Memo on the sixth seminar for teachers
“TEACHING ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST IN GREECE”
The Jewish Museum of Greece has already organised and conducted five seminars for primary schoolteachers, secondary schoolteachers and museum educators on Teaching about the Holocaust in Greece. Four of these seminars were held in Athens (2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009) and one in Thessaloniki (2005). Not only were the seminars attended by large numbers of teachers, but also by representatives of ministries, state organisations and institutions, and interested members of the public at large. The seminars have been widely acclaimed as very constructive and are known for their significant success.
This year, the Jewish Museum of Greece organised the sixth seminar under the title ‘Teaching about the Holocaust in Greece’. The seminar took place in Athens, at the premises of the JMG, at 39, Nikis st., on the 2nd and 3rd December. The seminar was once again supported by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Federal Republic of Germany. Important publications were bought and offered to the teachers thanks to generous donations by Mr. Alexandros Simha and Mr. Makis Batis. Additionally, Mr. A. Simha offered his own book “The Lost Years”, while the book “The Jews of Zakynthos” was donated by its author Mr. Samouel Mordos. The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the JMG also donated their publications. Once more, the company of Mr. Maurice Gattegno, offered the stationary used at the seminar. This year the seminar was attended by 47 educators. They were addressed by twelve specialists from various relevant fields (historians, educators, university professors etc.)
The proceedings of the first day, Tuesday 2nd December 2010, opened with brief addresses by his Excellency Ambassador Alexander Philon, head of the Greek Delegation to the International Task Force, who represented the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Next spoke Mr. Makis Matsas, President of the Board of the Jewish Museum of Greece,while Mr. Moses Konstantinis, member of the Board of the JMG referred to the work of the museum on the Holocaust and the importance of the seminar. Finally, a message by Mrs. Berry Nahmia, was read to the audience. Mrs. Nahmia is the President of the Association of Greek-Jewish Holocaust Survivors and was unable to attend due to indisposition.
The main part of the seminar began with an attempt to place the difficult subject of the Holocaust of the Greek Jews within its broader historical context, which is essential in order to understand an historic event of this magnitude.
Professor Maria Efthymiou, of the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Athens, gave a concise account of the 2,300-year-long history of Jews in Greece. She focused on its most significant aspects, such as the Hellenistic times and the arrival of Jews from Spain in 1492. She gave a general outline of the relationship between the Greek Diaspora and the Jewish one through the centuries, and demonstrated how the co-existence of the two peoples was at times harmonious and at other times strained. She also described the historic processes through which the Jews of Greece attained important social and financial positions.
Next, historian Jason Chandrinos presented the events of the Holocaust in Greece, starting with the Italian offensive of 1940 until the first post war years, when the few survivors were trying to rebuild their lives. Using photographic material and documents from the Museum’s collection, he attempted to shed light on several aspects of the Greek Holocaust, thorny ones, such as how several people took advantage of the absence of the deported to appropriate their belongings; hopeful ones, such as how others put their own lives in danger in order to save Jewish compatriots; tragic aspects, like the fact that the majority of the Greek communities was annihilated; and heroic ones, such as how Greek Jews fought heroically in the Resistance; or how others demonstrated humanity and self-sacrifice in the camps.
The last speaker of the first session, Mrs. Heleni Beze – Camhi, introduced us to the issue of the testimonies -that is the subject of memory, which is crucial for any research on the Holocaust. We would combine it with Ms. Odette Varon-Vassar’s presentation on the concentration camps’ literature. The use of testimonies is always an important part of studies on the Second World War. As regards the Holocaust, we can use them in two ways:
First, as a record of events – for the representation of the events themselves. While many camps have archives and indeed very organized ones, some topics, such as the daily life in the camp, the pain, the forbearance, the poverty, the solidarity, can be accessed only through the recording of personal experiences. Secondly, as an illustration of the subjectivity. All testimonies have the denominator of a slightly tragic experience, but each one is different. People who lived in camps claim (and want to highlight) that they remained people with names and not numbers in an anonymous mass.
The contact with Holocaust survivors is always a special moment of the seminar. This year, unfortunately, Mr. Sam Nehama and Mr. Salvator Bakolas failed to be present because of illness. Mr. Daniel Alchanatis, honorary president of the Jewish Community of Athens, spoke about the organization of Jewish students in the EAM and its participation in the resistance as a resistance fighter of ELAS in Evia. Mr. Alexandros Simcha, aged 6 during the occupation, revealed his experience as a “hidden child” and how the persecution and the rescue marked his later life.
After the speeches, the attendees watched the documentary film “The Song of Life” by Tonis Lykouressis, who recorded with great skill and empathy the story of how the 275 Jewish inhabitants of his homeland, the island of Zakynthos, were rescued. The film is the fruit of keen personal interest and many years of research; it is a moving lesson of solidarity, selflessness and eternal gratitude of the Jews of Zakynthos towards their Christian saviours.
The second day of the seminar, Friday 3rd December, startedwith Ms. Nina Alkalay and the “education of educators”.Ms Alcalay, dance teacher and dance therapist, recommended an alternative “Experiential teaching of the Holocaust through art.” She then proceeded to conduct a hands on exercise, in order to demonstrate how the experiential approach of the Holocaust through the arts, in this case music, dance, theatre and painting, can reach children’s minds more directly than any scientific historic presentation. Thus the children can more easily approach the experiences of people who lived the events and to process these experiences through artistic expression.
