[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]


Holocaust Education
in Germany Expands


Compiled by Erin Browne

"The Holocaust has left a trace, so that our generation has to fight against the many prejudices that people around the world have against the Germans."

The current thought among students in Germany is reflected in the above statement by Katha, a German student in Stuttgart. The prejudices surrounding the Holocaust seem to have flipped, and it now appears that it is the Germans who are the victims of racial stereotypes.

In the fifty years that have passed since Liberation, Germany has amended most wounds imbedded in its political infrastructure. Socially, though, change has been slower to come about, despite the efforts attempted by Germany's government, where teaching of the Holocaust has become an integral part of the German education. Georg Merten of the German Information Center in New York, USA said, "The Holocaust is compulsory teaching matter at all types of high schools in Germany and at all levels of education. The Holocaust is treated as the most important aspect of the period of Nazi rule."

It is this education that has molded the minds of the contemporary German youth, leaving the former prejudices behind, while never forgetting the ramifications of the past. Over the past year, many student opinions were posted on the I*EARN Holocaust Study Conference <iearn.hgp> on a special topic focusing on Germany, whose goal was "to encourage an international dialogue with German students and adults in an effort to learn, discuss, and take positive actions as a result of the study of the Holocaust of WW II." Students reflected on their feelings and experiences growing up in contemporary Germany as well as their outlook on Germany's reformation.


"We, in Germany, talk much about the WW II, also at school. For example in religious education we saw the movie The White Rose and in another religious education class saw Schindler's List. We also read a lot of books (at school and at home for ourselves). In 6th grade, we read our first book about this topic, Damals war es Friedrich, a story about a Jewish boy who had a friend who was not Jewish. It was the beginning of the WW II in Germany, and the Jewish boy was no more allowed to go to school. The parents of the other boy didn't let their son play with the Jewish boy. It was very hard for both boys because they were the best friends before the war started, and then they were no longer allowed to play together. At the end, the Jewish boy died. A few of my class-mates read also the book, Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank, translated it's (I think) The Diary of Anne Frank. Perhaps you know it; it's very popular in Germany. A school in Stuttgart is named after her.

Everybody at school, at home, teaches us, when we go to another country, that we shall be quiet and not say too loudly, that we are from Germany. They don't say it like this, but that's what they mean. I think it must be like that. It's one thing that nobody can forget: what a guilt we have on us! Perhaps not on us but on our country. It is a pity, that we cannot wear clothes with the German flag, or that the flag doesn't hang in our classrooms like at your school. But that doesn't matter. I only know it that way, so I wear the American flag on my sweat-shirt. We can't behave like nothing happened. Perhaps in a few years' time, perhaps in 30, 20 or 10 years, everybody will pardon us. Not pardon us, but notice that we are no more the same, that we are a new generation, a generation without hate and force! We're trying to do everything for it. In many schools there are as many exchanges to other countries as they teach languages. And, our government tries to help people who come from countries where there is war at the moment."

Gigi



"I think the Holocaust was one of the biggest mistakes in the world that ever was made. Although I'm a German, I don't think I have to feel more ashamed than other people. But of course I think that especially the people in Germany have to agree to make up for the mistakes they (better: some of their grandfathers) made. I prefer to see most of them as people with a weak character who weren't able to see what Hitler really was.

Even today, experiments like the Milgram experiment show, that in all countries, even in the United States, there is the theoretical basis of people for power-hungry men like Hitler. I don't know how people are able to do such things.

I don't know how they were able not able to listen to their conscience. But I believe that - even sometimes today, some people are able to do everything to get power.

The Holocaust is not a "German" mistake, but an immense fault of all the men (and women) who were able to believe Hitler's words and an even bigger mistake of all the people who actively followed their leader.

Even today, there are some (idiotic) persons who want to get Hitler's time back and think everything has to come again. I can't understand them, and I hope nobody believes their words. We all, particularly Germans, should fight against such people."

Matthias



"All over the world people are killed, then, like today. If Hitler had seized the power in another country, for example in France, the Holocaust would have also taken place. It is wrong that the Germans are more anti-Semitic than other people. After the First World War, the Germans were at the end. Then Hitler came and gave them food and jobs. The Germans had the feeling, that he took care of them. It was not important where the jobs suddenly come from; it was important to have one. With his psychology, Hitler influenced the people and he made them into his marionettes.

