Teaching and Learning About the Holocaust In Israel: A Virtual Field Trip

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The following is a summarized, paraphrased, distilled version of the addresses given by the speakers at the conference.

Theme: Contemporary Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Holocaust
Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Yad Vashem and Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dr. Bauer is author of Rethinking the Holocaust. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001). He maintains there have been four major waves of anti-Semitism since 1945. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one root of global anti-Semitism. According to Bauer, Anti-Semitism is a cultural phenomenon rather than an expression of prejudice. Prejudice would be a more individual expression of hatred or distaste for a group. Anti-Semitism forms as cultures develop reasons for attacking, expelling, or exterminating Jews. Three types of anti-Semitism are apparent: 

1. Traditional: This form refers to the right-wing, Christian, pre-Hitlerian versions seen in history. They include neo-Nazis and their skinhead counterparts. This form makes no pretence about its agenda.

2. The "Chattering Classes:" These include academics, members of the media, professionals who for whatever reason have subscribed to an anti-Jewish ideology that is not based in fact. Classic examples include any form of anti-Jewish hatred that lurks under the surface of society seeking a trigger for what seems like appropriate expression. This type sees Israel as the "Collective Jew." In an attempt to begin a genocidal chain-reaction, the chattering classes, seek to destroy the state of Israel within the mechanisms at their disposal, be they the state, diplomacy, the military or the media.

3. The disaffected and desperate. Immigrants from Arab and Muslim nations that subscribe to an anti-Jewish ideology for the justification of the actions of their own leadership or for their own aggrandizement. While the number of Muslims in Europe has increased, a minority of them subscribe to a radical Islamic ideology. 

How can societies that now harbor these immigrant populations prevent armed rebellion? They must make every effort to integrate Muslim religion and culture into their own. Radicalism can be reduced by governments and societies that make an effort to accept Muslim culture as a part of pluralistic and democratic political and economic culture. In a sense, that which was done for the Jews in pre-Nazi Europe must be done for the Muslim population there and elsewhere, or radical Islam will find fertile soil for anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Radical Islam is a movement that wants to expand globally and impose a monolithic form of "sharia" law with the intention of removing democratic government. It opposes national states in the hope of imposing theocratic rule. It also calls for the destruction of modern Jewry. Bauer then mentioned the website http://www.memri.org, which stands for The Middle East Media Research Institute. He denounced this website as the mouthpiece of Arab anti-Semitism. The website seems to have a variety of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish articles even though one of its strands involves the monitoring of Arab anti-Semitism. Oddly, some of the statements about comparing the Holocaust with Israeli policy against the Palestinians can also be found on this website (see: 

Professor Edward Said Compares the Holocaust and the Palestinian Disaster: 'Every Human Calamity is Different'; 'But... There is Value in Seeing Analogies and Perhaps Hidden Similarities'

Bauer continued: Nazism was also a religion that attacked governments. The result: 50 million dead, most of whom were non-Jewish. Israel's defensive reaction is rooted in the similarities between ideologies such as Nazism and extremist, radical Islam. How can Israel and the West counter this movement?

1. Develop alliances with non-radical Muslim nations. Find a common bond and mutual interests and demonstrate why radical Islam is detrimental to the development of their own people. Egypt and Jordan have established working diplomatic ties with the US and with Israel, and they have been involved in actions against Muslim sects that purport genocidal actions against Israel.

2. Deal with the economic and social problems within the Muslim world. Without the claim to discrimination and poverty that societies have that justify their own extremism, radical Islam would have no foothold. The radical Islamic leaders are so rich that they don't need assistance from the West in building infrastructure, gaining, and education, and securing their future. But they withhold these resources from the dispossessed, which they then recruit into their ranks.

3. Develop alliances with anti-radical Muslims. While sounding similar to number one, this idea involves making active military and political alliances with nations whose interests run contrary to the forces of extremism. It may or may not involve the education of the general populace, but as long as the government and military are poised against the forces of extremism, progress can be made to counter actions against Israel and Jewish people across the globe.

4. Use force against terrorism when needed. The "War Against Terror" is an illusion because the forces of terror are highly organized, international, and operate with no state apparatus but with the aid of millions of dollars from the likes of Bin Laden. No matter what any state does against these forces, they will reappear in another form. This process can be seen in Iraq where the state terrorism of Saddam Hussein was supplanted by the insurgents and extremists who previously had no foothold there. Nevertheless, when a state can use its military resources to both prevent and counteract the conspiracies of Islamic radicalism, it should be within the right of self-preservation of state to use those resources. 

