“TEACHING ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST IN GREECE”
This year, the Jewish Museum of Greece organised the third seminar for educators on the subject of teaching about the Holocaust in Greece. The seminar was once again under the auspices of the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs and was supported by the Ministry of Education (through the General Secretariat of Youth), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. All stationery for the seminar was again kindly provided by the company Maurice Gattegno Ltd. It took place on Thursday and Friday, October 19 and 20, 2006, at the Electra Palace Hotel, in Athens.
Despite initial fears – mainly because of the negative atmosphere created by the previous summer’s developments in the Middle East, but also by the upheaval in Greek education at the time – attendance rose this year to 93 people, 59 of whom were mostly high school teachers (see attached list of participants).
Following a request by the Ministry of Education, the required 30 Euros attendance fee was changed to optional, after it became obvious that a large number of educators from small towns would pay their own way to take part in the seminar. Therefore, no revenue was made from attendance fees. The Ministry also requested that the programme, which initially was to last two full days, be shortened to one and a half. Despite being shorter than originally intended, this seminar was still longer than the two previous ones, something that permitted a more analytical development of the programme (see attached programme). The speakers were given fifty minutes each, which allowed them to focus on detail and analyse in depth various facets of the Holocaust which had not been touched upon in previous seminars (e.g. Tzavaras, Menexiadis) or to present specialised educational programmes and bibliography on the subject (e.g. Kyrkini-Koutoula, Kokkinos et al.). As the subsequent questions and discussion proved, the issues that had been chosen for presentation were those that were the most interesting to the attendees, while the latter’s positive feedback after the end of the seminar demonstrated that the programme was neither overly ambitious nor too fast-paced.
The collaboration with the International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research proved especially constructive, as the organisation, besides financial support, also offered useful advice and recommendations on the practical aspects of the seminar. It also sent an observer to provide feedback, with the aim of further improving future seminars.
Of no less significance was the Museum’s collaboration with the Yad Vashem Institute, which has a vast experience on teaching about the Holocaust. The participants had the chance to meet with a speaker of the Institute’s who developed the rationale as well as the practical approaches to teaching about the Holocaust, which Yad Vashem successfully employs.
The lectures were followed by workshops of applied teaching, in combination with a series of special reference material (printed matter, DVDs of survivors’ testimonies, museum cases), which offered the participating educators ideas and practical means for the approach in the classroom of a subject as difficult, sensitive and important as the Holocaust.
During the seminar, participants also had the chance to see the Jewish Museum’s travelling exhibition “The Holocaust of the Greek Jews, 1941 – ’44” presented at the Museum.
Besides the rich printed material of the seminar, the participants also received catalogues and information publications of the Jewish Museum of Greece for their school libraries. The Jewish Museum also gave the educators three of its publications which are already part of every school library in the country, on the initiative of the Ministry of Education:
• “The Second World War and the Holocaust of the Greek Jews, 1941 – ’44”, a study manual on the Holocaust in Greece, based on historical evidence and material from the Jewish Museum’s archive and collection. Besides stating the historic facts, necessary for a first contact with the subject of the Holocaust in Greece, the book contains photographs of the period, as well as photographs of items and documents. A chronological list of events, a catalogue of the Greek “Righteous of the Nations” and recommended bibliography are also included.
• “The wooden clogs tell their story”, an illustrated children’s book which tells the story of the Holocaust through the narration of a pair of wooden clogs, now part of the Jewish Museum’s collection.
• “My friend, Aaron”, an illustrated book for young children, which uses the story of two young friends to introduce the children to another religion – the Jewish one.
Each of the participants also received a DVD produced by the Jewish Museum of Greece, containing a selection of survivors’ testimonies, from interviews made between 1987 and 1992 by Ms. Berry Nahmia, herself a survivor from the Auschwitz concentration camp and president of the “Association of Greek Jewish Holocaust Survivors”. The educators were also given videotapes of the film “Return”, which was made by Greek Jewish youths participating in the 2002 “March of the Living”, which is an annual pilgrimage to the sites of the Holocaust.
An important innovation of the Museum’s was the translation and distribution to the educators of three manuals by recognised international organisations, regarding teaching about the Holocaust. These were the “Guidelines for Educators” by the International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, “Teaching about the Holocaust” by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and “Preparing Holocaust Memorial Days”, by Yad Vashem and ODIHR.
Finally, three museum cases were presented, two of which, “Hidden Children in Occupied Greece” and “The Holocaust of the Greek Jews 1941 – ’44” had been examined also in previous seminars. The third one “Jewish Holidays” is new and is part of an effort to familiarise students with the daily life and traditions of the Greek Jews.
