EI General Secretary David Edwards opens the Holocaust commemoration event in Krakow, Poland.
EI General Secretary David Edwards opens the Holocaust commemoration event in Krakow, Poland.

Poland: Educators pledge to never let the horrors of the Holocaust happen again

published 29 January 2020 updated 3 February 2020

Educators from 18 countries on 4 continents came together in Krakow this week to mark 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death and concentration camp, to commemorate the victims and to discuss the best ways to teach the Holocaust to new generations.

The Conference is the latest event in the decades-long partnership between Education International affiliates in Israel, Germany and Poland focussing on Holocaust education. Hosted by ZNP (Poland) in cooperation with ITU (Israel) and GEW (Germany), the conference included a visit to the Auschwitz Museum, participation in the official commemoration ceremony of the 75th anniversary, and two intensive days of discussing, sharing and learning about Holocaust education.

In the final day of the conference, participants put forward a statement outlining their commitment to bringing the lessons of the Holocaust to new generations so that those atrocities are never allowed to happen again. The full statement is available below.

Statement on the Occasion of the Education International Holocaust Remembrance Conference | Krakow, 29 January 2020

27 January 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. During the Second World War six million Jews across Europe were murdered. More than one million of them were murdered in Auschwitz alone. Even today the trauma of murder, extermination and persecution continues to impair the surviving victims and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

On the occasion of this 75th anniversary, representatives of education trade unions from 17 countries have come together in Krakow and Auschwitz to commemorate the victims of the Shoah, to discuss how memory of the Holocaust can be preserved, and how vigilance can be strengthened so that such a crime against the Jewish people and against humanity never happens again.

In 2019, the World Congress of Education International (EI) reaffirmed that democracy and its fundamental values are at the core of EI’s mission and constitute the unifying cohesive principle for all member organisations. Through the Congress resolution, all education organisations affiliated to EI, including those represented at this important Holocaust conference, restate their commitment to promoting education for democracy as the highest priority.

The past decade has shown that the threat of anti-Semitism must be taken seriously. We have witnessed an increasing number of attacks on synagogues; the desecration of Jewish cemeteries; verbal and physical attacks against religious Jews or those with Jewish appearance; and anti-Jewish statements by public figures, politicians and public opinion leaders all over the world. This violence and aggression represent a significant growth in anti-Semitic behaviour, both racially and religiously motivated.

The number of right-wing and other extremists is growing, and they are becoming bolder in their modes of action: websites that deny or trivialise the Holocaust are rapidly spreading on the Internet. While the culture of memory crumbles under their pressure, the public's ability to respond to this potential threat is diminishing. In the younger generation, we note with concern a baffling ignorance about the Holocaust. We even see empathy being ridiculed.

Holocaust victims oblige us to do everything that is in our power to reject and fight any denial of the Holocaust as historical fact, either in full or in part, and to empower and encourage people – individually as well as in communities and nations – to live together according to values of  tolerance, mutual respect and the acceptance of all people, irrespective of religious, cultural, national and ethnic backgrounds or sexual identity.

As trade unionists and education professionals, we are faced with a particular responsibility to encourage young people and the next generations to commit themselves to fostering human understanding, civil awareness and living together in peace.

The last eyewitnesses who survived the horror of Auschwitz and who are essential mediators for the memory of the Shoah in schools, will not be with us for much longer. As there will no longer be a personal encounter with Holocaust survivors in the future, their documented interviews and diverse media-based materials will offer new engaging and dynamic approaches to Holocaust remembrance and fighting against Holocaust deniers.

Too often, media coverage of the Holocaust presents students with poorly prepared, baseless and sometimes outright false information. When teaching about the Shoah, research-based learning should be in the foreground and deliver a balanced process, with moral education. In this way, the uniqueness and ethical dimension of the Holocaust would be better understood by young people.

The Holocaust should never happen again – in any way – anywhere in the world. This is our commitment as educators and trade unionists to future generations.