The Holocaust and Human Rights teaching
There has been debate as to whether teaching about the historical events of the
Holocaust is a suitable introduction to the concept of Human Rights or whether it is
better to keep the Holocaust and Human Rights as separate subjects. There does seem
to be a clear movement towards combining the two in European education and Tikvah,
in its Mission, wants to create clear linkages between the two.
There is an interesting discussion on the subject in a paper prepared by Professor
Monique Eckman from the School for Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences
Western Switzerland, in Geneva entitled "Exploring the relevance of Holocaust
She concludes that:
"First, it is important to learn the historical facts, and know about the process
leading to the Holocaust. Second, attention must be paid not only to what
happened during the era of National Socialism, but also to what happened
afterwards, to the history of memory, and to the diversity of historical narratives.
Third, it is important to address current violations of HR, especially those occurring
in our own society and in our own national contexts.
Finally, we must challenge and deconstruct national myths about this history that
are present in our own countries, and reflect on how to come to terms with each
country’s own past."
The comparative approach
The value of a comparative approach, relating the Holocaust to other genocides is
dealt with in an important ITF document "Holocaust, genocide, and crimes against
humanity" which provides suggestions for classroom teachers as to how to approach
We include below an extract which sets out the key issues:
1. The Holocaust is often considered to have given rise to our conceptualisation of
the term "genocide‟, which was coined during the Second World War, in large
measure as a response to the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. So the
Holocaust may constitute a starting point and the foundation for studying
2. In comparing the Holocaust to other genocides and crimes against humanity it
should be possible to sharpen understandings not only of similarities between
events but also of key differences. In so doing, it may be an opportunity to better
understand the particular historical significance of the Holocaust, and how study
of the Holocaust might contribute to our understanding of other genocidal events.
By the same token, learning about other genocides may contribute to deeper
understandings about the Holocaust.
3. In comparing the Holocaust to other genocides and crimes against humanity it
may be possible to identify common patterns and processes in the development of
genocidal situations. Through the understanding of a genocidal process and in
identifying stages and warning signs in this process, a contribution can hopefully
be made to prevent future genocides.
4. Students should appreciate the significance of the Holocaust in the development of
international law, tribunals and attempts by the international community to
respond to genocide in the modern world.
5. To compare the Holocaust to other genocides may be a means to alert young
people to the potential danger for other genocides and crimes against humanity to
evolve today. This may strengthen an awareness of their own roles and
responsibilities in the global community.
6. To compare the Holocaust to other genocides may help to overcome the lack of
recognition of other genocides.
7. Knowledge of the Holocaust may also be helpful in considering how to come to
terms with the past in other societies after genocide, how communities can
respond to genocide, and how survivors can attempt to live with their experiences.
8. The national history of a given country can be the reason for relating the
Holocaust to another genocide: for example, because a genocide plays an
important role in the national memory.
It is also important to note that there are many challenges in such a comparative
approach. Care should be taken to avoid a number of pitfalls:
1. The comparing of two distinct historical events will be difficult without careful
historical contextualisation, and so requires good understanding of both historical
events. This is a particular challenge given the lack of educational material that
actually does compare/relate the Holocaust to other genocides.
2. The differences between historical events are as important and significant as their
similarities and care must be taken not to equate, diminish, or trivialise either the
Holocaust or the genocides to which the Holocaust is compared.
3. It is legitimate to compare the differences between genocides, but it is not appropriate
to compare the suffering of individual victims or victim groups. Care must be
taken not to create hierarchies of suffering or allow the value of a comparative
study to be diminished by political or social agendas or competing memories.
It is important to be aware of the rationale behind comparing the Holocaust to
other genocides. This being said, there are certain reasons or strategies for
comparing the Holocaust to other genocides that are not fruitful and that
definitely should be avoided. Some of these are:
1. The link to other genocides is made to hide certain aspects of one's national
history, such as collaboration with Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
2. The Holocaust is seen as a means of political power in contemporary politics and
the link to the Holocaust is made out of political considerations.
3. The link to other genocides is made to diminish or trivialise the Holocaust
Asociatia Tikvah has been developing teaching resources over the last few years.
To examine these free resources go to www.tikvahedu.ro.