Countries around the world invest in education about the Holocaust and genocide with UNESCO’s support

(Reposted from: UNESCO. November 15, 2023)

Close to 80 years after the end of the Second World War, Holocaust remembrance is increasingly fragile. While surveys reveal critical knowledge gaps and indifference among younger generations, Holocaust denial and distortion thrive online and offline amidst the rise of hate speech and the proliferation of antisemitic narratives. UNESCO is working to change that as part of its International Program on Holocaust and Genocide Education (IPHGE), implemented jointly with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and financed by the government of Canada. The program provides training opportunities for education stakeholders in Member States, who then develop context-relevant approaches to work with local education authorities and practitioners on Holocaust education pedagogy. 

Since 2015, UNESCO and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have supported education stakeholders from 24 countries in finding solutions to teaching about sensitive and painful aspects of history within their countries. Launching the international program for the third time, education authorities in 11 countries – Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia and Ecuador, Greece, India, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Serbia and the United Arab Emirates – are working on tailored national projects that contextualize education about the Holocaust and genocide and help students thoughtfully engage with the past. 

“As we are witnessing a surge of hate speech globally, learning about the past and its legacies is of increasing importance for protecting current and future generations from spiralling into new cycles of violence. We are working with governments across the globe to develop education approaches for teaching about violent pasts, informed by decades of experience from Holocaust and genocide education. Such education is essential for understanding how atrocity crimes can be prevented from happening ever again.”

Karel Fracapane, Programme Specialist at UNESCO Education Sector

Karel Fracapane, Programme Specialist at UNESCO Education Sector, says: “As we are witnessing a surge of hate speech globally, learning about the past and its legacies is of increasing importance for protecting current and future generations from spiralling into new cycles of violence. We are working with governments across the globe to develop education approaches for teaching about violent pasts, informed by decades of experience from Holocaust and genocide education. Such education is essential for understanding how atrocity crimes can be prevented from happening ever again.”

Diverse ways to engage with the past: A glimpse into country projects

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, IPHGE’s baseline is to provide educators with tools to teach about the genocide of the Jews in ways that resonate with local learners and allow a deeper understanding of the origins and legacies of genocide and other violent pasts. This includes introducing education as a means to address local needs and challenges vis-à-vis addressing national histories of violence and conflict. 

IPHGE participants have identified the following approaches for their projects:

  • Give access to quality resources that provide entry points for difficult conversations. For example, in Greece, the country team is developing a digital database with archive materials from national and international sources, such as videos, photos, maps, and press articles that teachers and students can use.
  • Boost teachers’ confidence in the subject. In India, educators will benefit from workshops and awareness-raising activities that build on pedagogical materials about the Holocaust in national languages. To encourage an exchange of experience among teachers, the joint team from Colombia and Ecuador have invited them to submit their best practices and approaches to a competition and will publish a repository of helpful resources in Spanish.
  • Review and update national education policies and curricula. In Nigeria, key stakeholders are developing a national peace education curriculum based on the history of genocide and other atrocity crimes, including the Holocaust. The Cambodian team is updating their history textbook in relation to the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime and is working on a series of teacher trainings. 
  • Promote cooperation with museums, memorial sites and informal education settings. For example, in Serbia, among other activities, the Memorial center “Staro sajmište” is creating a free online exhibition for schoolchildren on the Holocaust in German-occupied Serbia and the “Righteous Among the Nation” (persons who rescued Jews during the Holocaust). In Cambodia, the national team implements their project in full collaboration with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a memorial site and museum at the former Khmer rouge torture prison S-21. 
  • Support intergenerational learning and local community engagement. This is the approach adopted by the Rwandan country team, which seeks to establish a dialogue between young people and local community leaders who witnessed and survived the genocide.

All IPHGE participants took part in a one-week training at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to deepen their understanding of Holocaust history and refine their project proposals. The teams are accompanied by UNESCO Field Offices that provide local support and backstopping. 

Why teach about the Holocaust and genocide globally

“Discussing the crimes committed by the Nazi regime can help to talk about war and violence in a way that allows keeping a certain distance, while still addressing the core problems of targeted persecution and human rights violations…Education can create an understanding of the consequences of atrocity crimes and their wider impact on societies,” says Alejandra Romero Gonzalez, who represented Colombia in the previous edition of the IPHGE back in 2017.

Research shows that understanding the interplay between a nation’s violent history and the Holocaust, along with warning signs of genocide, can help learners stand up against hate and injustice, identify narratives that distort or deny historical facts, and resist antisemitic prejudice and stereotypes.

Since its launch in 2015, the International Program has been UNESCO’s flagship initiative for Holocaust and genocide education. Previous iterations sparked educational projects in 16 countries, reaching over 4,700 students and teachers. Research shows that understanding the interplay between a nation’s violent history and the Holocaust, along with warning signs of genocide, can help learners stand up against hate and injustice, identify narratives that distort or deny historical facts, and resist antisemitic prejudice and stereotypes.

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