I did not live then, but I am sure I would never maltreat people or kill them. For me it is hard to kill a fly -how I could kill a person? I am sure that my grandparents never voluntarily killed a Jew or another person, too. The people in Germany have learned, and it is a pity that there are still people who have the same opinion like the Nazis."

Andrea Wenzel



"In my opinion, the Holocaust is the biggest statesman-like crime in the world. Because of that, I think it's important to speak frankly about the theme. You can't say that the people in the past were cowardly because they put up with Hitler's power. On the one hand, the population didn't know about the cruel crimes of Hitler, and on the other, the people didn't protest because they were in fear of their and their family's lives. I don't think we should forget this time, because, if we do so, it could happen again. I think such a development can only be stopped at the beginning. The Jews started their resistance too late. We all have to accept that horrible past, even if it isn't pardonable, and have to prevent something like that if it should start again."

Ulrike



"In my opinion the Holocaust was the biggest mistake Germany made. But I know, 50 years later, this time is over. But this time has left a trace, so that our generation has to fight with many prejudices people from all over the world have against the Germans.

When I go to a foreign country, and I meet old people, I don't know how they will react, if they notice that I'm German. There are many people who have a lot of problems with my origin.

When I was in France 2 years ago, there were two women who insulted me and my friends. We walked down the street. It was on May 8th 1995, 50 years after the Germans' capitulation when we were asked, what we were doing there, on that date. They explained that they were Jewish and they were angry because they thought that we are racists (everyone thinks that all the Germans are racists). We tried to explain that it is not right to think that, but they didn't react and kept on insulting us.

It is difficult for me to handle people's reactions if they know my origin, but I can understand them a little bit.

Some of them lost members of their family in the war and so they hate everybody whose mistake it was. Now, the times have changed, and the people, too. Perhaps the world community will learn that the Holocaust is over and perhaps they will someday meet German people with a different attitude."

Katha



"In sixth grade, we also read a book about WW II. Then in seventh grade, we talk about the "White Rose" in religion, and we watch the movie. In 8th and 9th grade, I think we don't read a WW II book, but in 10th grade, we do again. I know some Jewish people here in Stuttgart. Dani, a very good friend of mine, is Jewish. He is from Israel. I think Jewish people don't have any problems any more here in Germany. You don't see whether someone is Jewish or not! OK, sometimes, but not always."

Gigi



In addition to the German government's efforts to educate their youth about the Holocaust, The Transatlantic Classroom, a non-profit organization directed by Matthias Heyl and located in Hamburg, Germany, has developed a German-American e-mail project in an effort to use e-mail as an educational tool for studying the Holocaust. German and American students share the opportunity to find out more about the Holocaust while "researching" it themselves and discussing their ideas and findings with each other. This project is focusing on a few key questions, notably: What does the Holocaust mean to German and American students? What do they know about it? What are the differences in the way in which they confront this part of their history?

One group of German students at Sophie-Scholl-Schule, in Berlin, and their teacher, Rainer Moltmann, recently visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and agreed to share their comments with us on our Holocaust/Genocide Project conference, <iearn.hgp>:
"When we first arrived in Sachsenhausen, I was a little afraid of the things I might see in the next couple of hours. Then we went in and there were almost no original building that had been there during WW II. For example, I really wanted to see the barracks. I wanted to be able to imagine how many people had to sleep on one bed and the way of life. We went to a building where people were held in charge for a long time in complete darkness. I didn't want to go in there first, but then I thought: maybe it's important to see a place where such terrible things happened. I mean, that's why we went there. Then we went to see a film about the concentration camp that showed all the cruelty that had happened there. After the film, I wanted to go straight home because now I was able to imagine what really had happened in Sachsenhausen concentration camp."

Clara



". . . It was ugly to see the broken gold teeth of the dead prisoners. The dead bodies were very terrible. I think that everybody must visit a concentration camp. You can learn about the way, the punishments and the resistance of the prisoners. When you visit a concentration camp, you know that is not a story, but also, it is our own history and we must learn to handle it."

Julia Burkhardt



"It was very depressing. The film we watched was an old one and the quality was not so good, but it had a bad effect on me. Maybe the weather made the situation a bit more sad because it was so rainy and cold. When Mr. Szepansky, a witness, told how he lived in the camp, it had a worse effect."

Larissa



". . . Originally the barracks were built for 140 prisoners; in the end there were 500 prisoners in one barrack. The two barracks which were able to be seen until 1992, were burned down by racists in September. It's terrible to see that there are still so many people who ignore the cruel deeds done by the Nazis."

Yvonne Von



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