22 June 2024 Time to read: 3 mins

IHRA resource empowers educators to reflect on Holocaust comparison

“To talk about genocide or the Holocaust means to enter a difficult and complex conversation,” IHRA delegate Klaus Mueller said. “But while there is presumably more attention than ever on Holocaust remembrance, education, and research, as well as on genocide education and research – all this awareness – these difficult conversations are increasingly difficult to have.”  

Indeed, over the past two decades, people have used terms like the Holocaust or genocide to draw attention to an array of issues, including animal rights, school bullying, human rights violations and mass murder, as well as to simply attack their political opponents. Too often, the terms are used to stop a conversation, not to deepen it.  

It was with this in mind that the former Chair of the IHRA Committee on the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes against Humanity suggested a global gathering of educators to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), UNESCO, and the European Network on Countering Antisemitism Through Education (ENCATE). Together they organized an off-the-record Global Dialogue to help educators respond to Holocaust comparison when it comes up in the classroom.

The workshop showed that even in times of increasing polarization, educators can have difficult conversations that are sincere and respectful. “If you are able to create a space in which people can actually think and listen to others, that feels both empowering and encouraging for educators who are challenged today,” Klaus underlined. 

IHRA Reflections on Terminology for Holocaust Comparison offers useful approach 

Nearly 40 practitioners, educators, and policymakers from over 25 countries across all continents attended the Global Dialogue. The participants worked with the IHRA Reflections on Terminology for Holocaust Comparison. The resource, which IHRA experts developed over nearly a decade, guided them with questions for reflection; it purposely does not take a didactic or prescriptive approach. 

To talk about genocide or the Holocaust means to enter a difficult and complex conversation.

“A classroom is a space where we practice critical thinking. As a student, you have to be allowed to get it wrong,” Klaus emphasized. “But as a teacher, it is counter-productive to just say, ‘No, you cannot think that.’ Students shut down with such an approach. They need guidance and an open discussion to understand it by themselves.”  

The resource’s questions for reflection empower teachers to help their students understand the impact of their words and to think about their own intentions. This is no small task, however, and the Global Dialogue went a large way in connecting educators grappling with similar challenges.  

Global Dialogue strengthens educational community against antisemitism 

For Emrah Gürsel, Head of International Partnerships at the Kreuzberg Initiative against Antisemitism (KIgA) in Berlin, the Global Dialogue represented a significant step, not least because of the truly global nature of the participants. “ENCATE was born out of the need to create a community of practice and solidarity in educational work to combat antisemitism. Today, this need is even greater,” he said. “We believe that our community should come together with other peer communities to discuss cross-sectoral challenges we face today in the context of rising hate. In this latest global forum, the IHRA material provides us with a good basis to have a critical discussion about difficult issues.” 

It is counter-productive to just say, ‘No, you cannot think that.’

This global dialogue was a valuable opportunity to connect education stakeholders around the world through networks supported by the USHMM, KIgA, ENCATE, and UNESCO, and begin an important conversation on how to navigate difficult conversations in diverse contexts,” confirmed Ilana Weinberg, International Programs Officer at USHMM. 

For both the organizers and the participants, it was clear that “we need more of this,” Klaus said, and that they left with a sense of appreciation for each other and for the field. “It reminded us of what we’re actually doing as educators.”  

Namely, equipping their students with the skills to have difficult conversations, both about difficult pasts and difficult presents. 

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