Mr. Per Ahlmark, Former Deputy of the Swedish Prime Minister, Stockholm

Yad Vashem represents a victory for democracy and freedom over authoritarianism. The world must continue to be vigilante against anti-Semitism, but there is an accompanying ideology that the world must also be wary of: that of anti-Americanism. This world view is not based on anything rational. The history of the twentieth century demonstrates how instrumental the United States, in the consistent implementation of its foreign policy,  was in the triumph of democracy over authoritarianism. The United States and Great Britain, along with its allies, sacrifices thousands in the liberation of Europe from Nazism. In the power vacuum that was left with the fall of Germany, the Soviet Union moved into Eastern Europe to create a buffer zone though the forced implementation of its economic and political ideology, Soviet Communism. The United States, in its leadership of NATO and the design of the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, saved Western Europe from the extension of the Iron Curtain over its peoples. While the United States was only able to establish a stalemate in Korea, with the loss of China to the communists in 1949, and with the fall of Saigon to the North in 1975, the United States was still able to prevent global domination by totalitarian states. In the end, the entire Soviet system was exposed as corrupt and the forces of democracy brought about the "Velvet Revolution" that tore open the iron curtain and brought political and economic freedom to untold millions in Eastern Europe. For these events we say "thank you, America."

Anti-Zionism rejects the right of the Jewish people to live in a secure homeland called Israel. The United States has consistently supported the state of Israel even in the face of terrorist threats from numerous Palestinian and other extremist organizations from the late 1960s through September 11, 2001 and the present day. As a result, the ideologies of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism have become linked, used together to create a virulent anti-Semitism. This mindset against the United States is not directed at US society or foreign policy, attitudes that might be based in some loose interpretation of facts. Rather, it is wholly irrational and based in falsehood, akin to and as immoral as racism.

In spite of its own setting as the scene for the drama that we call the Holocaust, Europe is in denial regarding the defense of Israel. No democracy has ever waged war against another democracy. When war did take place in Europe, one of the nations being attacked was an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship. Europe has had to defend itself against these political systems. Arab nations that surround and oppose Israel are non-democratic. 
The media portray the Palestinians as the Underdog, and Israel is depicted as the lapdog of the United States. Europe attempts to stay out of the conflict a form of "swedenization" of the European Union (EU) and its policies. On the left, anti-Americanism fills the airwaves even thought he Unites States has carried the majority of the burden in removing Saddam Hussein and eradicating Al-Qaeda bases from Afghanistan. On the right, the media is filled with anti-Semitic rhetoric as Holocaust denial and anti-Israel propaganda attempts to color the Arab-Israeli conflict. The people of Europe must become aggressive in their fight against this type of manipulation, and at the same time, join with the United States in its war against terrorism.

Prof. Robert Wistrich, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Anti-Semitism has become acceptable in the form of anti-Zionism. Holocaust denial become more prevalent as the Holocaust increases in acceptability. Arab anti-Semitism, which has genocide as its ideological foundation in the destruction of the state of Israel, has become mainstream.
Holocaust denial has become an integral part of denouncing Israel within the international community. Omitting the Holocaust is another way to promote anti-Semitic views among students and media audiences. French schools do not include the Holocaust in their curricula. The Holocaust is seen as too much a part of the educational establishment and is therefore omitted from educational mandates to teach it. Holocaust education should have the effect of increasing understanding of Israeli politics and culture, but in nations such as Portugal, Greece, and Spain, Israeli discussion of the Holocaust is denounced. 

Shoah Victims' Names Project: Dr. Yaacov Lozowick, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives Division

Discussion Groups - Anti-Semitism and the Phenomena of Holocaust Denial - How do we Equip Students with the Proper Tools?
Mr. Christer Mattsson, Living History Forum, Stockholm

Mr Mattson discussed methods for intervening with students who claim to be Holocaust deniers. He pointed out that students who support anti-Semitic views often have a cluster of anti-social behaviors that accompany their views on race and the Jews. The teacher can attempt some intervention with members of this group, but usually, these students need to be referred to counseling resources within the school. According to Sam Totten, Holocaust denial does not deserve to be discussed within academic forum, lest the message of the denier be given any credence (Totten, 2002). Mr. Mattsson supported this view, but he did point out that the presence of deniers may have a deleterious effect on academic discourse and must be dealt with in that light. He pointed out the social structure of the inner workings of the deniers as a group within adolescent peer groups that  operate within schools. These students are often disaffected underachievers who use their anti-Semitic views as a tool for attention-getting, notoriety, and to generate rebellion within the ranks of students who are non-deniers. The role of girls as hangers-on and as motivation to leave the peer group was especially noted.

Presentation: Dr. Benjamin Cassutto: Dutch Jews and their effect on Jewish Identity

Dr. Cassutto opened his presentation with an overview of his family history. In 1492, the Al Humbra Decree, issued by Queen Isabella of Spain, forced all the Jews living under the monarchy of Spain out of that kingdom. Spanish Jews fled to Portugal, and later to Holland, where they were able to find some religious freedom. It was in the liberal religious atmosphere of Reformation Holland that Jews established themselves culturally and economically. The speaker's mother, Elisabeth Rodrigues (called Elly), came from the line of these religious Portuguese Jews who settled in the Amsterdam region. They would eventually grow up and attend school with Anne Frank at the Jewish Secondary School in Amsterdam.

