OPINION: How to define the future of Holocaust education and commemoration?

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OPINION: How to define the future of Holocaust education and commemoration?

Jaya Pathak, a regional ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust, asks: if Nazi crimes cannot prevent future genocides, can we really say that we have seen Auschwitz at all?

Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur

“If we remain blind to unfolding atrocities, if the international community does not become more effective in preventing genocide, can we really say that we have ‘seen’ Auschwitz at all?”

This sentence is found at the closing of the ‘Seeing Auschwitz’ exhibition in London. Since my visit, I have been unable to shake the feeling that the answer, as difficult as it is to accept, may in fact be no.

Hearing from a Holocaust survivor has a momentous impact on one’s life in both their ability to learn about the Holocaust, and to comprehend the tragedy that can occur when hatred is left unchecked.

Jay Pathak

Listening to survivor testimony helps us develop a human connection to horrors which appear, on the surface, to be confined to another century. Holocaust survivors bridge the seemingly long distance between our past, present and future by reminding us that the lessons of the Holocaust remain relevant today.

However, last week as beloved Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper BEM passed away, we were brought closer to confronting a difficult reality about a future many of us have been dreading – where survivors are passing away or are increasingly unable to continue to share their testimony.

How we manage this transition will not only define the future of Holocaust education, remembrance and commemoration, but our potential to challenge the proliferation of modern atrocity on a broader scale. By harnessing the power of technology, we can explore the use of virtual reality to personalise history for individuals by allowing them to ask their own questions to survivors.

Second and third-generation Holocaust survivors and family members who wish to share their family’s history must be supported adequately, and others who have heard from survivors such as Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassadors must be empowered to share the stories they have been entrusted with.

Seeing Auschwitz exhibition 2023

Visiting the many different sites of the Holocaust is another powerful tool used by educators to allow individuals to bring the past into their present. Ensuring that we continue to protect these sites, whether that be concentration camps or locations of Jewish history in towns and cities, must remain a priority.

Additionally, Holocaust memorialisation allows an opportunity for reflection and to commemorate the lives behind the statistics. Building such sites widens the accessibility of Holocaust education and remembrance, and it is welcomed news that the UK Government will legislate to build the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in the heart of our democracy.

From Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, to the Yazidis and the Uyghurs, our leaders have failed community after community

Finally, on a local, national and international level, we must continue to build interfaith unity and work with diverse communities across our society by providing them with meaningful opportunities to engage in Holocaust education.

As with sharing their testimony, Holocaust survivors make the selfless decision to relive their trauma in order to speak out against all forms of hatred, including for other victims of genocide. Yet we only have to look around us to see that their pleas have been ignored.

From Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, to the Yazidis and the Uyghurs, our leaders have failed community after community around the globe who continue to suffer immeasurably in the face of their eradication.

This is when it is most important to remember that the history of the Holocaust is not just the history of European Jewry, but it is our shared history, and to have truly understood the lessons of the Holocaust, we must also reassess our approach to atrocity prevention on a local and governmental level.

Holocaust education is about more than learning historical facts. It is about providing one with the tools to protect the history of the Holocaust, to challenge antisemitism and all other forms of hatred. Therefore, the future of Holocaust education should not only be about what meets the eye, but our ability to reflect on its meaning. It should centre around our motivation to not simply hear the words of a Holocaust survivor, but to become their messengers.

Perhaps then, we will be able to say that we have truly ‘seen’ Auschwitz, as we do all we can to make meaning of the promise we have made to survivors – of  ‘never again’.

  • Jaya Pathak is co-executive director at Yet Again, Secretariat for the APPG on Uyghurs, co-chair at Students For Uyghurs and a regional ambassador at the Holocaust Educational Trust



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