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Eduard Fuchs / Falk Pingel

Teaching the Holocaust and National Socialism. Introduction.

Quelle: Beiträge zur historischen Sozialkunde. Sondernr. 2/01. 31. Jg.

The statements and opinions could hardly be more contradictory, which have been discussed in the media and on specialist conferences in the past months. The demands on the topic are mounting as well as critical voices warning of asking too much of both pupils and teachers. What would, therefore, be more obvious than bring together the participants in the learning process? To capture the reality of teaching, mutually to inform each other of the diversity of the pedagogical situation and the materials at disposal for teaching was the aim of a conference, which the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig staged in the Buchenwald memorial. It took place as part of the German presidency of the international "Task Force on Holocaust Remembrance" last year. Of the many contributions we include above all those, which concerned themselves with teaching projects and teaching experiences as well as with critical reflections and conclusions for the methodical-didactic modus operandi on the part of memorials in the context of National Socialist crimes and the integration of eyewitnesses. Some contributions have been newly included, for instance the one about the Jewish Museum Hohenems and the Museum of Contemporary History in the memorial of the former concentration camp in Ebensee, both of which relatively recent institutions in Austria, which break new ground in dealing with the National Socialist past, and thereby increasingly place to the fore independent work of young addressees. Whereas in analysis and discussion adults predominantly concentrated on the differences in the national perspectives of the Holocaust, the limitations of each respective interpretation, the political interests and pedagogical objectives, which flow into these, and contributed comparisons with other examples of genocide; pupils, as a rule, very directly hit upon the inhumane core of the politically generated mass murder, which appears so overwhelmingly repulsive that further questions sometimes are not possible anymore. One academic asked a group of pupils that told about a visit to Auschwitz: "Has anything caused you particular distress?" A schoolgirl then replied: "I just kept asking myself how something like this could happen." And to the question about reappraisal, about comparison and parallels to the present, whether the Kosovo would have also played a role, there followed an astonished shake of the head and the answer of a female guide that a transfer had explicitly not taken place. As monstrous as the crime has been as considerably different from one another are the methodical approaches, the selection as regards content, the time devoted to the topic during teaching in international comparison. Hardly anyone who places the topic in the history of our time fails to mention the universal importance of the National Socialist genocide; in contrast, the standing it occupies in teaching, as is swiftly evinced by a comparative, matter-of-fact analysis, is rather marginal. Special courses or project weeks are still the exception, not only in German-speaking countries. Many teachers follow the guidelines whose precepts or recommendations on this teaching subject are extraordinarily different within Europe alone. In most countries they designate between four and sixteen hours for the treat-ment of National Socialism and/or the Holocaust. Yet - as Volkhard Knigge has pointed out in his critical reflections on the "imperative of memory" on the Buchenwald Conference - the perpetrators'/ victims' background is still essential on the one hand for the way of appraisal in the various countries. However, this raises - in the context of countries like Germany and Austria - the question at the same time whether "prescribed negative memory could make a lasting contribution to democratisation and humanisation". The multi-ethnic composition of many school classes necessitates a differentiated, intercultural approach, when one takes the National Socialist crimes as the theme, today more than ever - a fact Angelika Rieber devoted special attention to in her observations. Teaching guidelines and schoolbooks as well as teachers' attitudes are shaped by the experiences of the respective adult generation. Decrees of the ministries of education perhaps too little reflect the ways of perception of the young. Recurrent interventions and attempts on the part of politics and the media to make teachers and young people discharge their duties - be it on account of current political events or the publication of survey results about a lack of knowledge or awareness - seem questionable in this light and counterproductive in their effect; Reinhard Krammer has referred to some Austrian examples in his contribution, which has already been published before the Buchenwald Conference. Memorials cannot spurn this situation, either, if they do not want, as GŁnter Morsch has explained on the basis of results from visitor research at the KZ memorial Sachsenhausen, to "animate active dozing"; and he summarises in the face of exhibition concepts that "clarity, structuredness, graphicness and, most of all, a self-imposition of limits are in a direct, proportionate relation to pedagogical success". In Germany and Austria many of those, who bear responsibility in the educational system today, have formed their attitude towards National Socialism in the confrontation with the generation of parents and grandparents, who have themselves still been witnesses and participants. This approach has become obsolete for the generation of pupils today. The new generation is freer. It can thematically address resistance and collaboration, standing by or looking on in the same way without touching taboos. This new openness of the situation, which, however, at one and the same time gives National Socialism its place in history, must be taken into growing account in the future, in both training institutions as well as memorials and museums, which adopt this theme.

(English Version: Stefan Menhofer, 2001)
Quelle: Beiträge zur historischen Sozialkunde. Sondernr. 2/01. 31. Jg.
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