German schools are failing in educating students about the Holocaust, a new study by a political education center has found, as German youth, who one historian said use the word "Jew" as a common curse in daily discourse, are increasingly distant from the suffering of the victims of Nazism.
According to a study commissioned by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a political education center known by its German acronym BPB, history courses no longer manage to teach Germany's younger generation of the horrors of the Nazis.
In the report, which appeared in the German educational magazine Focus-Shula, teachers are quoted as saying that they are having trouble impressing upon school children the horrors of the Holocaust, and have stated that their tools for teaching about the Shoah are not effective. "The entire time we stood before the crematoriums of Auschwitz, the students took more interest in the types of pipes used to pump in the lethal Zyklon B gas, and not the fate of the Nazis victims," a teacher was quoted as saying. In their words, this generation's students are less sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust than any before.
The research also examines the role that immigrants have played in the changing attitudes towards the Shoah. Experts are quoted in the study as saying that there is a marked rise in the number of Muslims in Germany, many of whom see the teaching of the Holocaust as a veiled endorsement of the policies of the state of Israel. "Out of fear of the students' reactions, many of the teachers avoid teaching this chapter of history in order to not be viewed by some students as supporters of Israel."
"The word 'Jew' has turned into one of the most common curse words among students in both east and west Germany," said Gottfried Cosler, a Frankfurt-based Holocaust scholar.
Robert Sigel, a historian who contributed to the study, is of the opinion that students are taking a great interest in the Holocaust, but that the methods in which the subject is taught today are in need of improvement. "Often time the teachers, especially the more devoted ones, get carried away, and demand way too much of themselves," Sigel told Focus magazine. "They want to teach the facts and at the same time get across a moral message, call for education and tolerance, deal with the extreme right and prevent anti-Semitism. They put all this material into the subject, and it's too much."
Susan Orban, a historian at Yad Vashem, says that the Holocaust should be taught using methods that have proved successful in the past. "Today's kids live in different times than that of Anne Frank," Orban said. In order to bridge the generational gap, she submits a different approach, "for example, asking them to imagine that they have to abruptly leave their homes and start a new life elsewhere." Such a method, according to Orban, would speak more directly to the children's hearts and minds than descriptions of the horrors of the concentration camp.
Sigel expressed similar sentiments, adding that the children of immigrants have shown particular interest to the victims of Nazism given that many of them suffered from racial persecution, religious intolerance, and even genocide in their native lands.