His father's family descended from Jews who emigrated from Livorno, Italy. During the Dutch colonial period around the time of World War I, the Cassutto family became noted for jurisprudence and helped the Dutch government administer its holdings in the Dutch East Indies, later to become known as Indonesia. In that culture alien to this family, the Cassuttos were aware of their Jewish heritage, but they were secular and non-practicing.

Interior of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam by Emanuel de Witte
(Oil on canvas
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Image courtesy:

What were the reasons that non-Jews, sometimes called "Righteous Gentiles" or "the righteous among the nations" decided to hide or otherwise rescue Jews from Nazi captivity and extermination? Dr. Cassutto outlined the following possibilities:
  • Ethical (moral) -the humane treatment of others
  • National -to work against the Nazi regime
  • Cultural -Jews had lived among other Hollanders for centuries
  • Religious -The Jewish people are part of G-d’s plan, cannot be destroyed

Bert Bochove hid Elly Rodrigues and her family for eleven months not so much for religious reasons, but because it was the “right”thing to do. According to Bert-“I didn’t grow up with the idea you needed “Christ”to make it.” Corrie Ten Boom and her family on the other hand, had a strong Christian faith and understanding of the importance of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel in G-d’s plan of salvation. Miep Gies, now 91 years old is still speaking about how she hid the Frank family. According to her, “My decision to help Otto was because I saw no alternative.”

Dr. Cassutto discusses Jewish identityWhy did these Christians hide Jewish people?
–They believed the Jews are G-d’s chosen people: Elly and Ernest are brothers and sisters of the Messiah, in the flesh
–They believed it would bring them “blessing” (Genesis 12:3).
–They believed it was commanded (Matthew 25:31-46).
–They believed that the Jews and Israel are critical to G-d’s plan for the World. 
The Jewish nation should not be destroyed.

After Dr. Cassutto's presentation, a number of the attendees stayed after to discuss the contents of his talk. One woman asked him "aren't you sad that Hitler robbed your parents of their faith?" She intended to mean that their acceptance of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah took them out of the Jewish community, and without Hitler's Holocaust, they would still be "Jewish." Dr. Cassutto made it clear that for his parents, belief in Jesus the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, for his parents, made them more Jewish. It is not for anyone to decide if they took themselves out of the Jewish nation by integrating how they perceived Jesus into their faith. Their experiences in the Holocaust gave them permanent membership in that society no matter which Messiah they decided upon. As Elly Cassutto once responded to someone who asked her how it felt to no longer be a Jew: "My parents died in Auschwitz. No matter what you think of me, I will always be a Jew."

 Closing Session - The Israel Asper Memorial Lecture: Jewish Identity in the Post-Holocaust World
In the presence of: Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi

Chief Rabbi Meir LauThe rabbi stated that his generation failed in teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. He told the story of a taxi driver who returned home one day to see his children. His son asked him, "Father, is it true you are a bastard?" The son said he learned in school that a bastard is a person who has no family. The child knew his mother's family. They went to visit one holidays and he received gifts from them from time to time. But the child never saw his paternal grandparents. To him, they did not exist, which made his father a bastard. The taxi driver went into the bathroom and cried so his children could not see him. He cried for shame that he never told his son about the Shoah. The rabbi charged the attendees with the responsibility of telling the story, but not just the story of how the Jews were persecuted and killed. While this part of the story helps us understand the importance of acceptance, tolerance, and respect for human rights, it was important that we told the story of how the survivors built a new society in the desert. The existence of Israel is an act of heroism in and of itself. Israel has fought five wars in order to maintain its independence and act as a haven for the world's Jews. In spite of the military threat against it, Israeli society has flourished. An economy has been established in the middle of the desert, and it was the heroes of the Holocaust who built the land out of almost nothing. This is the other part of the story that teachers must teach and that students must learn.

The Chief Rabbi continued: when he arrived in Israel shortly after the Holocaust, his aunt and uncle were told by the psychotherapist: don't tell him about his past. Don't speak Polish to him! Make him a new creation. The Rabbi was able to remember and come to grips with his past (except he never spoke Polish). He said "when I was growing up, I heard about Anna Frank. But the book was hidden from me." The ugly truth is that one day in Buchenwald was a mach starker reality than her entire diary's record. But the diary allowed the world to become intimate with an individual-- a girl of twelve with a talent for writing. The world should have done a better job in communicating the whole story. "We told the world about how the Jews died, but we did not tell the world about how we [The Jews] lived! Teachers: tell the world about our aspirations, our plans, our talents, and our failures. The taxi driver was ashamed of his past. The children lost their grandparents physically and spiritually. As teachers, we must restore their memory, and as we do, we restore our own place in the world. 

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