students and teachers, to deal with “the old stuff where we young people were not involved”, while on the other hand better information than ever before is available at museums, monuments etc. – and is part of the official educative plans.
Not before recent decades has a broad built-up of information about the anti-Semitism including holocaust been achieved. The use of these data did depend by and large upon initiative of teachers, whether they put emphasis on the issue – or rather ignored it.
Overall, it is more common today for a school-class than during first decades after 1945, to visit the site of a KZ (concentration camp), or museums, such as provided along the Stelen (monuments) in Berlin. At the same time, an increasing number of youth do not know what Auschwitz was, and what it should imply.
This is in stark contrast to another issue: There is a friendly exchange of youth with Israel, since 1963, and more than half a million youth from both countries participated. It is an area controlled by government and friendly organizations.
The ambivalence, as valid after 1970, is displayed by a statement of writer Maxim Biller in an interview about “Do you like opportunist?” (Jued. Allgemeine, April 7 th 2016, p. 17, interview “Moegen Sie Opportunisten?”):
Question: Did you experience Antisemitism?
Answer by Maxim Biller: Most of the 30,000 Jews living here at that time moved within a parallel world. Jews were present not as human beings but only as names on plaques. With 15, 16 years I suddenly realized that the good old Jew phobia but was still there. My German school friends protested not only against nuclear power plants and worshiped the RAF as David Bowie or Deep Purple, but talking about Israel in a way, as before the Nazis had talked about Jews. Even more laughable was, that German friends of my parents – they had hardly at a party drunk a bit – were immediately totally touched when they told about their time in the army. For the sober German society, the Jews were but not an issue, except being a resident of a museum.
Current context of holocaust education Holocaust education at schools, as well as in some public courses for further education, is well controlled by government. Beyond that both classification and impact of holocaust is influenced by many societal efforts. Rightist movements do a lot to deter immigrants, and people listen. Along their effort, they often forward fascist paroles, including derogatory innuendos about holocaust and Jews in general. This can be seen every day on TV, in Internet, or live in demos. Political parties such as NPD (traditional Nazi) and AfD (Alternative for Germany) are in ongoing exchange with the judicial system, media, and about what is allowed in public and what not.
Certain symbols such as swastika and similar forms are forbidden, but always a bit less similar forms or new symbols with evident fascist meaning are used. A typical innuendo, during electioneering of a fascist party in Berlin, there was a poster: “Gib Gas!” It was put forward in a context of transport policy, but it should hurt – and did hurt – Jews. It is especially bitter for us Child Survivors, that such fascist parties and their actions were not forbidden and annihilated from 1945 on.
The rightist AfD is re-educating many listeners in Germany towards racism, and people also listen what they say about the holocaust. They keep telling, they would be no Nazis, and distinguish themselves from Hitler. How close they are to Nazis, and what low and weird importance they attribute to holocaust, is revealed by Alexander Gauland (DIE ZEIT, April 14 th 2016, p. 6 “Hitler hat den Deutschen das Rückgrat gebrochen; Ein Gespräch mit dem AfD-Politiker Alexander Gauland über deutsche Komplexe, Homosexuelle und Hindenburg, den Islam und Frauke Petry.
Interview: Bernd Ulrich und Matthias Geis) who said, while talking about “identity”:
This of course has to do with Auschwitz. I recently visited for the first time in Auschwitz, where I have found that it has no more impressed me, unlike my visit to Buchenwald. It's like frozen terror. When you see all that hair, and brushes and trunk, you suddenly feel that;s petrified that no longer speaks to you. I believe, that Auschwitz, also as a symbol, has much destroyed in us.
Question, by ZEIT: Was it not we, who destroyed something?
Gauland: True, but much more has been destroyed along that. The Nazis had touched many things, that then were suddenly no longer mentionable through this contact. The national pride that every Englishman, every Frenchman feels, is questioned enormously with us, according to the motto: May we still mention it at all?
ZEIT: There just has never been a crime as Auschwitz, outside of German history.
Gauland: Yes. Hitler has much more destroyed than the cities and the people, he has broken the back of the Germans, largely.
The current essential issue regarding education is, that fascist and especially racist movements are getting prominent even in middle class, at the center of society, One issue is immigrants, namely fears that they take away jobs and commit criminal acts,
also that they get more money, than poor German people.
