Is it time for a rethink?

A new approach to Holocaust education

In any industry, profession, vocation or field – especially education – if an approach or methodology is consistently failing, new approaches have to be tried.

Auschwitz-Birkenau. Friday, January 27, is the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
Auschwitz-Birkenau. Friday, January 27, is the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

n an AJN op-ed (26/04), Jason Rose expressed with candour and courage his fears that Holocaust education “has not done what we had hoped”. More than 50 per cent of UK adults surveyed in 2021, he said, were ignorant of the fact that six million Jews perished. And many of those who do know “perversely use it as a weapon against Israel and the Jews … claim[ing] that yesterday’s victims are today’s Nazis”.

But then, he asks: “So do we abandon Holocaust education? Do we concede its … failure after decades of effort?” And he answers with an emphatic “no”, proceeding to advocate more of the same.

In any industry, profession, vocation or field – especially education – if an approach or methodology is consistently failing, new approaches have to be tried. And teaching the world about the most heinous, brutal and monstrous war crime to have been committed in human history is no exception.

I would advocate a radically new approach. Namely that we present the Shoah in the context of the entire span of our miraculous Jewish history as the most recent and most barbaric failed attempt at genocide against the Jewish people.

Because while tragically six million died, 12 million, by the grace of God, survived. Two-thirds of our nation lived on. And when one reads the history of WWII and reflects on how perilously close Hitler and his evil minions were to achieving victory – and we have recently marked the 80th anniversary of the pivotal D-day landing that could have turned out so differently – then the words “by the grace of God” take on real meaning.

Similarly, we must emphasise, when educating people about the Shoah, that just like with previous failed genocides against us, while we have not only survived but replenished as a nation, both numerically and spiritually, the enemy that has sought to destroy us has passed from sight.

In taking this approach, we turn our message from a plaint into a challenge. Instead of saying reproachfully to the world of nations “look what you have done to us!” – and as we have seen in the aftermath of October 7, the world doesn’t really care – we challenge the world by thundering: “Your hate against us is counterproductive! Those who persecute us come to grief sooner or later, while we as a nation live on!”

In advocating this new and bold approach of transforming Holocaust education from a story of unadulterated tragedy to one of ultimate triumph, I do not seek, God forbid, to minimise our losses. The deaths of the six million kedoshim “to every one of whom there is a name” must continue to be mourned, their fates commemorated, their souls davvened for.

But that must not be all. Ultimately out of the ashes of the Shoah came the biggest miracle – the State of Israel, Jewish survival, renaissance and resurgence, and the exponential growth of Jewish learning. Conversely, the evil Nazi dream of a millennium of world domination has turned to ashes. Not to mention the mighty Soviet empire which crumbled after 70 brief years. That evil regime too persecuted Jews, albeit only those who wished to carry the torch of Judaism to their children and grandchildren – which, thank God, many are now doing.

In his famous essay Concerning the Jews, Mark Twain recalls the super-powers of ancient history who attempted to destroy us – “the Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian … the Greek and the Roman” – all of them “made a vast noise, and they are gone!” To which we could add the empires of the last millennium who persecuted, tortured or expelled us and “sit in twilight now, or have vanished”. The Nazi butchers must be viewed in context as, yes, the most villainous of all our persecutors but nevertheless the latest in a string of such perpetrators throughout the centuries and the millennia to have bitten the dust. “All things are mortal”, concludes Twain “but the Jew. All other forces pass but he remains!”

The meteoric rise and spectacular downfall of the “thousand-year Reich” spanned little more than a decade. What makes Iran and its Hamas and Hezbollah acolytes believe that their fate will be any different; that they will succeed in their nefarious aims where others have failed?

It will be noted that I have not advanced here the compelling argument of biblical promises testifying to our eternal existence as a nation, nor have I made one mention of the word “antisemitism”. Regrettably not all (yet) accept God or the Bible, and the world is tired of hearing us cry “antisemitism” constantly. We have to replace defensiveness with assertiveness. And the fact that we have outlasted every empire in history cannot be denied. (Those with eyes in their head will acknowledge, as did the physician of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, that this continued existence of ours is actually the greatest proof of a God!)

This is the Holocaust education we must give to the world. Zechor yemot olam. Study Jewish history. And learn lessons from it! Ignore it at your peril!

Rabbi Chaim Ingram OAM is the author of various religious books.

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