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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 28th, 2008 - 00:43:26

Keeping the memories of Jewish suffering alive
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 28, 2008, 00:41

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The British government has introduced compulsory lessons on the Holocaust for school children and is funding school visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland to the tune of 1.5 million sterling pounds, to be topped up by a further 4.65 million sterling pounds.

That the �unimaginable suffering� of the Holocaust must never be forgotten was Prime Minister Gordon Brown�s personal message on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Conservative leader David Cameron wrote-off the school trips as just another government �gimmick� and is now being hounded by ministers, Jewish groups and the media to apologize.

Across the Channel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently made his own commitment to keeping the Holocaust alive in the minds of young people. Speaking to members of the Jewish community, he vowed to ensure every 10-year-old learned the personal story of a French Holocaust victim in the same age group. He has also urged children to think of the Holocaust when standing to the French national anthem.

�Nothing is more moving, for a child, than the story of a child his own age, who has the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as he, but who, at the drawn of the 1940s had the bad fortune to be defined as a Jew,� he said.

Sarkozy�s plan to forge a personal link between a living child and another who died in cruel circumstances over half-a-century ago has come under fire from parents, secularists and psychologists fearing youngsters would be traumatized by such close identification.

His detractors include Jewish groups and Holocaust survivors, who either fear a public backlash or feel such linkage would be a harrowing experience for yet-to-be formed minds.

The policies of Messrs. Brown and Sarkozy may be driven by pure sentiments. The slavery, starvation and gassing of millions of Jews by the Nazis should, indeed, be remembered by future generations, which will, hopefully, learn lessons about man�s inhumanity to man. And, indeed, there is little danger of that as long as there are Holocaust memorials, Holocaust museums and libraries as well as thousands of movies, documentaries and books on the subject.

On the other hand, one can�t help but fear their motives are political. Israel came into being after the Holocaust and even today it cites the Holocaust as its raison d��tre as a Jewish state. �Never again� is its watchword, and, by and large, Westerners are sympathetic to its survivalist stance fueled by their own knowledge of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and sometimes by a collective sense of guilt.

This translates to Israel being treated as a special case within the community of nations. It alone can get away with a covert nuclear weapons program, the flouting of dozens of UN resolutions, unprovoked attacks on its neighbors and continued occupation of another people�s land, which flies against international and humanitarian laws.

When coming under verbal attack from whatever quarter, the Israeli government wraps itself in the Holocaust and flourishes the anti-Semite card even when criticisms are justified. In this way protagonists are silenced and promising careers cut short.

With the numbers of Holocaust survivors dwindling and memories fading with time, what might happen were Western children not vividly reminded of the Holocaust? Would not new generations grow up without the sense of guilt experienced by their parents and grandparents? And consequently mightn�t they put the same demands upon Israel�s behavior as are imposed on the rest of the world?

The American writer and political scientist Norman Finkelstein, whose father survived the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz and whose mother was an inmate of Nazi slave labor camps, believes the Holocaust has been hijacked for political and economic purposes. He says the memory of the Holocaust is being used as an �ideological weapon� so that Israel can cast itself as �a victim state� to gain �immunity from criticism.�

He may or may not be right. But what�s certain is that the actions of Britain and France in ramping up Holocaust education lend credence to Finkelstein�s theory. The history of the planet is punctuated with crimes against humanity, genocide and massive casualties of war. The near obliteration of Native Americans, the 800,000 Armenians massacred during World War I, the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the 27 million Russian victims of World War II are just a few examples.

Let�s not forget Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila or the war of attrition that Israel is currently waging against Gaza. And let�s not forget the million plus Iraqis who lost their lives as a result of the 2003 US-led invasion. Let�s remember too the 800,000 Rwandans killed in the space of only 100 days as the world watched. The list is endless.

If Europe�s school kids are to be taught about the Holocaust, encouraged to visit the death camps and to mentally �adopt� a dead child, then they should surely also be told about other atrocities. And even more importantly, they should be enlightened as to the suffering happening now -- not 50 or 100 years ago, but here and now.

I do not seek to diminish the Holocaust or the suffering of its victims and their families. In fact, I freely admit that I have shed tears on occasion after reading a book or viewing a documentary about this disgusting period in European history. But others have suffered, too, and their pain is just as real and authentic.

In short, there should be balance in schools. British and French children should be familiarized with the Holocaust as part of a broader discipline covering genocide and war crimes. Else those countries risk being accused of indoctrinating their young in favor of the Jewish state as a deceptive political strategy rather than an honorable humanitarian goal.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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