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