The importance of educating young people about the Holocaust was highlighted in survey findings released on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day which marks the liberation of Auschwitz 77 years ago.
Commissioned by the Gandel Foundation, the survey found that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of the population aged 18 years and over had little to no knowledge of the Holocaust, with that number rising to 30 per cent among millennials.
But two thirds believed it should be compulsory for schools to teach students about the Holocaust and 78 per cent said museums and memorials were valuable.
AHMSEC director Kathy Baykitch said 55 metropolitan and regional schools, including 16 Catholic schools, had participated in the Introduction to the Holocaust program before COVID restrictions halted school excursions late last year. Plans are underway for an interactive online program for schools until restrictions ease.
St Michael’s College has had a long involvement with Holocaust survivor Andrew Steiner OAM and was the first school to participate in the museum’s education program.
The college’s head of History, Stacey Moros, won the 2021 Gandel award for her contribution to Holocaust education in Australia.
Ms Moros said when teaching Holocaust studies to her students, she wanted them to understand that it happened in one of the most civilised, cultured and modern societies at the time and that this is what happens when intolerance and hatred remain unchecked.
With an Eastern European background, Ms Moros told The Southern Cross she had a strong interest in the Holocaust from when she was at school, prompting her to visit Auschwitz and Berlin.
While teaching history at Tatachilla Lutheran College and then St Michael’s College, she also developed her own knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust and Jewish history through university studies.
In 2013 she was encouraged to apply for a Gandel scholarship and was fortunate to be one of 33 Australian educators to attend a three-week immersion program at the world-renowned Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem.
“It was the most amazing educational, professional, personal experience that I have had in my teaching career,” she said.
“To go and learn under the leading scholars in the world and immerse myself in the Jewish culture…it was a really life-changing experience.
“It crystallised that this was an important thing I was doing and I feel like I have a duty now to teach about the Holocaust.”
Ms Moros said she wasn’t surprised that the survey found that young people who knew about the Holocaust had a more positive view towards minority groups and vulnerable members of society.
“Intolerance hasn’t just evaporated since the Holocaust,” she said. “There is still prejudice and stereotypes and that’s part of my lessons.”
She said some students had a “sense of the scope” of six million deaths but did not have any understanding of why, or the different stages of persecution and ingrained antisemitism.
“That is why as an educator I teach about how there were stages of the Holocaust (the ‘Shoah’). It is wrong to think simply of the ‘Final Solution’,” she explained.
“It was systematic…it was about the attempt at the complete destruction of every aspect of Jewish life – physically, culturally, spiritually and symbolically.
“Another important part of teaching the Holocaust is using individual stories to help students understand that this is a story of ordinary people, men, women and children.
“Families who were part of communities, played sport, were deeply entrenched and assimilated into society, who celebrated birthdays, holidays, weddings, were part of youth groups deemed a threat, and undesirable to society. How these individuals were lost to the world, but how in our classroom we can give them back a voice and remember their names.”
Ms Moros said the advantage of visiting the Holocaust Museum was being able to see the personal stories and follow them through the various stages, as well as hearing from survivors and volunteers who could share their historical knowledge.
“The museum is such a great resource for educators in South Australia and I hope more students will get the opportunity going forward to immerse themselves and hopefully go to other museums around the world,” she said.
AHMSEC is currently hosting an exhibition Crimes Uncovered which is on loan from the German Embassy in Canberra until March.
The exhibition traces the stories and the legacies of the individuals and institutions that worked during and immediately after the Holocaust to record and collect information of atrocities and bring perpetrators to justice.
Among the stories featured is that of Raphael Lemkin who used the information he amassed about the atrocities of the Holocaust to develop the legal concept of genocide.
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