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Signs of broad support for national, global Holocaust education

New data from nonprofit RealityCheck research firm suggests Holocaust education makes people more broadly empathetic • Reportedly a greater focus on teaching about the Shoah in African schools.

A young girl holds a candle at the Holocaust memorial ceremony in the Terezin museum in the Czech Republic on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27, 2015. Credit: Roman Yanushevsky/Shutterstock.
A young girl holds a candle at the Holocaust memorial ceremony in the Terezin museum in the Czech Republic on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27, 2015. Credit: Roman Yanushevsky/Shutterstock.

New data from the American Jewish Committee suggests a consensus of American support for Holocaust education in public schools and for investing in Holocaust education resources.

“If we are going to combat antisemitism, effective Holocaust education is a key and vital tool,” stated Ted Deutch, CEO of the AJC. “At the same time, we should not only rely on Holocaust education to confront antisemitism.”

An overwhelming majority of American adults (85%) and U.S. Jews (91%) support public schools investing more resources in “teaching age-appropriate lessons about the Holocaust for all students,” per the AJC study, which was conducted in the fall. It was released a few days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

Last May, the nonprofit research firm RealityCheck told JNS that its data suggested that required Holocaust education in public schools was associated in those U.S. states with reducing hate crimes against minority groups, including Jews. A more recent unpublished survey from the nonprofit, which draws on responses from nearly 1,500 Americans ages 18 to 40, appears to support those findings.

“The field research shows significant increase in warmth toward all studied minority groups and significant impact on the personal qualities related to the commission of hate crimes and to harmonious functioning of society,” according to the report, which was shared with JNS. 

“Strong correlations across a variety of lines of inquiry and methodologies are highly suggestive of a causal connection,” it added.

‘This impacts everybody’

Going beyond a state-by-state comparison, the recent RealityCheck survey polled those who received no Holocaust education and those who had received some education on the Shoah.

The market research and polling firm Technometrica conducted the research on behalf of RealityCheck. It surveyed respondents to determine their warmth toward 12 groups, including eight minority groups, according to Daniel Pomerantz, the nonprofit’s CEO. 

The survey examined 22 attributes, including “justice activism,” “harmony pursuit” and “empowered responsibility,” finding an average of 35% more warmth from those with some compared to no Holocaust knowledge, and 41% more warmth from those who learned about the Holocaust formally in school, compared to those who did not.

“The objection to implementing Holocaust education is sometimes, ‘Well, it’s not relevant to me,’ or ‘Why should we focus on Jews when there’s so many other things to focus on?’” Pomerantz told JNS. “The answer to all of that is that this education impacts everybody.”

In addition to displaying more affinity for minority groups, respondents who received Holocaust education reported greater feelings of personal responsibility for the protection of those groups and a preference for strong punishment for hate crimes.

“One thing that surprised me is the degree to which Holocaust education impacts groups other than Jews,” Pomerantz told JNS. “The fact that it has such a strong impact on Muslim communities should put to rest the view out there in some places that we need to choose between teaching about antisemitism or Islamophobia.”

Holocaust Class in Berlin, Germany
High school students in Germany during a lesson on World War II and the Holocaust, May 2016. Credit: Brunocoelho/Shutterstock.

The initial research on state-by-state hate crimes, culled from FBI data, also suggests to him that there is no divide between Democrat- and Republican-leaning states, although some might think that the former is likelier to mandate Holocaust education.

“What we’ve discovered in the data is that’s not true. Red and blue is not a determinative pattern,” he said. “The only pattern that holds is having or not having Holocaust education.”

Pomerantz told JNS that he has briefed federal and state legislators, as well as organizations focused on the Holocaust and antisemitism, about the nonprofit’s research, saying “I’m finding a great deal of enthusiasm.”

Pomerantz also shared the new research with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, he told JNS. Last August, UNESCO published the first guide for African teachers on educating about atrocity crimes, including the Holocaust and genocides in places like Rwanda, Cambodia and Namibia. 

The guide reflected feedback from teachers in Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan and Zimbabwe who, per surveys and workshops, recognize the importance of Holocaust and atrocity-crimes education but don’t always feel adequately prepared to teach it without concern over “adverse effects” that might lead to “further division rather than cohesion,” according to a UNESCO release.

History of atrocity crimes

UNESCO has an institute based in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, that trains teachers. 

“Colleagues in Africa reached out, highlighting the need for some member states for more support in peace education and Holocaust and genocide education. In particular, they wanted to have some very hands-on materials for teachers on how to deal with a history of atrocity crimes,” Karel Fracapane, UNESCO focal point for Holocaust education program official, told JNS.

“Considering the variety of contexts in Africa, it was important to broaden our approach beyond the Holocaust, which is mostly a European experience, to dealing with violent pasts through education,” he added. “Member states must find ways to tackle their own experiences and try to develop policies, and educational practices and pedagogies, that really fit their particular context.” 

“This is obviously extremely difficult. Therefore, we developed this this material with the idea that teachers in a given country with a difficult history will be able to build bridges with other histories that may have had an international impact, such as, of course, the genocide of the Jewish people,” he added.

While Holocaust education is a relatively new phenomenon in some African states, the continent varies when it comes to the topic. South Africa long served as a model, with compulsory learning about the subject for every school starting in the ninth grade. (South Africa also recently led the charge in The Hague accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice.)

“A lot could be learned from the way in which South Africa has managed to integrate the history of the Holocaust. Every learner will learn about the Holocaust,” Tracey Petersen, manager of the Holocaust and United Nations Education Outreach Programme, told JNS. “Time allocated in the national curriculum to study the Holocaust in the ninth grade is second only to the study of apartheid.”

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