THE FIRST SEMINAR IN GREECE ON TEACHING THE HOLOCAUST
The seminar “Teaching the Holocaust in Greece”, organised by the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens, on October 22nd 2004, marks the first systematic effort to teach Holocaust Education methodology to Greek teachers. The seminar took place under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Education, with the kind support and sponsorship of the International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research and the Cultural Branch of the U.S.A. Embassy in Athens.
A reception was held at the Jewish Museum, on the eve of the seminar, which was attended by the sponsors, the German Ambassador, Mr. Albert Spiegel, the Press Attaché of the German Embassy, Mr. Thomas Mutzelburgh, the U.S. Ambassador, Mr. Thomas Miller, the French Ambassador, Mr. Bruno Deleye, the head of Task Force for France, Mr. Guy Broc, Ambassador Klis from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, heads of various departments of the Greek Ministry of Education, the Israeli Ambassador, Mr. Ram Aviram, the seminar speakers, academics, and many others.
Attendance at the seminar exceeded expectations. Mr. Minos Mordochai, member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Museum of Greece opened the seminar, while Ms. Berry Nahmia, president of the Association of Greek Holocaust Survivors, gave a short but moving speech. They were followed by the speakers who addressed various aspects of the subject and answered the participant?s questions.
Mr. Joël Kotek, educational director of the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, asked the question “Why should we teach the Holocaust?” and concluded that the ultimate educational goal of that is to form, through the realisation of the crime, better citizens.
Ph.D. History candidate, Mr. Alexios Menexiadis, gave a brief overview of the Holocaust, putting emphasis on the case of the Greek Jews, which is almost unknown to the general public.
Ms. Fotini Tomaï-Konstantopoulou, Director of the Historic Archive of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke on the attitude of the Greek governments, the people and the clergy towards the drama of the Greek Jews, based on the Ministry?s archival material.
Finally, Mr. George Hein, who specialises on issues of Museum education, showed how important the role of the teacher is in shaping consciences, not just by teaching about events, but also by producing feelings based on simple, personal stories.
Afterwards, the participants were given a guided tour of the Jewish Museum of Greece by the director, Ms. Zanet Battinou, around both the permanent displays and the temporary exhibition “Hidden Children in Occupied Greece”. They were met by Museologist Ms. Euridice Retsila who explained the reasoning behind the exhibition?s design. The Art Historian, Ms. Aphrodite Kouria presented the art exhibition “Dialogue with a Museum”, prompted and inspired by the “Hidden Children” exhibits.
The afternoon was devoted to methodology workshops. The JMG education officer, Ms. Orietta Treveza-Soussi, presented a museum case, specially designed for teaching the Holocaust. It consists of a small suitcase full of visual and interactive material, which offers the teacher a chance to introduce his or her students, after a brief preparation, to the history of the Holocaust of the Greek Jews.
Inspired by tried and tested practices of this kind around the world, enriched with original material, and adapted to the particular demands of its specified educational aim, the museum case is a significant tool for Holocaust Education in schools, whose students are unable to visit the Museum. Because of the young ages of its audience, the material avoids putting emphasis on the horrors, without avoiding mention of the crime. It is for this reason that the emphasis is put on the stories of the hidden children, while also making reference to more recent genocides and human rights issues. The latter provide a link with the present and emphasise the need to avoid another Holocaust in the future.
Speaking on the “Importance of Holocaust Education in Modern Society to Reinforce Democracy, Social Equality and Respect for Human Rights”, Ms. Zanet Battinou demonstrated that the purpose of all such educational programmes is to teach “the great lesson of the Holocaust […] that none of us should remain a passive spectator of the events around us, but we should be alert guardians and defenders of human ideals […]”.
Ms. Nina Alcalay, dance teacher and therapist, presented a “hands-on” approach to the teaching of the Holocaust by guiding a group of children to present a ten-minute improvised dance performance.
In the ensuing discussion, people who have undertaken the difficult task of teaching the Holocaust in Greek schools related their experiences. Their effort has had to face some practical problems, as well as reactions. However, solid preparation on the part of the teacher, experience, the respect testimonies command, as well as the physical presence of survivors in the classroom, have proven able to win the students over and set the foundations for a more systematic teaching of the Holocaust.
The Museum?s aim was for this event to be the first of its kind, with successive ones organised each year in different cities of Greece.