ON THE 21st SEMINAR FOR TEACHERS ON
“TEACHING THE HOLOCAUST IN GREECE”,
ORGANISED BY THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF GREECE
DISTOMO, 9-10 NOVEMBER 2017
The Jewish Museum of Greece (JMG) has already organised and conducted – under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs – 20 seminars for primary- and secondary-school teachers, on the theme “Teaching about the Holocaust in Greece”. Eleven of these were held in Athens (2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017) and three in Thessaloniki (2005, 2014 and 2015). In 2012, and from 2014 to 2016, seminars were also held in Ioannina, Volos, Zakynthos, Patras, Larisa and Karpenisi, emphasising the local dimensions of the Holocaust. The initiative to hold these seminars outside Athens serves a very important objective: to equip educators with educational/historical material and museum educational methodology. The concerns and questions of educators from across Greece also provided the JMG with feedback. In particular, the realisation of the seminar in the martyred village of Distomo fulfilled a promise made by the JMG to assist and support every effort that highlights all Nazi crimes in order to promote the values of democracy and social responsibility.
The 21st seminar was organised in cooperation with the Museum of the Victims of Nazism in Distomo on 9–10 November 2017 in the council chamber in the municipal town hall. In total, more than 40 teachers actively participated in the two-day meeting, offering their thoughts and reflections, which resulted in a successful training course. The warm response the seminar receives each time is a powerful incentive for the JMG to continue its contributions to the promotion of democratic education in our country.
The seminar was opened by the mayor of Distomo, Yiannis Georgakos, who stressed the importance of teaching about Nazi atrocities. For his part, the regional director of primary and secondary education in Central Greece, Christos Dimitriou, attended all the proceedings and highlighted the seminar’s educational contribution and significance. Vassiliki Karanasou, who represented Thanasis Panourgias, the chairman of the Managing Committee of the Museum of Victims of Nazism, spoke about the importance of consolidating historical memory as a shield against the resurgence of Nazism. In closing this brief introduction, the director of the JMG, Zanet Battinou, said that remembrance is a responsibility and obligation. She offered the services of the JMG to help in the museographical upgrade of the Museum of Victims of Nazism and described the educational aspect of the seminar, as well as the upcoming educational activities of the JMG about the Holocaust.
In the first part of the seminar, which focused on historical perspectives, Anastasia Loudarou, a researcher of the JMG and a PhD candidate in ancient history at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, looked back at the first signs of Jewish presence in Greece in antiquity and in the subsequent historical periods (Roman and Byzantine empires), and stressed the fact that Greece was the gateway to Europe for the Jews of the diaspora. She was followed by Eleni Beze, a PhD candidate in modern history at the University of Thessaly, who presented an interactive DVD by the JMG about the persecution of Greek Jews during the Second World War, in adherence with a basic principle of Yad Vashem on providing the historical context of the Holocaust. The second part was dedicated to the massacre at Distomo. The stage was first taken by Alexandra Patrikiou, an historian and special researcher of the JMG, who set the interpretive guidelines for understanding the slaughter of the 218 residents of Distomo on 10 June 1944. She was followed by Amalia Papaioannou, a member of Managing Committee of the Museum of Victims of Nazism, who presented the educational teaching programme about the massacre, which was created in cooperation with the JMG. This was followed by brief unscheduled intervention by lawyer Christina Stamouli about the unresolved case of reparations. The first day of the seminar concluded with a screening of the film A Song for Argyris, based on Argyris Sfountouris, whose life took an unexpected turn after the loss of both his parents and many relatives as a result of the massacre.
The second day began with a brief tour of the Museum of Victims of Nazism and a visit to the Mausoleum for educators to pay tribute to the victims of the massacre, but also to become familiar with how historical memory is managed on a local level. After returning from the Mausoleum, Alexandra Patrikiou held a workshop on identifying antisemitic stereotypes in texts since the mid-19th century. This was followed by a presentation of the educational programmes and museum cases of the JMG related to the Holocaust by the museum’s educator Orietta Treveza. The dance therapist Nina Alcalay outlined the basic principles governing the experiential teaching of the Holocaust through art, using an art work by Hana Mirjam Kohnová from Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, post-war art by Artemis Alcalay referring to the Holocaust, as well as two poems (by Kiki Dimoula and Giorgos Markopoulos) that are not related to the Holocaust. The workshops were completed with one about the usefulness of oral testimonies by Eleni Beze, who presented several testimonials of children in hiding. In this workshop, the teachers made their own lesson plans and were given the opportunity to express their queries about the appropriate use of sources. The two-day seminar closed by Zanet Battinou, who referred to the importance of Distomo as a memorial site and the museum’s goal to create a local nucleus to work towards an understanding of the past. Then Amalia Papaioannou, expressed warm thanks to the JMG and highlighted that, after this seminar, there is now an established, sober and historically framed way to narrate the tragedy suffered by Distomo.
It was noted at the 21st seminar that the effort by the JMG to incorporate other Nazi crimes in the teaching of the Holocaust was crowned with success. The questionnaires that were answered showed that there is an intense interest in understanding past history and, especially, the crimes of the Nazis. The connection between the Holocaust and the massacre at Distomo was particularly lauded as it highlighted the issues of historical memory and collective local trauma. Teachers expressed their satisfaction with the seminar materials (in printed and electronic form) offered to them free of charge. The discussions were vivid and in-depth, particularly at the workshops referring to the use of oral testimonies and identifying antisemitic speech. However, educators noted the need for more debate time and for specific lesson plans. The hosting of the JMG educational seminar at a memorial site of such great importance as the one at Distomo was a significant investment in historical remembrance and responsibility. The JMG has committed to continuing this cooperation and to constantly creating new educational opportunities that enhance the pedagogical value of teaching about the traumatic past.
© Jewish Museum of Greece, December 2017