Multicultural Education: Israeli and German Adolescents' Knowledge and Views regarding the Holocaust

By Shamai, Shmuel; Yardeni, Eran et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Multicultural Education: Israeli and German Adolescents' Knowledge and Views regarding the Holocaust


Shamai, Shmuel, Yardeni, Eran, Klages, Benjamin, Adolescence


This article offers a unique case study of multicultural education and relations. Multicultural education is defined as "education, usually formal, in which two or more cultures are involved" (Ekstrand, 1997, p. 345) Multicultural education is linked to the social and cultural concepts and goals of the society. It addresses anti-racism and develops attitudes, knowledge, and skills that enable students to work for social justice. It is "a process in which staff and students together unlearn anti-democratic attitudes and behaviors" (Wilhelm, 1999, p. 559).

The goals of multicultural education are:

* Attitudinal: cultural awareness and sensitivity, cultural tolerance

* Cognitive: knowledge of other specific cultures

* Instrumental: correcting distortions, stereotypes, omissions, and misinformation about ethnic groups, providing strategies for dealing with differences among people and the conceptual tools for intercultural communications, and dealing with values clarifications (Ekstrand, 1997).

This case study probed the sensitive issue of the Holocaust among Israeli and German students. That the Holocaust was a meaningful factor in the creation of the new Jewish identity after World War II, is undoubted. The Holocaust was not just a historical event, from which Israel derived the right to exist. From this terrible episode, unique in the history of the mankind (Avishai & Motzkin, 1996), Israelis have defined their national identity. The wide range of answers found here demonstrates how important this issue is for the Israeli society in general and for Jewish identity in particular. Many studies about the Israeli youngster's attitude toward the Holocaust have been conducted during the last four decades. The 16 years from the end of WWII to the Eichmann trial in 1961 were characterized by reluctance to discuss this issue openly (Shief et al., 1996). This policy of suppression dominated not just the domain of public discussion but the education system as well (Dor-Shav & Yaos 1983). For example, in the Israeli Educational Encyclopedia, published in 1959, there is no mention of teaching of the Holocaust (Fargo, 1984), an omission that exposes the confusion and the embarrassment of the Israeli education system.

This policy of suppression must be judged in terms of the particular circumstances of those days: the establishment of Israel and the struggle for independence (Lorberboim, 1988). The antagonism between the so-called "passive behavior" of the Jews in Europe and the "active behavior" of the pioneers and the settlers in the Holy Land (Schatzker, 1982; Stern, 1996) made it impossible for the latter to accept the former. It took at least those 16 years from the end of WWII until the Eichmann trial, before the Holocaust began to become part of the public discourse in Israel.

Indeed, one of the most important turning points in this process was the Eichmann trial itself, held in 1961 (Schatzker, 1982). The symbolism surrounding the trial, and the death sentence handed down, made an impact that generated discussion of the Holocaust. The younger generation, under the influence of the trial, sought out more information on that period in general and on the so-called passive behavior of the Jews in particular. The education sector started to develop courses with the following objectives (Schatzker, 1982):

A. Information: The learning process should provide the factual background of the Holocaust.

B. Education: The learning process should contain educational-moral values to provide pupils with the cognitive instruments needed to expose and to recognize the emotional factors that legitimized the radical tendencies that took over Germany.

C. Social: The learning process should lead the student to recognize the dangers that exist in dictatorial regimes.

D. National: The learning process should create emotional identification of the younger generation with Holocaust survivors in order to reinforce Jewish identity. …

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