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The International School for Holocaust Studies

European Educators

Summary of the 2010 ICHEIC Forum

Leora Brothman

On February 15-17, 2010 strategic partners from fifteen countries convened at the annual ICHEIC (International Commission for Holocaust Era Insurance Claims) Forum held at Yad Vashem. (See attached Appendix A List of Participants.)  Together with the staff from the European Department of the International School for Holocaust Studies, participants exchanged ideas and discussed the status of Holocaust education throughout Europe and new educational programs being developed at Yad Vashem.  (See attached Appendix B Forum Schedule.)

Holocaust Education in European and Israeli Classrooms

The Forum participants were honored with power point presentations on “The Holocaust in Our Textbooks” that allowed for some perspective on the range of curricula and textbooks in various countries.

CorinneBonafoux of the Institut national de recherché pedagogique (INRP), in France, noted that while there are many textbooks to choose from, each textbook must adhere to the set curriculum.  Some of the challenges faced by French teachers she highlighted include insufficient time in the classroom to cover material and the many reforms to the educational curriculum, teaching in an age-appropriate manner and looking beyond the possible causes of the Holocaust to explore antisemitism, Jewish culture, life before the war.
Ronaldas Racinskas of International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania noted that the Commission’s perspective on Holocaust education might differ somewhat from the Ministry of Education.  Teachers can choose from a number of approved textbooks. The Holocaust is addressed in grades five, six, ten and twelve.  Ronaldas outlined the benchmarks of the curriculum for each grade level and noted that topics include the Holocaust in Lithuania and other countries as well as the relevance of the Soviet regime.  Moving forward, he thought it important to focus on the method of learning so as to encourage personal and social changes, development of attitudes and skills as well as the formation of a connection between history and contemporary events. 
Werner Dreier of Austrian Ministry of Education (BMUKK) www.erinnern.at compared the coverage of the Holocaust in two Austrian textbooks. The Holocaust is taught to students aged thirteen and seventeen in Austria.  He observed that textbooks respond with delay to progress in research and public debate such as teaching the subject with the victims’ voices.  Therefore, it is expected that the subject of perpetrator, bystanders and a “violent society” will be better addressed in future.  Werner also discussed the question of the significance and training of history teachers.

Yael Richler of Yad Vashem, in Israel, explained that most schools use the same recently updated book and dedicate fifteen hours per year to Holocaust in the classroom.  As most Israeli adults claim the Holocaust impacts their identity, Israeli students encounter the Holocaust in many places beyond the classroom and have an individual understanding of the story before hearing the narrative of history teacher.  This poses a particular challenge for Israeli teachers to keep students’ interest and focus on the historical facts.  She noted as well that the curriculum in religious schools differs somewhat from that of secular schools. relating to religious issues surrounding the Holocaust.

Youth Visits to Authentic Sites in Poland

Participants were also given the opportunity to discuss the subject of “Youth Pilgrimages to Auschwitz-Birkenau” with presentations from a number of participants and responses from Alicja Bialecka of Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum , Poland and Lena Jersenius of Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism (SKMA), Sweden.

Anita Parmar of Holocaust Educational Trust, in the United Kingdom covered the national strategy of a four-part course for sixth form students aged sixteen to eighteen, for 3000 students each year that is designed to encourage students to pass on lessons to their British communities.  The experience includes prepatory study, a one-day visit to Poland and a follow-up seminar to discuss students’ responses and plan follow-up projects to share the lessons learned.  According to research by the Holocaust Education Development Program of Institute of Education at the University of London (with which Forum participant Paul Salmons is associated), 98% of student participants found the project to be excellent and reported that it gave them a greater understanding of lessons of equality, discrimination and preservation of memory.

Christer Mattson of The Living History Forum in Sweden outlined necessary factors participants should appreciate to ensure that the trips are a learning experience.  They include: the Holocaust was the genocide that made society understand the concept of genocide; the Holocaust altered our experience on human rights issues and the Holocaust led to an irreversible process that forever altered the conversation and make-up of Europe.  Verification of knowledge and interaction with the environment are crucial as well.

Alex Dancyg of Yad Vashem, addressed the origins and motivations of the first trips to Poland including the wish to understand one’s family history and cultural exchanges and discussed how the trips have evolved over the years.  The focus of the trip is to educate participants about Jewish history in Poland, Polish history and the Holocaust.  He emphasized the need for proper training of the guides to ensure the necessary skills and knowledge.

During the Forum proceedings, participants and staff visited the Paul Himmelfarb High School in Jerusalem to meet with students preparing to take part in an educational visit to Holocaust sites in Poland.  This provided them the opportunity to speak with some Israeli students and gain some perspective on their thoughts and issues leading up to the trip.

Assessment of European Department’s Work with Its Partners and Planning Ahead

Other significant discussions on the Department’s performance were held as well.  Richelle Budd Caplan addressed the subject of the “Planning the Next Five Years of the ICHEIC Program” which reviewed the successes achieved and challenges still facing the European Department.  Richelle noted that despite the limited budget and staff infrastructure as well as the demands of working with a tight schedule and new countries, the Department is seeking to maintain its high standards of programming and expand partnerships with various organizations, graduate networks and other departments within Yad Vashem.   In addition, the Department intends to upgrade its website and technological capabilities, continue to develop relevant pedagogical material and maximize learning opportunities around Holocaust remembrance days.  During the session, participants were also conferred with on the upcoming Seventh International Conference on Holocaust Education at Yad Vashem, June 12-13, 2010.

Dr. Raya Brama of the Szold Institute presented the “Preliminary Findings of the Evaluations” of her research methods using quantitative and qualitative measures.  After studying six groups of educators from five European countries and looking at their professional backgrounds, the Institute found that the participants found that the seminars contributed new information to them on the following topics: life in Israel, righteous among the nations, survivors’ returning to life, Jews and Judaism.  The most significant pedagogical contribution to them was in the areas of teaching the Holocaust by personal authentic stories, teaching the Holocaust as a sequence (Jewish life before, during and after the Second World War), acquaintance with different teaching materials prepared by Yad Vashem, and the age-appropriate approach.  Teachers would like to be exposed to more survivors’ testimonies, pedagogical workshops, Yad Vashem resource centers, and consultations with experts about specific Holocaust teaching issues as well as given more time to explore Israel.

The Forum concluded with Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, who spoke with participants about a variety of issues and concerns in Holocaust education and suggested ideas on how next year’s gathering might be structured to promote an even more productive exchange of ideas and to address pressing issues.

At the end of the proceedings, the Forum participants agreed that additional time on planning for the future and small discussion groups would be helpful at the next Forum.  Additionally, some requested to have the topics of discussion circulated in advance of the meeting for their review and feedback.

The Forum was enriched with a workshop on "Signposts" and “The Shoah and Us” (projects developed by Israeli graphic artists), a visit to the New Temporary Exhibition, "Architecture of Murder", a preview of the building plans for the new addition to the International School for Holocaust Studies, a lecture by Dr. Zeev Mankowitz of Yad Vashem on “The Surviving Remnant in the Displaced Persons Camps in Central Europe: Tensions and Dilemmas” and a festive group dinner.

Overall, the Forum was a successful gathering of partners that enabled them to discuss together with the Department’s staff common and distinctive issues facing European educators and allowed for the suggestion of new ideas as to how to create an even more productive dialogue and foster greater consideration of planning ahead.