A reception was held at the Jewish Museum of Greece, on the evening of October 19th, in honour of the educators participating in the seminar and guests. It was attended by representatives of the Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs, the General Secretary of Youth, the ambassadors and officials from the embassies of Israel, the Federal Republic of Germany, Hungary and Austria, as well as representatives of the USA Embassy. Also present were the representative of the Greek Archbishop Christodoulos, the President, Honorary President and members of the Board of the J.M.G., the presidents of the Central Jewish Board and the Jewish Community of Athens, many of the educators attending the seminar, as well as several of the speakers. The educators were given a guided tour of the exhibition, focusing especially on the Holocaust area and the travelling exhibition “The Holocaust of the Greek Jews, 1941 – ’44”.
On the first day of the seminar, Thursday, October 19th 2006, the participants were greeted by the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Georgios Avgoustis (on behalf of the ministry’s General Secretary, Mr. H. Rokanas, who was called away at the last minute), the representative of the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs, Ms. Ismini Kriari-Katrani, Special Secretary for Intercultural Education, the Secretary General of Youth, Ms. Vasso Kollia, the President of the Board of the J.M.G., Mr. Makis Matsas, and last, but not least, Ms. Berry Nahmia, president of the Association of Greek Jewish Holocaust Survivors. Ambassador A. Filon, head of the Greek delegation to the ITF attended nearly the entire seminar.
After the addresses, the presentations of the first session followed. Ms. Maria Efthymiou, professor of the department of History and Archaeology of the University of Athens, made a brief – but lively as well as thorough – presentation of the more than 23-century-long history of the Jews of Greece, which nearly came to its end during the German occupation. She also referred to their relations with the Christians, thus introducing educators to the general framework of the historic period under examination.
Mr. Alexios Menexiadis, PhD candidate of History at the Department of German Studies of the University of Athens, focused on two aspects of the Holocaust in Greece. The first was the difference in survival rates among the various Jewish Communities of Greece, depending on their respective degrees of assimilation, not only socially, but also spatially, i.e. with regards to whether they lived in Jewish or mixed neighbourhoods. The second was the mostly passive stance of a portion of the Christian population, a behaviour which – to a large extent – let the Germans continue their “work” undisturbed. He also referred to examples of the exact opposite behaviour, such as the island of Zakynthos, where the entire community was saved unscathed.
The next speaker was Ms. Anastasia Kyrkini-Koutoula, doctor of History at the University of Athens, Advisor to the Institute of Pedagogics. She presented the new resources and handbooks regarding the Holocaust, which have been approved by the Ministry of Education for use in both elementary and secondary schools. Many of these are already being used at schools, while others are in the final stages of the publishing process.
A discussion followed, during which the audience addressed several questions to the speakers. Five educators, who had taken part in the seven-day summer seminar organised by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, had the chance to inform their colleagues about their impressions and conclusions from the seminar, the knowledge, methodology and educational techniques they got from it, and recommend it unreservedly.
As in previous seminars, the testimony of Ms. Berry Nahmia, a Holocaust Survivor and president of the Association of Greek Jewish Hostages proved of special interest to the participants. She was asked several questions regarding her experience, her life after the Holocaust, and how her contribution to Holocaust learning by visiting schools.
The second day session began with a presentation by Ms. Shira Magen, head of the Greek Office at Yad Vashem, whose title was “Why, what and how to teach about the Holocaust in the classroom: the ITF guidelines and Yad Vashem educational philosophy”. In it she analysed the guidelines of the two organisations, regarding the practical aspects of approaching and teaching the subject. As a means of helping them in that task, participants received a translation of the ITF manual, “Guidelines to Educators”.
Mr. Joël Kotek, professor at the Brussels University, addressed the same issue from a different perspective and linked it to contemporary phenomena of racism and anti-Semitism. In his presentation “From Antisemism to the Shoah: the Culture of Hatred. Contemporary Aspects”, he demonstrated, based on his long experience of teaching about the Holocaust in Europe, how ignorant about the subject the average person is, including the students and often the teachers themselves. He highlighted the importance of teaching about the Holocaust with a view to raising awareness about the unique parameters of this crime and its usefulness in the process of raising better citizens.
In the interactive workshop that followed, Ms. Shira Magen addressed the issue of Holocaust perpetrators, according to the methodological approach practiced at the International School of Yad Vashem. The latter has amassed a vast experience regarding techniques and practical aspects of teaching about the Holocaust and is one of the best advisors in the effort of introducing the teaching of the Holocaust in Greek schools.
