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Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research in Switzerland

Member Since: 
2004

Overview

The study of the Holocaust provides a context for exploring the dangers of remaining silent in the face of Evil. Historical remembrance and respect for the victims are therefore not just a moral duty rooted in past events, but also an educational tool designed to ensure that such unspeakable horrors never happen again. Wishing to further develop its existing information materials and activities in the area of Holocaust education, Switzerland thus joined the ITF/IHRA in December 2004.

A national ITF/IHRA support group was created in 2004, and joint meetings with the delegation are held twice a year. This group is composed of some 20 institutions and individuals and includes federal and cantonal government agencies that are regularly involved in activities covered by the ITF/IHRA. The existence of a support group has proved crucial in various respects: by covering activities and topics that simply cannot be covered by the delegation alone, by letting the responses to the various questionnaires of the ITF/IHRA reflect the real activities and the real difficulties within the country, and by keeping the delegates and the grassroots organisations updated about activities and projects in the country and internationally.

The national delegation is always headed by a representative of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). The representatives in the working groups have remained the same and they have attended every plenary session, thus testifying to the importance Switzerland attaches to the work of the ITF/IHRA.

The Swiss Federal Council is firmly committed to the goals of the ITF/IHRA: no one in Switzerland shall forget the lessons of History

Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey
Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
May 2008

Education

The Holocaust is a mandatory topic in Swiss schools. The Cantonal education departments are committed to implementing the guidelines and to reaching the goals defined by the Cantonal teaching curricula.

The Holocaust as the murder of the Jews of Europe by the Nazi regime and its collaborators during the Second World War is taught within the context of history teaching and civic education. Aspects of the Holocaust and the Roma genocide are also addressed in social science, religious studies and literature.

At the primary and secondary school level (ages 7-16) the teaching of Holocaust remembrance is taught within the frame of the Second World War and oriented toward the goals of civic and citizen education, and aims to help students become active and responsible citizens.

On a higher level (Gymnasium/Lycée and vocational training), the teaching of Holocaust remembrance is seen in the context of violence and genocide prevention, aiming at analysing, understanding and preventing the causes and forms of violence, racism, xenophobia and antisemitism.

Teaching methods are interactive, insisting on the need to respect human rights, as well as other people's values, and promoting interaction and communication, solidarity and mutual understanding.

A regularly updated list of teaching material used in Swiss schools is available on the website of the Swiss education server and is maintained by CDPE. The list is available in French, German, and Italian.

Remembrance

A small memorial museum has been set up in Riehen near Basle. Each year, on the 27 January, the President of the Swiss Confederation delivers a message to commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Swiss schools this day has been commemorated since 2004, focusing on three main topics:

  1. Remembrance of the Holocaust
  2. Remembrance of the genocides that have marked European history in the 20th century
  3. Reflections upon human rights, tolerance, as well as inter-religious and intercultural dialogue.

Annual activities organized at the UN Office in Geneva may have a direct link to or have been suggested by Switzerland, such as an exhibition on the Swiss consul Carl Lutz in 2012 and a performance based on “The Third Walpurgis Night” by Karl Kraus in 2013.

In addition to these annual activities two particular events at two special occasions took place.

In 2008 in Geneva, over 500 guests attended a national ceremony honoring the Swiss Righteous among the Nations (approximately 60 women and men). This commemoration was the first of its kind in Switzerland, and it was performed in the presence of the President of the Swiss Confederation.

© CICAD, Geneva, 2008

In 2011 the Association of Holocaust Survivors in Switzerland decided to cease its activities all the while retaining informal ties between former members. A ceremony in the Federal Palace (the parliament and government building) in Berne took place to honor the association and their many years of work. A publication project of testimonies launched in 2008 was the cornerstone of their activities. Headed by Professor Ivan Lefkovits, a Holocaust survivor himself, this project was and is meant to encourage those survivors who had not yet done so to write down their chronicles. During the ceremony, Ms. Ruth Dreifuss, former President of the Swiss Confederation was offered the first 12 books of testimonies. Some more books will be published by the end of 2014.

© FDFA & F. Schwendimann, Berne, 2011

Research

Following the research by the "Independent Commission of Experts Switzerland - Second World War" and the publication of their findings in 25 volumes, other historians started to further investigate the political, social and economic aspects of this period. Recent research has focused on the Swiss refugee policy canton by canton or has adopted a supranational perspective, such as the exhibition "La Svizzera e la persecuzione degli ebrei in Italia 1938-1945" or the publication “Une frontière entre la guerre et la paix. Les échanges au quotidien autour de l’Arc jurassien (1937-1945) “ by Christian Favre (Neuchâtel, 2010). The field of research on teaching and learning about the Holocaust has been developing in educational sciences.

The following academic institutions in Switzerland are doing reserach concerning Holocaust issues:  Zentrum für Jüdische Studien der Universität Basel, Seminar für Kulturwissenschaft und Europäische Ethnologie der Universität Basel (Chair: Jacques Picard), Institut für Judaistik der Universität Bern, Dokumentationsstelle Jüdische Zeitgeschichte der ETH Zürich,  Historisches Seminar der Universität Bern (Chair: Marina Cataruzza), Historisches Seminar der Universität Zürich (Chair: Jakob Tanner), Pädagogische Hochschule Luzern (Chair: Peter Gautschi).

Selected new publications:

  • Monique Eckmann, Charles Heimberg : Mémoire et pédagogie. Autour de la transmission de la destruction des Juifs d’Europe, Genève 2011.
  • Peter Gautschi, Meik Zülsdorf-Kersting, Béatrice Ziegler (ed.): Shoa und Schule.  Lehren und Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert, Zürich 2013.
  • Simon Geissbühler: Blutiger Juli. Rumäniens Vernichtungskrieg und der vergessene Massenmord an den Juden 1941,Paderborn 2013.
  • Zsolt Keller: Abwehr und Aufklärung. Antisemitismus in der Nachkriegszeit und der Schweizerische Israelitische Gemeindebund, Zürich 2011.
  • Madeleine Lerf: "Buchenwaldkinder" – eine Schweizer Hilfsaktion. Humanitäres Engagement, politisches Kalkül und individuelle Erfahrung, Zürich 2010.
  • Jacques Picard: Gebrochene Zeit: Jüdische Paare im Exil, Zürich 2009.
  • Gregor Spuhler: Gerettet – zerbrochen. Das Leben des jüdischen Flüchtlings Rolf Merzbacher zwischen Verfolgung, Psychiatrie und Wiedergutmachung, Zürich 2011.
  • Béatrice Ziegler, Bernhard C. Schär, Peter Gautschi, Claudia Schneider (ed.): Die Schweiz und die Shoa. Von Kontroversen zu neuen Fragen, Zürich 2012.