The Politics of Teaching Dark History

By Smale, Alison | International New York Times, June 17, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Teaching Dark History


Smale, Alison, International New York Times


A proposal in Bavaria requiring teenagers to visit a former concentration camp or documentation center stokes heated debate.

In Germany's ever-swirling debate about its past, it is a relatively recent, always delicate question: How do you teach Muslim Germans about the Nazis and the Holocaust?

The topic has bubbled up in recent weeks following debate in Bavaria over a state proposal for all eighth- or ninth-grade students to visit a former concentration camp or the newly opened center in Munich documenting Nazi crimes.

Currently in Bavaria, only pupils in Gymnasium, the top rank of high school, are required to make such visits. As the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz approached in January, and the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents rose, Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, suggested that all ninth graders make such trips.

Education in Germany is a matter for the governments of the 16 states. When the Free Voters, a small group in Bavaria's legislature, took up Mr. Schuster's suggestion, they ran into resistance from the conservative Christian Social Union, long the state's governing party.

One conservative deputy, Klaus Steiner, praised the intent, but he suggested that Muslim pupils would need special preparation and implied that some might be exempted.

Lower-ranked secondary schools, he said, have a high proportion of immigrant pupils, often recent arrivals whose parents sought refuge from war and hardship. "Many are from Muslim families," Mr. Steiner said. "These children and their parents will need time before they can identify with our past."

He further questioned whether anti-Semitism, "which is certainly latent here and there," can "really effectively be countered" with obligatory visits to former camps.

Leftist deputies rounded on Mr. Steiner, invoking the president of Germany, Joachim Gauck, who has said that Holocaust remembrance is a matter for every citizen.

To illustrate the importance of teaching all teenagers about the Holocaust, especially as survivors die off, these deputies cited research showing that Germans are tired of hearing about persecution of Jews.

Gisela Sengl, a Greens lawmaker, argued that it was precisely the less educated who are susceptible to antiforeigner, anti-Semitic chauvinism. …

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