ON THE 22nd SEMINAR FOR TEACHERS ON
“TEACHING THE HOLOCAUST IN GREECE”,
ORGANISED BY THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF GREECE
DRAMA, 7–8 DECEMBER 2017
The Jewish Museum of Greece (JMG) has already organised and conducted – under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs – 21 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, Karpenisi and Distomo, which also focused on 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 know-how. The concerns and questions of educators from across Greece also provided the JMG with valuable feedback. The seminar in Drama, in particular, fulfilled a particular obligation and goal of the JMG, firstly, to focus on the Jewish communities of the Bulgarian occupation zone – most of whose members were exterminated in Treblinka – and, secondly, to create pedagogical links among the local education communities that are especially active in the wider region, in order to encourage local working groups on humanitarian education.
The 22nd seminar was held on 7–8 December 2017 at the hospitable and symbolic Hydrama Grand Hotel, housed in the prewar tobacco warehouse of Hermann Spierer. In total, more than 90 teachers actively participated in the two-day meeting, offering their thoughts and reflections, which resulted in a successful training course. The unexpectedly large response to the seminar in Drama is an important confirmation of the JMG work towards the promotion of democratic education in our country.
The seminar was addressed by the deputy mayor of Drama, Dimitris Karabatzakis, who stressed the importance of highlighting the multicultural past of the city, and the director of secondary education in Drama, Spyros Kioulanis, who underscored the significance of experiential and cooperative education. JMG Director Zanet Battinou concluded this brief introduction by providing a summary of the material of the educational seminar as well as of the JMG forthcoming educational activities related to the Holocaust. She also talked about how an understanding of the Holocaust promotes a stance on human life with respect for human rights.
In the first part of the seminar, which was focused on historical approaches, Anastasia Loudarou, a JMG researcher and a PhD candidate in ancient history at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, clarified the terms “Jew”, “Israelite”, “Judean” and “Israeli” and offered a historical overview of the Jewish presence in Greece, from antiquity to the flourishing communities of the Byzantine Empire. She was followed by Alexandra Patrikiou, an historian and JMG special researcher, who showcased the rich audiovisial material included in an interactive DVD produced by the JMG on the persecution of Greek Jews during the Second World War. The presentation of the DVD triggered a lively and interesting discussion that focused mainly on the large differences in the number of victims between northern and southern Greece.
In the second part of the seminar, teachers were divided into two groups. One group discussed with Iakovos Koen, the last Jewish resident of Drama. Koen was born in 1942 on the road to Pilio, as his widowed mother was trying to escape the Nazi authorities, both German and Bulgarian. At the same time, the other group was provided with a tour of the old Jewish neighbourhood of Drama in Agia Varvara, by historian Vassilis Ritzaleos. This part of the seminar ended with an extensive presentation by Dr Ritzaleos on the extermination of the Jews of Europe, especially those in the Bulgarian occupation zone.
On the second day, the dance therapist Nina Alkalay, presented, to the sound of Sephardic music, the Holocaust through Art workshop, using an artwork by Hana Mirjam Kohnová from Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, a postwar artwork by Artemis Alcalay referring to the Holocaust, as well as a poem by Titos Patrikios that is not related to the Holocaust. The floor was then taken by Angelos Palikidis, assistant professor at the Department of History and Ethnology of the Democritus University of Thrace, who underlined the didactic and pedagogical value of the Holocaust and highlighted many of the problems that may arise in managing such a traumatic past (for example, the use of images of horror, the chaos of the internet, etc.) He then presented the Shared Histories website and guided the teachers, who were divided into groups according to level of education, on drawing up a comprehensive teaching proposal.
He was followed by Orietta Treveza, JMG museum educator, who underlined the importance of intercultural education through the JMG intereligious programmes and on the Holocaust. Dr Patrikiou then divided the teachers into four groups and distributed material about the communities of four cities of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace: Drama, Xanthi, Kavala and Serres. The aim was to devise a teaching proposal on the displacement of the Jews of each community, using conflicting sources. The part of the seminar dealing with educational approaches was brought to end with the presentation of the Crocus Project, which was implemented at the Agios Athanasios high school in Drama, by students Lydia Tsoleridou and Chrysa Karagiannidou. Apart from planting bulbs, the students who participated in the programme travelled to Thessaloniki to meet and interview Iakovos Koen. An edited version of the video interview was also presented at the seminar. During the ensuing discussions, important points were raised by the teachers as well as by Angelos Palikidis, Vassilis Ritzaleos, Zanet Battinou, Alexandra Patrikiou and an emotional Iakovos Koen.
The proceedings of the two-day seminar were brought to a close by Zanet Battinou, who, in response to a question by a teacher, referred to the experience of her own family that survived Auschwitz. In sharing her personal story, she also elaborated on the JMG overall concept about guiding the meainingful teaching of the Holocaust, which may not alleviate any personal burden but certainly gives meaning to the heavy loss and strengthens issues of commemoration and social awareness. Angelos Palikidis and Vassilis Ritzaleos then took the podium. Both referred to the distance covered as far as the public debate on the destruction of the region’s Greek Jewry. They also expressed their thanks to the JMG and to the interested educators.
It was noted at the 22nd seminar that the JMG’s effort to highlight the destruction wrought by the genocide of the Jewish communities in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace was received with interest, thanks to the very good cooperation with local experts, teachers as well as the mobilization of local educational authorities. From the 66 completed questionnaires, it was clear that there is a keen interest among educators in the region’s multicultural past and in the need for a pluralistic view of the historical past. These were well-informed educators who attached great importance to local history and to their contacts with local scholars.
Teachers welcomed the material of the seminar (in printed and electronic form), which was offered to them free of charge. They were also briefed on the JMG’s educational products that they can borrow, or implement, without travelling to Athens. The discussions were lively and reflective, especially the ones that took place in the workshops conducted for drafting teaching proposals.
© Jewish Museum of Greece, December 2017