27th January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On 27th January 1945, Red Army troops liberated the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. As the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz has become a symbol of the genocide of 6 million Jews committed by the Nazi regime. That is why the UN declared this day as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and every year numerous commemorative events are organised in the Bundestag, the European Parliament and at many memorial sites. They all pursue the goal of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive in our time, and at the same time they stand as a reminder that such crimes against humanity must never be repeated.

Commemorative events like these are part of the “culture of remembrance” in Germany and Europe (the term refers to the way individuals and society at large deal with their history). After a long period of forgetting and repressing the dark past of the Holocaust in Germany, the attitude towards a common remembrance changed in the 1980s. Remembering Nazi crimes against humanity as well as its victims together was seen as a prerequisite for reconciliation, but also to ensure that hatred and violence against Jews, which culminated in the Holocaust, will never occur again. Today, however, there are more and more voices saying that, since the Holocaust happened so long ago, there is too much focus on the Holocaust in school and that it is time to draw a line under the whole subject.

Studies suggest that schoolchildren are by no means learning too much about the Holocaust. On the contrary, according to one study, 40% of Germans between the ages of 18 and 34 say they know little or nothing about the Holocaust, and across Europe 20% of young people have never heard of the Holocaust at all. Do we need to change the way we teach about the Holocaust in school? For example: could school trips to the memorials of former concentration camps help create greater awareness?

In recent years, the attack on the synagogue in Halle in Germany as well as the attack on a Jewish supermarket in France have shocked Europe. But they were only the tip of the iceberg, as anti-Semitic crimes, especially acts of violence, have been on the rise in Europe for years. And the situation has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories like Q-Anon further fueling anti-Semitic attitudes in European society. In view of these developments, do we need to change the way we remember the Holocaust?

What do our readers think? Our reader Jan sent us a comment pointing out that a poll conducted two months before the Halle attack found that “24% of Germans believe that ‘Jews’ have too much influence on world politics, and 27% agreed with a range of anti-Semitic prejudices and statements. Similar surveys in other European countries often reveal identical or even more negative views. Very often people think that too much attention is paid to the Holocaust.” Given these alarming statistics, do we need to change our culture of remembrance? And if so, how?

We have put this question to the literary and cultural scientist Aleida Assmann. Until recently, she was a professor at the University of Konstanz and in 2018, together with her husband Jan Assmann, she was awarded the Peace Prize of the Frankfurt Book Trade for her research on the culture of memory. How would Aleida Assmann respond to Jan’s comment?

Thank you, Jan, for this important question. These are really steep figures. I would say that these figures are not only representative for Germany at the moment, but also outside Germany in Europe, and also in the USA. One has to say that anti-Semitism has come back strongly in Germany. It was not socially acceptable for a long time and now it is socially acceptable again and is even anchored in the parties. Above all, it is anchored on the internet and in the social media. That is also the reason for its global spread. It is not a specifically German phenomenon, but we have to react to it especially in Germany. The voices that have always existed here are now suddenly gaining weight because they have a resonance outside of Germany. That is very, very dangerous.

Does that mean we have to change our culture of remembrance now? We always have to change it, in the sense that it needs to be oriented towards the target groups of young people, of migrants who immigrate to this country – the national “we” is constantly changing. In this respect, the culture of remembrance is constantly changing and that is precisely why it will be important to educate people here and to anchor education in order to contain these insane phrases of anti-Semitism, to counteract them and, above all, to strengthen historical education. To make the events of history clear and also to present them in terms of personal individual fates – which actually build the best emotional bridge.

Next we received a comment from Pedro. He emphasises that Europe’s “dark past” happened not so long ago and demands that we also remember the Holocaust on a European level so that it is never repeated.

We took Pedro’s question to the historian Dr Axel Drecoll. He is the director of the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site and Museum. What does he think?

Yes, Pedro, I would say that Europe definitely needs such a reminder. There are European institutions and they have to do that. Nevertheless, we must take care that diversity is preserved. Memory thrives on diversity and there are very different perspectives in the different countries. I think that’s okay, and it has to be that way as long as we can agree on a framework of values that lies behind this remembrance. Namely, the recognition of liberal democracy, of human dignity, of human rights. That must be the basis and it must be common for all.

The second thing I would like to say is: Of course, remembering the Holocaust is extremely important, always against the background that it must not be repeated. But we should not stop there. Because it will be possible for many people to agree that there must be no mass shootings of millions of people, or factory-organised murder in camps. But it starts with linguistic discrimination. There begins what later culminated in this terrible crime. So, of course we must remember the Holocaust, also with the aim that this mass murder must never happen again, but the roots, of course, lie much deeper. We have to tackle the roots, and that starts with the use of language.

We also put Pedro’s comment to Aleida Assmann. What would she say?

Dear Pedro, we already do that. And we’ve been doing it for a while, but maybe it isn’t known enough yet. I have to keep telling this story that is behind this new culture of remembrance: In 2000 there was a conference in Stockholm and they published and signed the so-called “Stockholm Declaration”. More than 40 nations took part and their aim was to carry the memory of the Holocaust over the threshold of the new millennium in order to show that “this memory does not end at this caesura, but has an indefinite extension into the future”. In 2005, the EU adopted this declaration and since then every member country that enters the EU becomes part of this remembrance society.  This is called IHRA. The IHRA is organised transnationally as a Holocaust remembrance community and works against anti-Semitism and for education and new forms of implementing knowledge in schools, museums etc.

How should Europe fight rising anti-Semitism? Do we need to change the way we remember the Holocaust? Do we need to change the way we teach about the Holocaust in school? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts!

