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 deve

lopment 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