Second of the morning session, Mr. Alkis Rigos, Associate Professor of Political Science and Historyat Panteion University, spoke about the history of anti-Semitism in Greece. Various incidents from several periods of the country’s history and outbreaks of violence against Jews have shown that hostility against the “other” has deep roots in our country. As it emerged from the questions from the audience, most of us still find it hard to approach the identity of the Jew without unequivocal, absolute interpretations. In the minds of the majority, a Jew cannot be thought of without specific traits, suggesting the survival of a belief of a Jewish “racial” root.
Ms. Odette Varon-Vassard (historian, Greek Open University) spoke about “concentration camps’ literature”, based on the books of Primo Levi and Jorge Sembrun and highlighted the book by Jean Améry Beyond guilt and atonement, which had just been released. She referred to the teaching of Primo Levi works in schools in many European countries, underlining the Greek delay on the issue. Finally, she announced the “concentration camps’ literature” seminar that she will conduct at the Jewish Museum of Greece (February-May 2011).
The special guest fromYad Vashem, Mr. Yiftach Meiri, presented a complete teaching workshop, based on the presentation and commentary of images from the everyday life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Through the photographs of a German military photographer, Friedrich Yost, taken in the Ghetto, the tragic living conditions, the restriction that was equivalentto exclusion, the struggle for survival, the social differences and generally the life of a “condemned” society that was suffocating within strict limits, were highlighted for the teachers and discussed extensively. The teaching “package” was followed by a screening of a documentary of the Israeli television with testimonies of Polish Jews survivors of the Ghetto.
The next speech covered the use of historical experience in the legal field. Legal criminologist Hara Galanou, introduced us to the legal reality of ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’, analyzing the reasons why the Holocaust is an excellent example of genocide: it was a premeditated crime, centrally organized, huge on its dimensions. Its conviction has since been used as a reference for other modern genocides (Rwanda, Yugoslavia). She also raised the burning issue of Holocaust denial, concluding that the deniers’ goal is always to attenuate the perpetrators and therefore must be condemned unequivocally, regardless of the type and the size of the dispute.
Marisa Ntekastro, teacher and writer, had prepared a workshop entitled “A proposal for the creative use of literature in the classroom”. Health reasons though, prevented her physical presence. Nevertheless, at her request, her workshop was presented to the teachers by the director of the JMG, Mrs. Zanet Battinou. The central core of the workshop was the book “The Diary of Anne Frank” which is an excellent teaching tool, distinguished for its literary quality and effective combination of history and literature. The presentation of historical events in a literary context helps students to distinguish different characters and recognize behaviors they may identify with themselves. In this way, teaching is aiming directly at stimulating the children’s feelings, allowing them to approach sensitive issues, such as death, and values, such as friendship and companionship.
Archaeologist Anastasia Loudarou presented to the participants the program Judaica Europeana (www.judaica-europeana.eu), in which the JMG participates as a key partner. The topic of her speech «Judaica Europeana: A Digital Educational Tool”, aimed at the promotion of this european project, which is an important initiative for the dissemination of the Jewish culture. In addition, the speaker led teachers to explore alternative ways of teaching about the Holocaust through the Internet. In particular, the JMG digital exhibition “Images of Greek Jews was presented in detail. The exhibition includes selected photographs from the Photographic Archives of the Museum, reflecting a lively social life of Greek Jews during the prewar and postwar period. In light of the above virtual exhibition, several methods of integrating it in the educational process were suggested, aiming to the strengthening of Holocaust Education.
Finally, Ms. Orietta Treveza-Soussi, in connection with new exhibits presented educational programmes of the Museum. This year, the discussion involved Victor Cohen’s photo exhibition entitled, “Sylvia”, presented at the Museum, in the same area where the seminar took place. The exhibition includes photographs from the Auschwitz extermination camp, as well as of objects that are permanently on display there. The biography of “Sylvia” (that is Sylvia Molho – Sevi from Thessaloniki, Victor Cohen’s maternal grandmother), who was the source of inspiration and the “portrait” of the exhibition was distributed to the teachers in order to convey how the common experience of the camps should always be combined with the uniqueness of the individual experience.
The seminar ended with the pronouncement of conclusions drawn from the work of the two days. Already before the end of the proceedings, most of the attendees had filled in assessment questionnaires that had been prepared with potential improvements in mind. Answers given showed that the participants had a positive opinion of the organisation, quality and high standards of the seminar, as well as the Museum that hosted it and the hospitality provided. This year’s seminar was particularly successful as shown by the interaction, the fruitful discussions and the key questions raised. Most people also made constructive suggestions and comments.
Conversations we had with attending teachers as well as their comments in the evaluation questionnaires have lead the Museum to the conclusion that the seminar should take place once or even twice a year. Teachers also asked for more seminars, workshops and lectures on the Holocaust and related subjects, such as the history of Greek Jews, their contribution to Greek society, anti-Semitism, historical revisionism, incidences of genocide in the present day and more.
Teachers from out of Athens expressed their wish for seminars in provincial towns, which could possibly deal with the history of the local Jewish communities. Nearly all complained of being informed quite late, of receiving little or no help from the Ministry of Education, of the difficulties in attending a seminar in the capital and the omissions in school textbooks. The teachers also showed keen interest in attending model classes on teaching about the Holocaust and learning about various other teaching approaches, a request that had also been made in previous seminars.
Lastly, many teachers filled in their names and contact details on a special form reserved for those who wish to keep in touch with the Jewish Museum of Greece and receive information about educational initiatives in Greece and elsewhere, as well as information about this yearly seminar for educators.