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(38 Posts)
absentgrana Sun 21-Oct-12 10:10:25

The Government sponsors a programme of school visits to this concentration camp in Poland. Yesterday celebrated the 100th – I assume 100th school to join the scheme. Nick Clegg was also there. The plan is that every school in the country – not primary schools as far as I know – will send two 16- or 17-year-olds and they will pass on what they have learned and what they felt, etc. to their fellow students.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. Firstly, I remember vividly my own terribly shocked response when I first learned about concentration camps during the trial of Adolf Eichmann. I was genuinely traumatised and for months had nightmares from which I would wake screaming. However, I was a little younger – 12 I think. Nevertheless, I wonder how the two pupils are selected and how prepared they are for what must be a deeply distressing experience.

Secondly, I hope it is made clear that although the Final Solution was an extraordinary act of industrial genocide and involved a huge number of Jews, this was by no means the first and sadly has been proved not to be the last act of genocide the world has seen.

Thirdly, I hope it is made clear that although 6 million Jews comprised the majority of the victims, many others, including communists and homosexuals, were killed or suffered terribly as well.

Fourthly, I hope that it is made clear the Auschwitz was one of many concentration camps – not all of them extermination camps but certainly places where many were killed or died anyway.

I am not suggesting that The Holocaust should be ignored or, worse still, prettied up in some way (as if that were possible). I'm just not sure that this is the right educational approach and wonder if, in fact, it almost tidies it away, so after the initial shock, it can be consigned to "done The Holocaust".

whenim64 Sun 21-Oct-12 10:35:02

I had these feelings, too, when my twin daughters visited Auschwitz during their school brass band trip to Poland. I wanted to prepare them, and to be with them to deal with their responses to the horror of what they would learn at close quarters. We had already visited the Manchester Jewish Museum a few times, and spoken to the curator whose own family died there. The visit had no impact on them as 14 year olds. They were with a large group of mixed ages, and although the teachers had planned the visit in a meaningful way, children were scurried around and not encouraged to engage in deep discussion. They don't remember much about it, although they know a lot about the Holocaust, having lived in an area with a dense Jewish population for several years, and exchanged visits with Jewish schools for debates and to learn more about the cultures within their community.

I applaud attempts to keep the consequences of the Holocaust and persecution of Jews in people's minds, and hope the authorities manage this, but do wonder whether this 'sheep-dip' strategy is the answer.

Joan Sun 21-Oct-12 11:18:22

It is important that new generations of young ones understand what the holocaust was. My (then) 25 year old son watched Schindler's List about 5 years ago with some friends, and found out he was the only one among them who knew what the holocaust was! The others were utterly shocked that the film was true.

When I was 21 and living as an au pair girl in Vienna, I went with the family to Prague, were we visited a memorial synagogue. We went there because the 16 year old daughter was denying the holocaust and would not believe her parents and me that it happened. She believed her disgusting history teacher, who said it never happened. This was 1966, and holocaust denial was just starting. She soon learned the truth.

It WILL be denied more and more, unless programs mentioned here continue. I'm all for them. That synagogue I mentioned had the walls all painted white inside the building, with the names of the murdered people written in red, with a star of David between each family's list of names. There were so very many that at first the walls looked pink. I knew my history of the Third Reich, but I was physically unable to speak a word of German in there - it just would not come out. The curator spoke English and I remember talking to her.

I still have nightmares from time to time. We need to keep it in mind; I'm firmly convinced that knowledge of the holocaust has made us all far less inclined to be racist, because we have seen where it can lead if taken to extremes.

Mishap Sun 21-Oct-12 11:23:56

I think that children should learn about these atrocities in their history and ethics lessons, but I do not approve of dragging children around concentration camps or WW1 graves. It does not feel right to me - better to take them to the European Parliament, which, with all its flaws, represents the future and the idea of a united Europe. It discomfits me to labour the point about Germany's atrocities - our children should be part of the future - of an attempt at co-operation. They need to be learning about co-operation and moving on from that dreadful period in our history. Their perception of Germany amd its people needs to be balanced by learning about its culture and beautiful poetic language.

absentgrana Sun 21-Oct-12 11:28:56

Mishap That is an excellent point and very well made. I think that might be part of my original feeling of unease about this plan.

crimson Sun 21-Oct-12 11:50:30

My daughters school has holocaust survivors give talks to the children. I think this means far more to them than visiting a concentration camps.

gracesmum Sun 21-Oct-12 12:10:16

Absent - I absolutely second what you say (this has to be a first!grin) as there is a tendency to "do" the rise of Hitler/Holocaust/Nazism at a pretty superficial level for GCSE without reference to e.g. British concentration camps in the Boer War, other instances of genocide in Africa, Central Europe and elsewhere. This pocket version of history leads to gross oversimplification in so many ways and if anything, can even trivialise it. I have taken Sixth Form groups to Sachsenhausen many many times and their understanding has deepened by the visit, so while visiting Auschwitz is worth a thousand words on the subject from a book, as you say there were other camps, not all of them extermination although equally evil and barbaric and other victims -such as intellectuals, homosexuals, political dissidents, Roma etc etc. I have such mixed views about the whole subject as it is all too obvious that, as absent says, Nazi Germany was neither the first nor the last perpetrator of genocide.