Before this background also Jewish issues, especially Israel are increasingly under attack. Common school-books and governmental proclamations in favor of Jewish interests are challenged, motto: “Yes (we know, the old Nazis committed crimes …),
BUT (!), and then come all the reservations, exceptions etc. A majority criticizes the increasing number of new settlements in Israel, and attribute poverty and hardship of Palestinians to rigid acts of premier Netanyahu – without much any knowledge about local issues beyond daily pictures of destruction in Middle East. Formal official statements pro Israel are decreasing, and the majority of German people meantime has a critical attitude towards Israel, even with delicate arguments such as: “The holocaust shall not be used to mislead German politics towards generally accepting all actions of the Israeli government. Motto: We know holocaust was a bad thing, but it is long ago, and no excuse for anything done by former victims now. And in that form, with a rather hostile attitude, it is a kind of inverse holocaust education.
No rebels, all mainstream Would it be possible for society, especially for a Ministry of Culture in one of the 16 federal states, to enforce holocaust education? Some tried, and achieved a limited expansion. There have been arrangements such as every class shall visit a KZ concentration camp, and these former camps indeed provide more informative material for holocaust education than before. But the impact is limited, and diminishing.
70 years after 1945 we observe in public a growing distance to “alarming issues” of any kind, including holocaust. This is true for both teachers and youth. A current article “youth is too lax” (Die Jugend ist zu lasch, Welt am Sonntag May 1 st 2016, p. 24-25) pinpoints a controversy: Youth as follower, or even as frontrunner of current mainstream? “What shall we rebel against”, is what young people say. Youth is either adjusted or feels in control – including dangers such as the holocaust. They see the rightist movements as insignificant, negligible, unimportant – but should the danger rise, they would indeed feel strong enough to limit and annihilate the danger. They need not care about rightist or leftist groups, not about rich or poor, not about climatic change.
Unlimited information – limited interest Holocaust issues are well documented, for schools and beyond. A minority would observe and respect them, and in a few cases would also invite time witnesses. The information is seen with – individually more or less – regret regarding the former crimes, while with no deliberate conclusion for current crimes, dangers and overall Jewish issues.
Antisemitism is seldom open and to the point of “official” repulsion of Jewish life. But there are many forms of “yes we support Jews and the state Israel, BUT …” – and then common accusations are put forward.
Recently for education all kinds of time witnesses are prominent and effective: They mediate, make vivid and natural the emotional participation of past basic issues, in a way no textbook can provide. Soon we will not be able to continue. Documents in form of interviews will be useful, and several Child Survivors do their best to provide such documents. One issue will be a new book series including films, focusing upon the long-term impact of the holocaust upon the entire life of Child Survivors. It can assist the “Never again” as often spelled out for the holocaust in the direction of related acts of violence in present time. Especially this kind of holocaust education will tell a lot about the impact of current violence upon children in all parts of the world.
All data, as would be useful for holocaust education, have been revealed, and published. They are available for those, who seek education. Actual use for holocaust education is limited, and diminishing. Example KZ concentration camp Buchenwald: Many firms and institutions, many craftsmen out of nearby town Weimar earned a lot of money through service and production for Buchenwald. The population could not avoid seeing the fate and torture of the victims. A current exhibition at Buchenwald reveals all this, and also the oath of the survivors at their mourning ceremony on April 19th 1945: “The annihilation of Nazism with its roots is our target. The built-up of a new world of peace and liberty is our goal.”
That target has not been achieved. All the time since 1945, holocaust education has more the character of a report about a strange historic event, than a clear message what fascism is, and how to strictly avoid it. The town of Weimar is promoting itself as “the town of Goethe and Schiller”, while never applying the spirit of both to their own lack of responsibility until 1945, not even for a short “sorry”.
What Child Survivors would expect, would have been:
Realistic information about the holocaust, including scientific evaluation – as has been provided
holocaust education – it is available, but in limited and diminishing amount of use
with impact on crushing fascism – that failed.
Shall we despair? No, watch a kind of German proverb as forwarded by poet Hoelderlin:
Where danger is imminent, also the saving forces will grow. An example, as influenced by holocaust education and other views of imminent dangers: There is much experience regarding violent rightist and leftist extremists, including recent terrorists, out of German youth. After being put in prison for criminal acts, our youth often learned within prison from other inmates how to be even more violent and destructive. A current re-education program uses experiences, how to approach and convince inmates, to look at own motivations and re-establish themselves in a constructive way for society. There are experts such as Thomas Muecke (Deike Diening: “Extrem dicht ran”, Tagesspiegel May 6th, 2016, p. 3). He gets in contact with tough and desperate youth, displays honest and strong interest in their fate and identity, and let them find their own way out of their dead end. We might even ask, if Hitler would have been approached similarly in prison before writing “Mein Kampf” (or earlier than that), whether history might have taken a
Whatever happens, we as Child Survivors will keep putting top emphasis upon holocaust education. We will do that, in combination with ongoing updates for education against all forms of intolerance and violence.