IMAGE CREDITS: kruwt (c) Bigstock. Jussi Puikkonen/KNAW



10 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Jesper Jørgensen

    Information is always the key – and in this case, it is also important, to keep teach kids and young people about history – maybe more so today, since the reality of the Holocaust, seems to be dwindling. With that said, we also need to act against the increasing misinformation there are poisoning not only the debate but our democracy and history.

    Everyone should be allowed to have an opinion, but when facts are being discredited, just to damage the accuracy or authority of our form of government, our scientists, and everything else, we need to challenge it, much more active.

    We need to meet the populism, antisemitism, and post-factual misinformation head-on, with truth and facts, before it divides us even more.

  2. avatar
    Любомир

    Maybe stop importing anti-semites? Who knows, that could work…

  3. avatar
    Alvaro

    VISITEI “AUCHEVITZ” NA POLONIA E “DACHAU” NA ALEMANHA……AGONIADO DE….NOJO !!! NAZISMO, NUNCA MAIS NO…..MUNDO !!!

  4. avatar
    Georg

    Instead of discussing and trying to tolerate fascism of any cloth we ought to become aware what we have won as a society after WW2. Much has changed with the fall of communism, too. We do not think a lot about where our food comes from, we even give less thought to where our life is coming from. There are distinct European values starting with diverse freedoms. We need constant discussion of these, knowledge of their importance and practice to promote and defend them.

  5. avatar
    Jesper

    Information is always the key – and in this case, it is also important, to keep teach kids and young people about history – maybe more so today, since the reality of the Holocaust, seems to be dwindling. With that said, we also need to act against the increasing misinformation there are poisoning not only the debate but our democracy and history.Everyone should be allowed to have an opinion, but when facts are being discredited, just to damage the accuracy or authority of our form of government, our scientists, and everything else, we need to challenge it, much more actively.We need to meet the populism, antisemitism, and post-factual misinformation head-on, with truth and facts, before it divides us even more.

  6. avatar
    Kahraman Marangoz

    I believe there two timelines where anti-semitism is coming from. One in Europe where after the world war too many war movies, what is content of that anti-semitic period, are shown to the population born after the world war. This brings us to the question that can be asked ‘after’ showing all those movies, soo many movies about war if that was a good idea? It is really one sided and people like me wonder where the movies of living together, showing all people and all cultures their way to shine trough in the world are left? You can make content like war movies with the intention to educate but this can be used also as propaganda and fear play, to terrorise, influence the mass, where you return to mass psychology where the media that then connect with middle-east chaos play this out in the favour of extremist who use everything for momentum for a certain ideology to recruit others.
    The middle-east is the second timeline where anti-semitism is fuelled. The Far-right is always tuned on those parts of chaos where their idea of ruling the planet Earth or taking over the planet Earth is a drive to keep hanging in that delusion from chaos, together with islamophobisims the second enemy created.
    What is Europe roles in this? I think Europe must watch over the television networks, that are on European ground, if they violate rules of content that is related to calling for violence on humans in general. Next to the television networks the social media platforms from Europe or else must follow the same rules. If they do not listen to European justice system, then Europe will have to block or close the television network or social media platform. That is the way to stop the spread of anti-Semitic or other calls for hate or violence.

  7. avatar
    Jan

    First, recognize that at the base of anti-Semitism is a very real spiritual dynamic that recognizes that God chose a specific people in a specific place to make Himself known to and through, and since that happened, there has been opposition against both the people, (Israel and the Jewish people) and God Himself. Education only helps so much, it is needed and continuing stand up against anti-Semitism here in Europe by strict enforcement of laws against violence to the Jewish community whether it be physical, social, in the media… is needed. The final and best answer is found in a Jewish person named Jesus (Yeshua) who can change the life of the person expressing hatred against others to that of loving them.

  8. avatar
    catherine benning

    How should Europe fight rising anti-Semitism?

    By educating the people of our planet that all the religions akin to Judaism are just that, expanded Judaism. Abraham and his two sons, one continuing within the Jewish tradition, the other branching off to set up Islam. Then, Salvator Mundi, painted so beautifully by Leonardo da Vinci, being a further Jewish man with great and eternal wisdom whose philosophy was so profound able to build a third powerful religion for mankind to adhere to. How much the Jewish people have given us of themselves in order to expand the Spirit within us all.

    https://www.financialmirror.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/leonardo-

    1.Christies-Salvator-Mundi-scaled.jpg

  9. avatar
    Daniel Tanque

    Through education. And it’s not about anti-semitism but several other points.

    Let’s take for first example a kid that at school is a bully, just likes to shout, use innapropriate behavior and has attitudes of lack of respect that later on can expand for racism and discrimination of others. Why such happens? A high probability is due to the lack of education and discipline provided by the parents, and why is that? Because parents are not well educated, were spoiled during young age and grew in an environment in which people demand things and take things for granted.

    So first problem I would say is the lack of capabilities on parenting. There should exist a course of parenting to make parents nurture a specific mindset that shares the good common values of European Union.

    The other problematic is education we need Educational Reforms just like USA did with the sputnik shock. We give too much information to kids more and more, and that’s become inneficient because students are now more focused on being information storage machines than being critical in their thinkings.

    I would say that it would be important to use a top down approach instead of a bottom up approach through education. I mean students must know more of today and last of the past, by this I mean Egyptians, Roman Empire, was important, the European Battles and so on but we need to make them aware of Globalization what lead to it, what made the commerce global, what happened with the Global world, two world wars, what triggered and so on… I know it’s sensitive topics but Europe has to make usage of it’s personal experience, show that Europe had rough times but now we came to an union it’s our duty to make it work we are far from perfect but it’s necessary to build that inter-relation mutual support to share views an complement with each country strength the core purpose of the European Union.

    More I could write on this but for now I will resume to those 2:
    – parenting education
    – educational school reforms

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