Thirteen years ago, on January 25 2005, the United Nations General Assembly marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps and, with it, the end of the Holocaust. Later that year, at the UN’s 42nd plenary session, UN resolution 60/7 designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a memorial to mark the tragedy of the Holocaust, the intentional murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime. The spirit of the resolution went beyond acknowledging the horror of this man-made tragedy, it was designed in hopes that such remembrance would mean that such tragedy would never happen again: “Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”
A UN declaration acknowledging the Holocaust cannot by itself prevent the resurgence of another, only acting on the six recommendations included in the declaration can. Those are:
“1. Resolves that the United Nations will designate 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust;
2. Urges Member States to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide, and in this context commends the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research;
3. Rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part;
4. Commends those States which have actively engaged in preserving those sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labour camps and prisons during the Holocaust;
5. Condemns without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur;
6. Requests the Secretary-General to establish a programme of outreach on the subject of the “Holocaust and the United Nations” as well as measures to mobilize civil society for Holocaust remembrance and education, in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide; to report to the General Assembly on the establishment of this programme within six months from the date of the adoption of the present resolution; and to report thereafter on the implementation of the programme at its sixty-third session.”
Among those recommendations, educating future generations about the Holocaust is critical. Succeeding in the hope that we will never see such horror again requires that the attitudes and values of people around the world would evolve such that we would never see the indifference which enabled the perpetrators of the Holocaust to carry out their crimes. This requires education, an education of the mind and of the heart, an education that humanizes people so they can recognize the humanity in another, and so they are prepared to implicate themselves in the protection of the rights of others. UN resolution 60/7 “Urges Member States to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide, and in this context commends the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research;”
Teaching about the Holocaust, if done well, is indeed a powerful way to cultivate such humanity. The organization Facing History and Ourselves, founded in 1976 by Harvard Graduate School of Education alumna Margot Strom, has over the last 45 years developed highly effective curriculum and pedagogical approaches to support teachers around the world in that enterprise. Similarly, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has developed highly effective programs to foster the promotion of tolerance, including religious tolerance. UNESCO has, since its founding, promoted Education about the Holocaust. More recently, as part of the Education 2030 Agenda, the organization’s efforts to advance global citizenship education explicity include the rejection of anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bigotry and hatred, recognizing that those have historically been the foundations of genocide and violence. The global citizenship education curricula which I developed with my graduate students, are also aligned to promote respect for human rights, tolerance, and to help students understand and recognize anti-semitism an other forms of religious bigotry, as well as to study the Holocaust. These are available in the books Empowering Global Citizens, and Empowering Students to Improve the World, available in several major languages:
Given these educational efforts to promote tolerance, and given the UN resolution adopted thirteen years ago urging governments to teach about the Holocaust, how come antisemitism is on the rise in many parts of the world, as documented in surveys conducted by the Pew Organization and by the Anti-defamation league. Why can’t we be certain that there will never again be a Holocaust?
The reason we cannot be certain, seventy three years after the liberation of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, that another Holocaust will never again happen, in spite of the fact that there are effective curricula and education resources to help students develop tolerant attitudes and habits of mind is twofold. The first, most students around the world do not learn about the Holocaust, and they don’t have access to effective human rights and citizenship education curricula such as those made available by Facing History and Ourselves, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or UNESCO. The second, hate groups have developed their own education programs that cultivate people’s extremely intolerant views. While many of these programs of recruitment and promotion of hate operate outside schools, hate groups also are organized to undermine efforts to teach tolerance in schools.
If we really mean Never Again there are two simple things all of us who teach can do: The first is to read the UN resolution and to do all in our power so that the six recommendations of the declaration are in fact implemented.
The second thing those of us who teach can do to prevent another Holocaust is to teach about the Holocaust, help students know the facts and understand the facts, help them think deeply about how this horror was not just the product of those who were active perpetrators, but also of the silence of those who stood by in silence. Help them understand the difference ordinary people who had the courage to save the lives of Jews made. Help them connect the past to the present, and to ask themselves what does this knowledge of history mean for how they choose to engage with their communities, and for how they confront contemporary forms of anti-semitism, and other forms of bigotry. Let’s help the 69 million teachers the world needs to recruit over the next decade to educate all children gain the knowledge and skills to effectively teach about the Holocaust, to educate global citizens. If we do this we may be able to say with more certainty ‘Never again’.