absentgrana Sun 21-Oct-12 12:22:57

I wonder too if there is a residual sense of guilt in this country and that motivates the government's sponsoring school visits to Auschwitz and the setting up of Holocaust remembrance day. The Brits have always seen themselves as the goodies in World War II, bravely standing alone against the massive Nazi war machine. Although Tony Blair assured us that Britain went to war to save the Jews, nothing could be further from the truth. Moreover, anti-Semitism was rife in Britain at that time and, in a casual way, remained common among many of our parents' generation. And of course, Palestine was a British Protectorate and, while Britain agreed to the principle of a Jewish homeland, it never envisaged an Israeli state.

So how much of what we see now is a belated way of saying what nice, sensitive, unprejudiced people the Brits are?

Riverwalk Sun 21-Oct-12 12:24:46

I agree with everything you've said absent.

To be honest, I don't think there's any merit in the plan.

There are many sites that our young people could be taken to e.g. the Killing Fields of Cambodia but then the Holocaust does have a special place as it happened so close to home. However this country was not responsible for the Holocaust - maybe it would be more appropriate to take them to West Africa to better understand the slave trade.

Also, there are many places of great injustices happening now that they could be informed about, such as the prison camp that is the Gaza Strip.

gracesmum Sun 21-Oct-12 12:35:43

Absentgrana - I am finding agreeing with you is becoming a habit shock Britain may well have feelings of guilt as the anti-Semitism we decry in the 21st century was absolutely unremarkable in the Britain of the 1930's (and clearly earlier) Something I find hard, so please be patient, is that criticising Israel is frequently perceived as being anti-Semitic . It is not, and I wonder how many political leaders fall into that trap. When you know what the Jews went through in Europe down the centuries (pogroms existed way way before 20th century anti-Semitism) does it make it right or even understandable to be as dogmatic and inflexible as modern Israel is proving? Is there ever going to be toleration or are we all going to dragged into further conflict?

petallus Sun 21-Oct-12 14:03:52

Agree with last three posts in particular.

Has anyone read Viktor Frankl's book 'Search for Meaning' which he wrote about his experiences in Auchwitz and other camps during the war?

He gives a detailed account of day to day life in those camps and, amongst other things, comes to the conclusion that there are only two types of man, decent and indecent, that is there were 'decent' Nazi guards and indecent prisoners, most notably the kapo, who would torture and abuse their fellow prisoners for personal gain (his terms, I'm paraphrasing).

So although I do believe that children should learn about the awful forms man's inhumanity to man sometimes takes, I do strongly believe that they should be given a fair and balanced view.

absentgrana Sun 21-Oct-12 14:41:35

gracesmum You have raised an important issue, but one that brings much baggage with it. Conflating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism ensures that critics are put on the back foot and supporters of Zionism can [easily] defend themselves against a prejudice that the critic doesn't actually hold or, at least, hasn't expressed.

petallus Sun 21-Oct-12 14:55:52

I understood gracesmum to be making just that point absentgrana. And I agree with it (and yours) wholeheartedly.

Mishap Sun 21-Oct-12 15:03:46

Let us hope that our chikdren and gchildren who are now being brought up in a multi-cultural society will be even more perplexed than us at the condemnation and persecution of one race for no apparent reason.

Keep this stuff till secondary school - give them time to absorb some sound values before being confronted with all this. They can use these values to try to make sense of it all - not good to present it to them too early.

crimson Sun 21-Oct-12 15:44:47

Don't governments always find a group of society to blame when times are hard [usually a group that's easy to pick out]. Will the elderly [aka 'us] be the ones to be blamed in this country. Or is it happening now, anyway. Part of human nature [I'm thinking of that experiment with the blue eyed/brown eyed people.

MargaretX Sun 21-Oct-12 15:46:38

My question is - Why Ausschwitz? Why not Dachau? You can't make a scheme out of one concentration camp. A vist to Dachau could be combined with a visit to the wonderul city of Munich and then you might learn that todays Germans are a quite normal people like you and me.

Its pointing a finger at another nation, and especially a very industrious successful nation. Compared to the Germany today the Brits are doing badly so lets have good luck at what their great grandfather's did!

There is nothing to be gained by dragging children or young students to look at concentration camps. Germany will see to it that the Nazi horrors are not forgotten. Which is more than Japan, Russia or China have done with their mass murderers.

absentgrana Sun 21-Oct-12 16:36:49

MargaretX I have never been to Poland, let alone to Auschwitz, but have been to Buchenwald – a construction that contradicts its setting if ever one did. It was not an extermination camp but is reckoned that over 50,000 people were either killed or died of starvation and disease. It was unique in two ways, I think but am not sure. First – and I am certain of this – it was the only concentration camp to house some 350 Allied prisoners of war. Second – and somehow this just adds to the feeling of disbelief, following the war it was used as a "special" prison by the Soviet NKVD (predecessors of the KGB) until some time in the 1950s. So another, different piece of modern history.

