Unequivocal disaster, Education and Sharing Narratives

This is a Guest Post by Edan Nissen, a graduate of Hashomer Hatzair Australia, now living in Israel. Edan has a BA from Monash University, Majoring in Politics and History of the Middle East with a Minor in Conflict Resolution.

A teacher stops a history classroom in the middle, the students are learning about the various tragedies of history. “Could all the students please stand up, we are going to have a minute of silence for the victims of the Nakba”. Most of the students stand is silence, thinking of the relatives that were affected, their homes destroyed and families that were forced to flee. Others had relatives that were killed. Two Students stand to the side, and during the silence they begin chatting. Their classmates are openly outraged, jaws are dropped but most students stand silently in their outrage. For these two students, it’s not that they don’t respect the loss of life, it’s that the tragedy of the Nakba is not relevant to them. They aren’t of Palestinian descent; they have their own national tragedies.

Shocked, aren’t you? This is a true story, well almost. The differences between this scenario and what actually happened are relatively minor. Swap the Nakba for the Holocaust, and the two boys for Israeli Palestinians and this scene has been played out several times, over several years and in several different locations. Yom Ha’Shoa, the day of remembrance for the Holocaust, was about a month ago and this happened again. I received a call from a friend who was in shock as two Arab students in her course spoke to each other while the nation- wide siren marking Yom Ha’Shoa rang out. The act was a mark of incredible disrespect for the loss of life, and destruction.

However, the students should not shoulder the entirety of the blame. While they are guilty of being incredibly disrespectful, there is also blame on the failure to properly educate students about the Holocaust, and the lost opportunities in the educational aftermath. Of all the issues of Holocaust education the biggest issue is the number we are commemorating is the wrong one. Yes, six million Jews died and that’s important, but 11 million people died in the camps, gas chambers, forced marches and shootings.

It was 11,000,000 people in total that died in the Holocaust. 6 million Jews, 2-3 million Soviet Prisoners of War, roughly 2 million Poles, up to 1.5 million Romani, 250 thousand handicapped and thousands of Freemasons, Slovenes, Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as political opponents of the Nazi regime. 11 million people died in the Holocaust. It is still one of the most disturbing events in human history.

However, the problem is that Jewish children learning about the Holocaust aren’t learning the true message that they should be. With the commemoration of the 6 million victims of the Jewish Holocaust, the message changes from “Never again” to “Never again… to us” and becomes the motivation for protectionism at all cost. It may perhaps be naive, but I’m of the belief that in Israel the Holocaust imagery is repeatedly being used to justify more and more right wing nationalism. From comparisons between Iran and Nazi Germany, to the repetition of the right’s “safe guarding the Jewish people from another Holocaust”. If the message wasn’t that we have to protect ourselves at all costs, and be about fighting persecution at all costs, the imagery wouldn’t be as easily manipulated, and instead of the Holocaust being used as motivation to fuel the support for an airstrike on Iranian targets, it could be used to motivate people to become aware of the issues, such as the conflicts going on in Darfur.

While the 5 million non-Jews that died in the Holocaust have less of personal connection to me, it doesn’t make them any less the victims of the same tragedy many Jewish families, including my own, suffered during the 1930′s and 1940′s in Europe.

This leads me on to my next point; we have firmly remembered the slogan of never again. However, the way that we seem to uphold this is by making sure that nothing is ever compared to the Holocaust in any way, and defining it by its sheer uniqueness. No other tragedy in human history can be compared to the Holocaust, from Rwanda to the Nakba. When this happens, we have lost the central moral lesson of the Holocaust, which is that we should never allow evil to triumph over good, regardless of the excuse. We should never allow politicians to be so heartless towards others for the excuses of convenience or economics.

So in returning to the original story, I do blame the students in part. They were incredibly disrespectful to the loss of life during the Holocaust. They were not just disrespecting the Jewish victims, but to all the other lives that were extinguished during the Holocaust. However, I also blame the failed education system, which has turned each event of historical suffering into one of exclusivity and self-preservation. Everyone should learn about the human tragedies of history, from the Holocaust, to Rwanda, and even the Nakba, not for the politics of the event, but to understand that we are all humans, and that more important than anything else is that we should try to co-exist, rather then kill each other.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not
speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did
not speak out—Because I was not a Trade
Unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak
out—Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me—and there was no one
left to speak for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoller

2 Responses to “Unequivocal disaster, Education and Sharing Narratives”

  1. The Arabs, and anyone else, have my permission to not pretend they care, when they don’t. The last thing our dead need, much less our living, is fake empathy.

    And I disagree on the message of the Holocaust, and every other genocide and act of collective human violence. (Odd that you didn’t mention the Armenian genocide, which is most often compared to the holocaust.)

    It is not “never again”, but “never, ever, be weak”.

    Because seven decades of education and monument building in the West did not lift a finger for 200,000 Syrian dead, gassed and barrel bombed to death in their streets, all red lines and international laws in tatters. No one gives a damn, not enough to put their necks on the line. And no one will give a damn about the Jews, should another genocide be intended for us, G-d forbid.


    Victor · June 3rd, 2014 at 1:05 pm
  2. Victor,

    Thank you kindly for the response. The idea isn’t about “giving permission”. The idea is that the lesson of the Holocaust, and any massacre shouldn’t be personalised to the extent that we can’t help learn the lessons that this sort of this shouldn’t happen anywhere and to anyone, and not just to the victims.

    I think we are doomed to repeat the violent mistakes of the past unless we remember the correct message of the Holocaust. The message you claim to be representative of the Holocaust is the current one being taught, and you are absolutely right. It has only lead to more bloodshed and violence.


    Edan · June 6th, 2014 at 3:06 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik