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Introducing the subject


The Holocaust and Human Rights teaching


There has been debate as to whether teaching about the historical events of  the

Holocaust is a suitable introduction to the concept of Human Rights or whether it is

better to keep the Holocaust and Human Rights as separate subjects. There does seem

to be a clear movement towards combining the two in European education and Tikvah,

in its Mission, wants to create clear linkages between the two.


There is an interesting discussion on the subject in a paper prepared by Professor

Monique Eckman from the School for Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences

Western Switzerland, in Geneva entitled "Exploring the relevance of Holocaust

education for human rights education". 


She concludes that:

"First, it is important to learn the historical facts, and know about the process

leading to the Holocaust. Second, attention must be paid not only to what

happened during the era of National Socialism, but also to what happened

afterwards, to the history of memory, and to the diversity of historical narratives.

Third, it is important to address current violations of HR, especially those occurring

in our own society and in our own national contexts.

Finally, we must challenge and deconstruct national myths about this history that

are present in our own countries, and reflect on how to come to terms with each

country’s own past."


The comparative approach


The value of a comparative approach, relating the Holocaust to other genocides is

dealt with in an important ITF document "Holocaust, genocide, and crimes against

humanity" which provides suggestions for classroom teachers as to how to approach

the comparison.


We include below an extract which sets out the key issues:


1. The Holocaust is often considered to have given rise to our conceptualisation of 

the term "genocide‟, which was coined during the Second World War, in large 

measure as a response to the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. So the 

Holocaust may constitute a starting point and the foundation for studying 

genocide.

2. In comparing the Holocaust to other genocides and crimes against humanity it 

should be possible to sharpen understandings not only of similarities between 

events but also of key differences. In so doing, it may be an opportunity to better 

understand the particular historical significance of the Holocaust, and how study 

of the Holocaust might contribute to our understanding of other genocidal events. 

By the same token, learning about other genocides may contribute to deeper 

understandings about the Holocaust.

3. In comparing the Holocaust to other genocides and crimes against humanity it 

may be possible to identify common patterns and processes in the development of 

genocidal situations. Through the understanding of a genocidal process and in 

identifying stages and warning signs in this process, a contribution can hopefully 

be made to prevent future genocides.

4. Students should appreciate the significance of the Holocaust in the development of 

international law, tribunals and attempts by the international community to 

respond to genocide in the modern world.

5. To compare the Holocaust to other genocides may be a means to alert young 

people to the potential danger for other genocides and crimes against humanity to 

evolve today. This may strengthen an awareness of their own roles and 

responsibilities in the global community.

6. To compare the Holocaust to other genocides may help to overcome the lack of 

recognition of other genocides.

7. Knowledge of the Holocaust may also be helpful in considering how to come to 

terms with the past in other societies after genocide, how communities can 

respond to genocide, and how survivors can attempt to live with their experiences.

8. The national history of a given country can be the reason for relating the 

Holocaust to another genocide: for example, because a genocide plays an 

important role in the national memory.


It is also important to note that there are many challenges in such a comparative 

approach. Care should be taken to avoid a number of pitfalls: 


1. The comparing of two distinct historical events will be difficult without careful 

historical contextualisation, and so requires good understanding of both historical 

events. This is a particular challenge given the lack of educational material that 

actually does compare/relate the Holocaust to other genocides.

2. The differences between historical events are as important and significant as their 

similarities and care must be taken not to equate, diminish, or trivialise either the 

Holocaust or the genocides to which the Holocaust is compared.

3. It is legitimate to compare the differences between genocides, but it is not appropriate

to compare the suffering of individual victims or victim groups. Care must be

taken not to create hierarchies of suffering or allow the value of a comparative

study to be diminished by political or social agendas or competing memories.


It is important to be aware of the rationale behind comparing the Holocaust to 

other genocides. This being said, there are certain reasons or strategies for 

comparing the Holocaust to other genocides that are not fruitful and that 

definitely should be avoided. Some of these are:


1. The link to other genocides is made to hide certain aspects of one's national 

history, such as collaboration with Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

2. The Holocaust is seen as a means of political power in contemporary politics and 

the link to the Holocaust is made out of political considerations.

3. The link to other genocides is made to diminish or trivialise the Holocaust


Asociatia Tikvah has been developing teaching resources over the last few years.

To examine these free resources go to www.tikvahedu.ro.