ON THE FIFTEENTH SEMINAR FOR TEACHERS
“TEACHING ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST IN GREECE”
BY THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF GREECE
THESSALONIKI, 3rd-4th DECEMBER 2015
On 3rd-4th December 2015 the scheduled educational seminar entitled “Teaching about the Holocaust in Greece”, conducted by the Jewish Museum of Greece, took place at the Thessaloniki History Centre. The seminar, which has been held annually since 2014, is aimed at primary and secondary teachers and its purpose is to educate teachers in the history of Greek Jews, especially the Holocaust. It is organised under the auspice of the Ministry of Education, Research and Religions with added support from affiliate bodies and institutions. This year’s seminar in Thessaloniki reflects the JMG’s intention to expand its educational activities and to enhance its teaching project not only in the areas of general and museum teaching but also reflecting the needs of teachers in the region.
Judging by the turnout and the public’s response, the fifteenth seminar was one of the most successful ones, since more than 80 teachers attended both days and participated in the discussions and workshops. The high attendance rate not only confirmed the high level of interest teachers show in the need to make students aware of problems of racism and intolerance, which reached tragic heights in the Holocaust, but also confirmed the credibility that the JMG has gradually acquired regarding its ability to provide the reliable educational and professional tools necessary to meet such a need.
As with all previous seminars, the presentations were divided into historical and educational ones (workshops). As far as methodology was concerned, a combination of historical review with educational issues and museum programmes was sought, whereas thematically, a coupling of the general with the specific was aimed at (Greece and other countries, national and local history, cases of anti-Semitism in various parts of the country, etc.). In detail, the first session was dedicated to the historical approach and covered the entire spectrum of the history of Greek Jews from ancient times to the present day, emphasising the severity of the Holocaust in localities in northern Greece and especially in Thessaloniki. Anastasia Loudarou, an archaeologist, special researcher and associate of the JMG, a PhD candidate in ancient history at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, started the proceedings by providing an overview of the presence of Jews in Greece – a 2,300-year history – while at the same time illuminating the historical significance of terms and concepts such as “Jew”, “Hebrew”, “Israelite” and “Israeli”, which are still either misinterpreted or ignored to this day. Next, Dr. Evangelos Hekimoglou, the curator of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki,presented the chronicle of the persecution of the Thessaloniki Jews, in the form of a day-to-day review, which, as generally admitted, grasped the attention of the people present. The third and final speaker was Dr. Vasilis Ritzaleos, postdoctoral researcher of Democritus University of Thrace,who presented the history of the persecution of the Jews in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace by the Bulgarian Occupying authorities, based on evidence from Bulgarian archives which until recently had remained unknown.
The second part of the seminar was dedicated to the presentation of JMG’s recent publication A Narrative of Evil: Lisa Pinhas Confronts the Holocaust, a testimonial by Lisa Pinhas, a Jew from Thessaloniki, on Nazi persecution and her captivity in Auschwitz concentration camp. The publication was discussed during an open discussion with the audience, by Zanet Battinou, the JMG’s director, who was responsible for the publication’s overall co-ordination, Dr. Gabriella Etmetzoglou, professor of contemporary European history at the University of New York in Berlin, co-author of the introduction and historical editor of the text, Garifalia Micha, political scientist and Yad-Vashem special researcher, who undertook the translation of the original French text as well as its editing, and, finally, Lisa Pinhas’ niece, Nana Mazaltoc-Moissi who spoke movingly about her aunt and her dedication to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. The presentation was open to the general public and sparked a wide discussion on issues of historical memory, personal trauma and collective consciousness related to the genocide of the Jewish people and how it is interpreted today.
The proceedings of the second day were started by Dr. Giorgos Antoniou, assistant professor of Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who presented the interesting, though disappointing, results of a recent statistical study he participated in, on the trends and forms of anti-Semitism in present day Greece, which was conducted by the University of Oxford. The next speaker was Dr. Maria Kavala, professor of political science at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who gave a comprehensive review of the academic discussion and the literary contributions to the Holocaust over the past years. The session was ended by Dr. Paul Isaac Hagouel, a Holocaust researcher and member of the Greek Delegation at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), with a talk on the Righteous Among the Nations, highlighting significant and unknown cases of rescues of Jews in Greece and the rest of occupied Europe. Four educational workshops took place after the break. Dr. Jason Chandrinos, a historical and special associate of the JMG, discussed the educational value of the JMG’s recent exhibition entitled “Synagonistis: Greek Jews in the National Resistance”. Eleni Beze, a PhD candidate in modern history at the University of Thessaly, looked at the contribution personal accounts and local history make to teaching about the Holocaust in the classroom, while Nina Alcalay, choreographer and dance therapist, presented a series of proposals of approaching the Holocaust through art. Finally, Orietta Treveza-Soussi, JMG museum educator, informed the teachers about current educational programmes and museum cases (“Antisemitism-Racism”, the Crocus Project, etc.) and analysed their potential in a classroom.
The administration of the historical memory of the Holocaust and its integration in the educational process is an issue of intense concern amongst educational professionals and teachers all over the world. In Greece, perhaps unlike other countries, related studies have really developed recently and a lot of hard effort was required to cultivate an interest in the organisation of talks, seminars, programmes and exhibitions. It would not be insubstantially optimistic to note that the hardships and obstacles encountered at the beginning have now been overcome and that Greek society is well informed of the need to return and keep the genocide of the Jewish people in public word as a field from which references for the prevention of contemporary social pathogens can be drawn.
One of JMG’s statutory principles and moral commitments is the use of the Holocaust as a tool to enhance citizens’ consciousness. The need to reinforce the reflexes related to this consciousness is constantly present nowadays, since racist events and behaviours have not only multiplied, but are even expressed by people who were considered to be progressive. Racism, anti-Semitism and ideological fanaticism – phenomena which share the same origin – are rooted in society’s foundations and are, more and more, expressed by simple people seeking scapegoats in order to defuse the anger caused by financial misery. The seminars for teachers which are organised by the JMG every year are just one single weapon in a great effort to battle racial hatred and intolerance. We believe, as evidenced by the response from the teachers who have embraced our efforts, that the JMG is the only body in our country which provides knowledge and educational tools on the Holocaust and it is also the only attempt made to connect historical and educational lessons derived from studying the Holocaust as well as other genocides, making these lessons applicable to the needs of today’s students. This connection is attempted being fully conscious that today’s students are the citizens of tomorrow.