An excellent group of educators presented a particularly interesting proposal for the teaching approach of the Holocaust phenomenon in Secondary Education. The group consisted of Maria Vlahou, Kiki Sakka, and Stavros Papadopoulos, and was headed by Giorgos Kokkinos, Associate Professor at the Department of Pedagogics for Elementary School Teachers of the University of the Aegean. Their didactic example was based on taking account of local history, in this case the history of the Jewish Community of the island of Rhodes, which it managed to incorporate into the teaching of a broader historical unit, namely the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust.
The last of the lecturers was Mr. Nikos Tzavaras, Neurologist and Psychiatrist, Director of the Psychiatric Clinic of the Democritian University of Thrace. His particularly interesting speech was an attempt to investigate – from a psychological perspective – the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, based on the theories of Freud and mass psychology. He gave clinical examples of how it is possible to ascribe terrifying properties to the “Other”, in our case, the Jew.
Next in the programme were the practical workshops. Both the lack of time and the interest of the attending educators for all the issues to be presented led to a decision to present the workshops to the entire audience, instead of dividing the participants into sub-groups.
Ms. Zanet Battinou, Director of the J.M.G., worked with the participants on the issue: “The Significance of Holocaust Education in Modern Society: Strengthening Democratic Values, Social Equality, Respect and Human Rights.” A folder with photocopies of articles and other printed matter was prepared and distributed to the participants; its contents were based on texts, material and the experience of several international organisations (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, British Holocaust Educational Trust, Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies, International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research) that have been teaching about the Holocaust for many years.
Two new manuals, published by the J.M.G., were also presented. The first, “Teaching about the Holocaust” is an adaptation and translation of the greatest part of a manual published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It contains guidelines for teachers which are helpful in approaching the issue of the Holocaust, as well as specific educational techniques and advice on how to deal with the difficult questions that usually come up when teaching about the Holocaust.
The second manual, “Preparing Holocaust Memorial Days” is an adaptation and translation of the recommendations to educators available on the websites of Yad Vashem and the ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).
The educators discussed the usefulness and the potential of presenting and explaining this material in the classroom, as well as the methodology recommended by experts. They then examined specific examples of related issues that may come up when teaching about the Holocaust in Greek schools, such as tolerance towards difference, how prejudice is created and perpetrated, the role of individuals and groups in a community, and the lessons that the Holocaust may provide about everyday life in our society.
In her presentation “Museum Cases on the Holocaust, an Effective Educational Tool”, Ms. Orietta Treveza-Sousi, Museum Educator at the J.M.G., demonstrated two museum cases created by the Jewish Museum. Their titles are “Hidden Children in Occupied Greece” and “The Holocaust of the Greek Jews, 1941 – ’44” and each is accompanied by a travelling exhibition of the same title. A museum case is a small suitcase containing visual material about a subject, reproductions of related items and a folder of activities. They are an alternative form of educational programme, designed to be easily carried from the Museum to the classroom, to introduce the students to the subject in an interesting and captivating way and encourage them to develop their own initiative and analytical thinking. Their target audience is 12-15 year-old students, and their aim to enrich the school curriculum and become a starting point for the examination of other, related historic issues. Educators showed particular interest for these original, useful and effective educational tools.
Ms. Treveza-Sousi then briefly presented the J.M.G.’s new museum case, “Jewish Holidays”. This may not be directly linked to the issue of the Holocaust, but it contributes to the presentation of Greek Jews as ordinary people, with hopes, dreams, joys and agonies like any other. It also introduces students to Jewish life before and after the war, helping to contradict the false image of a people of victims or martyrs, which may be the impression formed after a limited, one-dimensional study of the Holocaust.
In the last workshop, Ms. Nina Alcalay, Dance Teacher and Dance Therapist, elaborated on the theoretic foundation of an alternative form of teaching, and mentioned her own recommendations about an “Experiential Teaching of the Holocaust through Art”. In her presentation, she demonstrated how the experiential approach of the Holocaust through art, namely music, dance, drama and painting, may reach children more directly than any historical presentation. The former method helps them approach the experiences of people who lived though these events, as well as the transformation these experiences through the means of artistic expression.
At the end of the seminar, conclusions were briefly presented. The participants filled in the evaluation forms that had been handed out with the aim of helping to improve this seminar, as well as organising other similar events. The answers given prove that the educators’ opinion regarding the organisation and content of the seminar is positive. Many added particularly constructive recommendations and comments. Finally, many educators provided contact numbers and addresses in order to remain in touch with the Jewish Museum and receive information on future educational initiatives in Greece and abroad. They also want to be informed about this particular seminar which took place for the third time this year and will become an annual event of the J.M.G.