The motto on its gate, which can be read only from inside the camp, is Jedem das Seine. While literally meaning "'to each his own", it implies "everyone gets his just desserts. I find this more chilling than the famous Arbeit macht frei of Auschwitz.

MargaretX Sun 21-Oct-12 17:14:17

You can't compare one camp with another. They are above comparisons.

absentgrana Sun 21-Oct-12 17:56:53

MargaretX Of course. I was just agreeing with your comment about Dachau in a very long-winded way with my references to Buchenwald. I remain unconvinced that it is an appropriate way to educate young people by wheeling them through a museum that must, inevitably in this day and age, have a slight hint of theme park. (As I say, I have never visited Auschwitz so perhaps that comment was a grave untruth.)

gracesmum Sun 21-Oct-12 18:06:15

I think you can - if there are genuine differences I don't see the problem. As I said I regularly took Sixth Formers to Sachsenhausen because it was close to Berlin. It was a work and product testing camp not a death camp but also housed prisoners of war as well as interning all the categories the Nazis deemed "degenerate". We actually knew a well known "escapologist "RAF officer who was a friend of FIL and MIL who had managed to escape from Sachsenhausen. I can't remember the exact figure, but the Russians took over the camp after "liberating" it and many tens of thousands of prisoners died there under their governance.
I also visited Bergen-Belsen which my father had entered as one of the first groups of Allied soldiers to liberate the camp. I don't think it is invidious to state the differences between camps as not all camps were designated extermination camps but of course it is not as if anybody is saying one is more or less evil than another.

absentgrana Sun 21-Oct-12 18:28:16

Going back to the whole business of whether these visits are good educational tools, I wonder what other aspects of this time are put into place concerning the Final Solution. This is a genuine query. When I was at school "modern history" ended somewhere before the Great War, so I have no idea how these much more recent events are taught.

When I first learned about the Final Solution, I found it incredibly difficult to believe that NOBODY DID ANYTHING. Forgive me, I was still a child. I had no idea that many ordinary German families had no idea either. Then I had no idea that by the time some of them realised, standing up to be counted would be an act of immeasurable courage and those who were parents had hostages to fortune. I briefly attended an adult-learning German class and our teacher, roughly contemporary, was German and had deeply interesting family experiences to tell. Her own father never returned fro the Russian campaigns and at the end of the war, her grandmother, terrified of the Russian advance, moved away from home and took refuge in Dresden on exactly the wrong date. None of them had ever heard of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen or any other of these horrific places.

It is important that our young people understand that. I don't see how this almost-theme-park approach does that.

Divawithattitude Sun 21-Oct-12 18:31:04

Absent, your comment is indeed a grave untruth. I recently visited Poland and the two camps at Auschwitz with my husband and son who is 22 now.
We all found it a profoundly moving experience with no hint of theme park, it is not even a museum really. There are some exhibitions and some photographs but mainly the remains are left to speak for themselves.

I personally think that every secondary age child should see the site, to try and ensure that it can never happen again on that scale in their lifetime.

crimson Sun 21-Oct-12 19:09:26

My son has been to Auschwitz twice; I'l ask him what he thought. As for people doing nothing, I fear that, had I lived in Germany at the time I wouldn't have been brave enough to risk my life or that of my family to speak out against what was happening [that is, if I'd known about it]and have had conversations with my daughter about it over the years. Did anyone see that wonderful series, Heimat many years ago? Showed the war from the perspective of ordinary Germans living at that time.

Joan Sun 21-Oct-12 22:05:33

Some people did resist the Nazis in Germany, risking their lives as they protected their Jewish or otherwise dissident friends, but it was infinitely safer to just keep your mouth shut. Sophie Scholl was a good example of resistance: she was a student and part of a movement called The White Rose. She distributed anti-Nazi tracts and ended up being executed.

Germany has brutally faced up to its Nazi past, and generally speaking has not tried to deny it or soften it in films about that era. I researched how the era is portrayed in modern German film for my BA Honours thesis.

We don't have to worry about Germany and Austria forgetting the holocaust, but the rest of the world will, unless schoolchildren are all taught about it. Whatever program works is fine by me, because this knowledge is our best weapon against modern racism, and other hatreds.

nanaej Sun 21-Oct-12 22:29:04

I think that schools would know which of their students are emotionally mature enough to deal with such a visit. The holocaust is an important part of recent history and young people need to know about the horrors. But I think it is more important is to teach how it was possible for the nazi /fascist politics to grow and take power. The fear of rise of neo-fascism is the one thing that keeps me awake at night.
My father's family were refugees from Paestine as a result of Zionism so the story does not end with the end of WW2 sad