Worlds of Education

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin (photo: Richard Ricciardi/flickr)
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin (photo: Richard Ricciardi/flickr)

“The forgotten voices of the Holocaust”, by Yossi Michal.

published 27 January 2020 updated 18 February 2020
written by:

The International Remembrance Day of the Holocaust is commemorated on January 27th. It is a good opportunity to reflect on a unique aspect of Learning about that period. I'll start with a short story. My family has lived for many generations in Romania. A few years ago, before my grandmother died, she told us that in her hometown, Iasi, in the province of Moldova in Romania, the Jewish community had undergone a severe Pogrom – mass murder of Jews - during the war in which her sister was murdered with her seven children. I did not know the story and it pushed me to deepen my learning about the life of Jewish communities in Romania during the Holocaust.

I have learned that many communities have suffered from pogroms, abuse, humiliation, isolation, confiscation of possessions and murder that were not organized in the same way that we learn about and teach our students regarding the Jewish communities in Poland, Germany and other countries. The story of many Romanian Jews is unknown and their voices are forgotten in Holocaust education programs.

The forgotten voices of the Holocaust also include Jewish communities in North Africa that have suffered under the Nazi regime. Jews in Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria were imprisoned in labor camps, required to wear the yellow badge, and some were sent overseas to the largest extermination camp in Europe.

Even in the Far East, Jews suffered from the long hand of the Nazi regime. In Japan, an ally of Germany during the war, a ghetto was built for all Jewish refugees fleeing from Europe.

Today, there is a growing trend to include in Holocaust education programs the stories of the Jewish communities that in the past were not included in books, memorial days and places of remembrance.

This trend is important in two respects. First, it encompasses a wide circle of Jewish communities that were apparently far from the Holocaust-era annihilation circle, and indicates the broad, extensive plan  for the destruction and extinction of the Jewish people not only in Europe but throughout the world. The argument that the Holocaust was intended only for European Jews is refuted.

Second, in today's social reality, it is important for our students to understand that despite the differences in language, culture, customs and traditions of the various Jewish communities that came from different countries, we also have much in common and that antisemitism, hate and racism make no distinction. As in the past, no distinction was made between Jews from Poland, France, Greece or Libya.

In order for us to tell the full story of the Holocaust, we must include the story of all communities and the way each suffered and coped with the horrors of war and annihilation.

This change requires a number of actions.

Changing curricula that focused for years on the story of mainly Polish and German Jewry and the story of other communities in neighboring countries such as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia or France. True, in Poland and Germany, persecution and extermination were the greatest, but for every Jew who had to deal with the horrors under the Nazi regime, the experience must have been terrible.

We need to make a permanent change in the way the Holocaust is presented. The Holocaust is not just the story of European Jewry in Western and Central European countries, but rather the story of communities ranging from Russia, in the East, to France, in the West, and from Norway, in the North, to Libya and Tunis, in the South.

Another challenge is to find the survivors whose voices were not heard for years and get them to tell their story. Those survivors who felt frustrated and rejected need to find the strength to open their hearts and tell their experiences.

Another challenge is to integrate the story of these forgotten survivors in the national and international story of the Holocaust. Change has started and we must continue it in the coming years.

This recognition of the forgotten voices of the Holocaust is also an invitation for all educators, everywhere in the world to examine what is the Holocaust story we are telling and whether all of its voices are heard in classrooms.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.