On March 25, 2021, in partnership with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) and its Warren Educational Policies Program – Celebrating the Life of Holocaust Survivor Naomi Kaplan Warren (WEPP) organized a screening of the film The Lesson: Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust in Europe by Elena Horn. The film screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Clara Ramírez Barat, Director of AIPG’s Warren Educational Policies Program. Discussants on the panel included Ms. Elena Horn, Director of The Lesson, Dr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former UN Human Rights Chief and AIPG International Advisory Board Member, and Ms. Andrea Szonyi, Director of the Zachor Foundation and Head of Programs for International Education at the USC Shoah Foundation.
The online event — attended by 114 participants from around the world, including representatives from governments, civil society, and academia — came as the result of the ongoing collaboration between IHRA and AIPG to promote Holocaust Education as a means for understanding the process of genocide and how to prevent it. In her welcoming remarks, German Ambassador and current IHRA Chair Michaela Küchler emphasized:
…the importance of learning about the Holocaust provides not only an essential opportunity to understand some of the mechanisms that lead to genocide, but also to discern the choices people made to accelerate, to observe or to resist the process of persecution and murder.
The Lesson provides an insight into the process of teaching the about the Holocaust in Germany’s current public education system to younger generations. After returning to her small hometown, director Elena Horn began to film the journey of several fourteen-year old teenagers over the course of four years, documenting their experience learning about the Holocaust at school. Despite Germany’s reputation for exemplary Holocaust education, the film highlights potential gaps in its national curriculum and teachers’ difficulties in engaging with students on this topic. This, in turn, creates challenges for the learning process of students as they begin to confront their own family histories, coupled with increasingly frequent exposure to far-right movements in their daily lives.
The film’s director, Elena Horn, explains that she:
…wanted to explore the resurgence of the far-right and xenophobia in politics and various subcultures, the fractured and disparate collective memory of National Socialism in Germany and [..] what I found was that even in a modern and developed state, the remnants of a shameful past still live on and shape the perception of younger generations. [..] The Holocaust is either ‘inexplicable’ or completely relegated to a previous age.
During the panel discussion, Andrea Szonyi reiterated the need to engage students on both a cognitive and an emotional level in order to allow them to make responsible decisions within their own context. Similarly, Dr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pointed out the importance of fostering youth that not only understand the factual contents that are presented to them, but are highly motivated to stand up for the rights of others.
Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust and other genocides and mass atrocities should and must be a global effort, as education remains a fundamental tool for the preservation of democratic values and pluralistic societies. The IHRA Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust, which discuss these challenges and options, represent a useful resource available to aid teachers in this regard.
On this topic, AIPG’s Warren Educational Policies Program and its Distance Learning Platform offer free virtual training for teachers and other educators. The platform was specifically designed for the development of educational projects using a methodology that promotes respect for human rights, diversity, and solidarity among students of public and private schools.