Am Ende der letzten Konferenz Nov. 2013 in Las Vegas kam vom europ. Präsidenten der Child Survivors Max Arpels Lezer (links im Bild) und von unserem Philipp Sonntag (rechts im Bild) die Einladung zur nächsten Konferenz nach Berlin.
Siehe unten: (Zum Motto "Justice, Respect and Peace" der Konferenz in Berlin schrieb Ph. Sonntag diesen Essay)
Die letzten Zeitzeugen erinnern und mahnen / Child Survivors D. (Hrsg), 43 S. (Darstellung des Vereins) 2012
Nach dem Überleben Psychosoziale und medizinische Auswirkungen der Shoah auf die Generation der Child Survivors In: Jüdische Zeitung, März 2011, S. 4
Chronische Linderung Treffen der Child Survivors Deutschland e. V. – Überlebende Kinder der Shoah, in Bad Sobernheim 15. – 18. März 2012. Für: ZWST informiert II/2012 Ffm Juni 2012. bzw. vorübergehend auf www.zwst.org/de/service/zwst-informiert/
Gratwanderungen der Sicherheit – Aktuelle Risiken im Licht der Kriegsfolgenstudie von 1971. In: Blickpunkt Zukunft/VDW, April 2012, Seite 7-8
Historische Heilung der gesellschaftlichen Beschneidung I: Jüdische Zeitung August 2012, Seite 22 (dort fast unverändert publiziert)
Zum 50. Geburtstag von Sabine Kaemmel Rede zur Feier des 50. Geburtstages der „2G“ (Kinder von Child Survivors) behinderten Künstlerin Sabine Kaemmel am 6. Dez. im RambaZamba Theater/Kulturbrauerei in Berlin, mit Publikation des Buches: Philipp Sonntag mit Grafiken von Sabine Kaemmel: Liebesknurren – Als Maus unter großen Tramplern (Dez. 2012). 56 Seiten mit 19 Zeichnungen. Thurneysser-Verlag, Postfach 35 05 32, 10214 Berlin
Soziologie mit Kafka, – Neonazis in Aktion, wie lange bleiben wir noch verfassungslos? In: Jüdische Zeitung, Feb/2012, S. 17
Ein Willkommen für Opfer des Holocaust aus den Nachfolgestaaten der Sowjetunion –wenigstens jetzt mit 20 Jahren Verspätung. In: Jüdische Zeitumng, Dez 2011, S. 5
Rüstungskontrolle für Atomwaffen in Nahost Die 59. Pugwash Konferenz Juli 2011 in Berlin weckte Hoffnungen. In: Jüdische Zeitung: Oktober 2011, S. 4
Vertrauensbildende Maßnahmen in Nahost Die atomare Bedrohung im Nahen Osten ist größer denn je In: Jüdische Zeitung 2/2011, S. 17
Überlebende des Holocaust global vereint In: „Mahnung“ Okt/2011 und Nov./2011
Bewahre die Erinnerung an die Vergangenheit – heute sei vergnügt! Die 23. Jahreskonferenz der World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust. In: Jüdische Zeitung: Oktober 2011, S. 22
Anti-Semitism in Germany – a Permanent Challenge. Beitrag auf der Konferenz des WFJCSH am 21. August 2011 in Warschau. Kurzfassung publiziert in: Mishpocha – A Link among Survivors around the World, Spring 2012; page 6 and 7
Unrechtsstaat bezüglich Nazis <<Hinweis: „Grundsatzartikel …“ schließt unmittelbar an, an „…Nazis“>>
Weiterer Buchbesprechungen, Foren, so z. B. zu:
Rachel Kochawi: Die Blut-Braut, aus dem Hebräischen von Miriam Magall. In Jüd. Ztg. April 2011, S. 15
Rachel Kochawi: Nakajima, aus dem Hebräischen von Miriam Magall, in Jüd. Ztg. Dez. 2011, S. 14