The force behind the new recommendations (see document below) is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which was initiated in 1998 and unites governments and experts to strengthen and advance Holocaust education, research and remembrance. Today the network consists of more than 40 countries and partner international organizations that have agreed to address Holocaust-related issues. From now until 2023, it will focus efforts on safeguarding the historical record and fighting against Holocaust denial.
In the United States, only 12 states — California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon (starting in 2020), Rhode Island and Virginia — mandate some Holocaust education as part of their secondary school curriculums, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Why teach about the Holocaust? That is answered in this post, by Jennifer Ciardelli, director of leadership programs at the Washington museum. She is a project co-chair for the alliance’s updated Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust project. She also chaired the alliance’s education working group in 2017 and serves on its U.S. delegation.
The new recommendations on teaching about the Holocaust — the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and murder of Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945 — are intended to provide a basis for educators, policymakers and others to:
- Develop knowledge of the Holocaust, ensuring accuracy in individual understanding and knowledge and raising awareness about the possible consequences of anti-Semitism.
- Create engaging teaching environments for learning about the Holocaust.
- Promote critical and reflective thinking about the Holocaust, including the ability to counter Holocaust denial and distortion.
- Contribute to human rights and genocide prevention education.
The introduction to the recommendations says in part:
In addition to equipping learners with knowledge about an event that fundamentally challenged human values, teaching and learning about the Holocaust gives learners the opportunity to understand some of the mechanisms and processes that lead to genocide and the choices people made to accelerate, accept or resist the process of persecution and murder, acknowledging that these choices were sometimes made under extreme circumstances.
The alliance decided to update its previous recommendations — written nearly two decades ago — after research in 2017 revealed significant gaps in knowledge and understanding around the world about the Holocaust at a time when myths and misconceptions about it are spreading and taken for fact. There are also new materials and educational tools available today that can animate the recommendations. You can see them in full at the bottom of this piece.
As the Holocaust recedes in time, fewer people who witnessed it remain to provide firsthand accounts of this watershed moment in human history. Responsibility demands that we not only preserve the truth of these tragic events, but also ensure that we encourage future generations to explore the history of the Holocaust and its causes and consequences.
The misuse of social media means that young people and future generations are especially vulnerable to misinformation campaigns. A 2018 Claims Conference report found that 41 percent of American millennials, and nearly one-third of all Americans, believe that 2 million, or fewer, Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The real number is more than 6 million.
The rising tide of historical amnesia and anti-Semitism is a global phenomenon. Social media and the Internet are allowing lies and misinformation about the Holocaust to spread faster than ever before — and it is being distorted and politicized in the very lands where it happened.
Counteracting these trends requires a global effort, one we must undertake out of respect for the victims and their families, but also for our future. As Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “If anything can, it is memory that will save humanity.” We cannot be certain such a bold aspiration will be realized, but we do know that forgetting the Holocaust and what made it possible could be very dangerous for humanity.
In response to these worrying trends, experts and political leaders from more than 30 countries are gathered in Luxembourg on Wednesday to declare their commitment to adopt Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust, presented at a special launch by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
A unique alliance, the IHRA unites governments and experts to work together to uphold the 2000 Stockholm Declaration that pledged to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance.
Preserving Holocaust memory will require a variety of efforts from governments, institutions and individuals. If these efforts are to be successful, quality education will be a key component. To advance that critical objective, IHRA is calling on its 33 member countries to adopt the full set of updated global education recommendations (see below) to meet the challenges of the new decade. These refreshed recommendations will empower educators across the 33 nations to tackle this challenging and relevant subject, to ensure that the historical record affirms an accurate and shared memory in classrooms and informal educational settings across the world.
The previous version of the recommendations was written close to two decades ago, before the Internet and social media caused a seismic shift in the way people received, disseminated and responded to information. The new guidance brings teaching and learning about the Holocaust up to date with the new media landscape, including how to critically assess various sources.
The new recommendations promote a nuanced and sophisticated media literacy, educating students in how to distinguish between the quality, credibility and intentions of different sources. Students will learn critical thinking skills to help them identify websites and social media content that are produced by Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites and racists, which the recommendations say are created “with the express purpose of spreading misinformation and deceiving the public,” to distort and deny the facts of the Holocaust.
As the survivor generation diminishes, it is now up to all of us to remain vigilant against the spreading of untruths and misconceptions about the Holocaust. Doing so honors the victims and survivors and helps to ensure that their pasts do not become someone else’s future.
Here are the recommendations: