“TEACHING ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST IN GREECE”
The Jewish Museum of Greece designed and conducted four seminars for primary and secondary school teachers and museum educators on Teaching about the Holocaust in Greece. The first seminar in the series was held in Athens on 22nd October 2004 with 86 people in all taking part. The second seminar was held at the Thessaloniki Chamber of Commerce and Industry on 23rd October 2005 with over 85 people taking part; among them 58 educators, representatives of ministries, other organisations and public bodies, as well as interested private parties. The third seminar was held in Athens on 19th and 20th October 2006 with 59 educators among those taking part.
On Thursday and Friday 18th and 19th October 2007 the Jewish Museum of Greece held its fourth seminar on the same subject at the Electra Palace Hotel. This seminar was also held under the auspices of the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs, and enjoyed the support of the Ministry of Education by way of the General Secretariat for the Younger Generation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, while the International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research lent its moral support. As in previous years, Maurice Gattenio Ltd. once again covered the needs of the seminar in writing materials and stationery. Twelve speakers from a variety of fields took part in the seminar and their presentations were attended by a total of 74 educators.
The proceedings of the first day – Thursday 18th October 2007 – opened with addresses to those present, the first being that by His Excellency Wolfgang Schultheiss Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Next came an address by Ambassador Alexander Filon, speaking in his capacity as representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of the Greek delegation to the International Task Force. Those present were then greeted by Mr Evangelos Syrigos the Ministry of Education’s new special secretary for inter-cultural Education, and Minos Mordechai representing the Board of Directors of the Jewish Museum of Greece. Finally, a message sent by Mrs Berry Nahmia President of the Association of Greek-Jewish and of Holocaust Survivors was read out.
The actual work of the seminar itself began with an attempt to place the difficult subject of the Holocaust of Greek Jews within the broader historical context; essential to an understanding of an historic event of this magnitude.
Maria Efthymiou, lecturer at the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Athens School of Philosophy, gave a concise account of the 2.300-year long history of Jews in Greece. She gave a general outline of the relationship between the Greek and Jewish Diaspora through the ages and demonstrated how the co-existence of the two peoples was sometimes harmonious and at other times strained.
Historian Alexios Menexiades then spoke on Holocaust related events taking place in Greece from the time of the Italian invasion in 1940 until the early post-war years. Using photographs and objects from the JMG’s collection, he shed light on such difficult issues as the exploitation of the property of those who were displaced, but also on brighter aspects such as the altruism of people who risked their lives for the sake of Jewish people in their towns and cities.
Searching beneath the surface of historical fact, historian Odette Varon Vasar spoke about Auschwitz in the collective conscience and memory; in other words, how and by what processes in the collective memory this particular camp became synonymous with the attempt to annihilate a whole race, and why 27th January, the day it was liberated, was chosen as Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Pointing out that concentration camps and death camps were two completely different things, she commented on the use of the term ‘Holocaust’, contrasting it with the terms ‘Shoah’ and ‘Genocide’. She was acerbic in her condemnation of attempts to revise history and deny that the Holocaust ever took place, not only as seen in neo-fascist and neo-Nazi movements, but also as sometimes seen in the supposedly progressive left.
Then neurologist-sychiatrist Nikos Tzavaras, director of the Psychiatric Hospital at the Democriteio University of Thrace, spoke about anti-Semitism and prejudice in Greece and Europe as a whole. He referred to the stereotyped depiction of the Jew as a being totally ‘Apart’, and to that frenzied form of anti-Semitism which holds Jews responsible for every evil under the sun. Indeed, he used an actual case study to show how deeply ingrained this kind of prejudice is, and voiced his own reservations on the ability of history, reasoning and seminars to weed it out.
The first day of the proceedings was brought to a close with moving accounts given by three survivors of the time: Sam Nehama, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenhau and Buchenwald; Salvador Bakola, who was a member of the national resistance in the mountains; and Alexandros Simha, a young child at the time, who survived thanks to the Christian families that hid him.
At the close of the day the JMG held a reception for both teachers and official guests, during which participants were able to see the JMG’s travelling exhibition ‘The Holocaust of Greek Jews, 1941-1944’, which was on display in the Museum especially for the occasion.
They were also able to see a presentation of the Museum’s newest interactive electronic display on the Holocaust. It is one of the Museum’s most ambitious educational projects. The installation of interactive computer terminals with touch sensitive screens in the Holocaust Gallery and two more exhibition areas, plus the Museum library, has begun to take actual physical shape this year. The aim of the Museum in setting up this computer-based application is to provide the public with an educational product that is pleasant, functional and useful. The direct involvement inherent in this type of presentation, combined with its ability to focus on individual aspects, make it an excellent educational resource for primary and secondary school teachers, but also a readily available source of historical information and audio-visual material for any interested party.
Presentations given on the second day, Friday 19th October 2007, focused more on practical aspects of teaching about the Holocaust.
Museum educator Emma O’Brien of the Imperial War Museum in London, which has an extensive, permanent exhibition on the Holocaust entitled ‘Why, what and how to teach the Holocaust in the classroom’, presented the main directions, instructions and methodology recommended by the International Task Force to help teachers in this difficult task. She ended by presenting a small sample of work based on pre-war photographs and designed for schoolchildren of approximately 14 years old.
Then Shira Magen, head of the Greek section of the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies, presented a teaching aid on anti-Semitism and religious hatred entitled ‘It was them, not us’ which is produced by the organisation for use with secondary school children. This teaching aid looks into how prejudice against what is ‘Different’ arises and how it is perpetuated. It is intended as a tool to support the teacher in discussing such prejudices and dealing with them in class.
This was followed by Anastasia Kyrkini-Koutoula, lecturer in history at the University of Athens and Consultant for the Institute of Education, who presented new sources and booklets on the Holocaust that have been approved by the Ministry of Education for use in both primary and secondary schools. She referred to specific excerpts from the books, detailing the origins of the sources and the criteria on which selection was based. Some of these new booklets are already in use in schools while others are still in production.
Georgios Kokkinos, associate professor at the University of the Aegean Department of Primary School Teaching, spoke on ‘Issues in Documenting the History of the Holocaust: Public History and its Ideological Uses’. He referred to relevant phenomena, ideological trends, publications and films produced in different countries from the period shortly after the war to the present day.
The team of educators from the University of the Aegean, led by Mr Kokkinos, with Evangelia Kouneli, Kiki Sakka and Stavros Papadopoulos, presented a series of particularly interesting suggestions on approaches to teaching the Holocaust in primary and secondary schools. Mrs Kouneli’s outstanding teaching demonstration made use of, among other things, the diaries of two children, Anne Frank from Holland and Rozina Pardo from Greece. Both diaries were written while the children where hiding from Nazi persecution.
Mrs Sakka spoke about how the structure and content of the syllabus for teaching history affects approaches to the Holocaust.
Mr Papadopoulos spoke about how the work of the group presented at last year’s seminar was continuing and was exploiting the local history of Rhodes to teach broader historical issues such as World War II and the Holocaust.
The presentation ended with Mr Georgios Kokkinos who spoke on: ‘Jews of Rhodes in Haidari Camp: communist reasoning and cultural anti-Semitism’.
Director of the JMG Zanet Battinou spoke briefly on material handed out in the participant’s file (photocopies of articles and related printed matter) with a view to reinforcing Holocaust teaching but also to demonstrating its relevance in today’s world.
She then presented each of the three practical guides published by the JMG. The first is a Greek translation of the ITF guide, made by the JMG. The second, entitled ‘Teaching about the Holocaust’, is a localised translation of the greater part of a comparable guide produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It provides guidelines for teachers, helping them approach Holocaust teaching through specific teaching techniques, as well as suggesting ways to deal with sensitive issues that frequently arise in the classroom.
The third, which goes under the title ‘Preparing for Holocaust Remembrance Day’, is a localised translation of relevant suggestions taken from the websites of Yad Vashem and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Foundation for Security and Co-operation within Europe.
JMG Museum Educator Orietta Treveza-Soussi then presented the Jewish Museum’s latest museum case entitled ‘A Holocaust Exhibition in a Museum Case: a new JMG teaching aid’. It is a small Holocaust exhibition that has been specially designed so that it can be transported in an ordinary museum suitcase. It is in three teaching units and is particularly suitable for children to work on and present their work in class on their own.
Bringing the workshop sessions to a close, dance teacher and therapist Nina Alcalay presented the theoretical basis of an alternative method of teaching and her proposals for ‘Teaching the Holocaust through Experience Using Art’. She then took the teachers through an exercise in order to demonstrate how ‘Teaching the Holocaust through Experience Using Art’ can speak more directly to children than any scientific or historical approach.
The seminar ended with the pronouncement of conclusions drawn from the two days of presentations. At the end of the proceedings participants filled in evaluation questionnaires which had been handed out earlier; the purpose being to introduce improvements in future seminars. Answers given indicated that participants had a positive opinion of the organisation and content of the seminar. Conversations with teachers and comments given on the questionnaire indicated that future seminars should be longer, lasting perhaps 2½ days instead of the present 1½ days, or should be held twice a year instead of once. Teachers also asked for more one-day events, workshops and talks on the Holocaust and related issues such as the history of Greek Jewry, the Jewish contribution to Greek society, anti-Semitism, the revision of history, incidences of genocide in the present day and such like. There is also much lively interest in demonstration lessons on Holocaust teaching and more teaching suggestions, a request which has been made in the past too. Finally, many teachers entered their names and contact details on a special page for those who would like to be contacted by the Jewish Museum of Greece and informed about educational initiatives in Greece and elsewhere, as well as receiving information about the annual, two-day seminar for teachers.