Kiwi educators at Yad Vashem

January 30, 2015 by Michael Kuttner
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A group of twenty New Zealand high school teachers and educators have been attending a course on Holocaust studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Following in the footsteps of a previous group these educators spent an intensive two weeks not only learning about how to more effectively teach about the Holocaust but also seeing some of the sights.

Chris Harris, Onehunga College (Auckland), Anna Chapman Holocaust Centre of NZ (Wellington) and Mike Brady, Porirua College (wellington)

Chris Harris, Onehunga College (Auckland), Anna Chapman Holocaust Centre of NZ (Wellington) and Mike Brady, Porirua College (wellington)

J-Wire’s correspondent Michael Kuttner took the opportunity to talk to some of them the day before International Holocaust Remembrance commemorations were due to take place and they returned home.

Coming from many parts of New Zealand and representing a wide cross-section of schools, the common thread which binds these dedicated educators together is a fervent desire to convey to the next generation an appreciation of what the Holocaust means and its lessons for the future. Holocaust studies are not a compulsory subject in high school curriculums and therefore this means that it is left to each teacher to choose whether or not they tackle this subject. Owing to a paucity of resource material available in NZ and a general lack of knowledge it is mainly up to the individual teacher to use his or her initiative in order to promote an awareness of the Holocaust amongst their teenage pupils. This is not an easy or simple undertaking and is why the motivation by teachers from NZ to attend the specialized courses at Yad Vashem is so valuable and praiseworthy.

Speaking to some of the participants, J-Wire asked for their overall impressions of the course, the presenters and how the information gleaned will help them in presenting the subject to their pupils.

The whole experience was described by all as “mind blowing”. The quality of the programme was exceptional and the speakers top experts in their field. Particular mention was made of Efraim Zuroff and his revelations of New Zealand’s very dubious record in the post war period in fudging and ignoring the presence of Nazi war criminals in the country. Comment was made that the best method of making the Holocaust period relevant was to personalize the experiences of ordinary men, women & children and relate it to the teens concerned. One person can make a difference was a term used to demonstrate how prejudice and racism can be challenged. The diverse character of New Zealand society was also a useful tool to teach how hate and delegitimisation can easily spread if left unchecked.

The NZ educators also recognized the immense value of having Holocaust survivors give personal testimony and in taking their pupils to visit the Holocaust Centre based in Wellington so that many of the events taught can be visibly reinforced. This centre is a most valuable resource and provides important reinforcement to anyone wishing to learn more.  Another positive spinoff of the visit to Israel is the realization that much resource material is available which will provide a useful tool for teaching this subject.

Like all first time visitors to Israel who have been conditioned by the media to expect the worst, this dedicated group were amazed at the diversity, vitality and yes even the normalcy of life in this ancient yet modern land.

All expressed the hope that more groups of teachers and educators will in the future make the long trek from down under to participate in the Yad Vashem programmes. With the rising specter of hatred and xenophobia against Jews manifesting itself once again, internationally, the teaching of Holocaust studies is more important than ever before.

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