Making 'Never Again' a Reality: UNESCO Conference on Holocaust Education

Posted by Hannah Rosenthal
February 3, 2012
UNESCO Director Bokova With Holocaust Survivor Samuel Pisar

The weather in Paris today reflected the mood in UNESCO's conference room -- gloomy with a chance of sunshine. For just as the clouds were heavy, so too was the discussion of Holocaust education and how genocide and hatred still exist despite the global effort to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. And just as the sun poked through at the end of the day, so did the optimism that great minds can come together and tackle this problem.

Just last week, on January 27, the world remembered the victims of the Holocaust on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This week, while still remembering the victims, we sat down to discuss how to make "Never Again" a reality.

The morning started with a welcoming address from Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO. She highlighted the point that as the world becomes more interconnected and a new global history begins to emerge, it is necessary that the Holocaust be part of this global awareness and that the world understand how the Jewish history of the Holocaust has shaped our present.

Following Bokova's remarks, we spent the day learning from experts who discussed how to shape this global history so that the mistakes of our past do not become the mistakes of our present. Yehuda Bauer of Hebrew University stressed in his remarks that the Holocaust could have been avoided. Not in 1939, however, when world attention only slowly and belatedly began to pay attention to Hitler; rather, the Holocaust could only have been avoided earlier, by a coalition of the willing who saw the writing on the walls and stood up before it was too late.

Later in the day, we discussed more thoroughly what that writing on the walls looked like, how it could have been stopped, and how such warning signs need to be taught to our children. Francois Masabo of the National University of Rwanda explained that every genocide, even a spontaneous genocide like the one in Rwanda, is planned. It is planned through propaganda, derogatory comments that become common and acceptable, and the language of inferiority and dehumanization. These lessons must be part of our Holocaust education -- the bystander who adds to a culture of hate is not a bystander at all.

I had the honor to be a part of the last panel with UNESCO's new Special Envoy for Holocaust Education, Samuel Pisar. Together, we spoke about the challenges of creating age-appropriate curricula. And, more so, how, if we really are going to do this correctly, these curricula need to not only be for our schools, but for our civic leaders, military, journalists, and our communities. As Mark Richmond, Director of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development at UNESCO said in closing, "Holocaust education in our schools alone will not solve the problem; the whole society must become a school for us to succeed."

I'm so grateful I was able to be a part of this conversation and this Administration's strong support for and contribution to UNESCO's Holocaust Education program. Be sure to read President Obama's statement and Secretary Clinton's statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I look forward to continuing to work together to make "Never Again" a reality.

More information on Special Envoy Rosenthal's efforts to combat anti-Semitism can be found on the Department of State's website and on the Facebook page for the virtual campaign 2012 Hours Against Hate. Stay connected with Special Envoy Rosenthal on Facebook and Twitter. For more on the U.S. government's engagement on human rights, visit www.humanrights.gov.

Comments

Comments

Noel H.
|
New York, USA
February 3, 2012

Noel Anthony H. in New York writes:

PEACE IN THE NAME OF GOD - SHARE, LOVE, LIFE

stage54
February 3, 2012

W.W. writes:

...never forget but ready to move on...

Fred
|
California, USA
February 3, 2012

Fred in California writes:

The holocaust is important to all not just as an education or a historical event. It should be tought for generations that humanity has the capability to commit such horrors and as a lesson to better one's faith in G-d. This is a lesson in personal strength and courage and believing in one's faith.

Maureen
|
Massachusetts, USA
February 4, 2012

Maureen in Massachusetts writes:

This post by Hannah Rosenthal brings me back to an initial exposure and initiation to the Holocaust from the perspective of a young teen student in the U.S. many years ago-through film. This would become a significant marker in my education though at the time I did not know. Often, learning is seeing.

We had now been exposed to human sufferance of another kind. I remember the overwhelming feeling of helplessness for what we watched had already happened. Black and white footage so grainy, seemingly out of order, damaged- no words! We watched and watched. The gruesome shock of people in situations far less than humanly imaginable. We looked on in utter disbelief. Hours of footage. I was trying to comprehend the words holocaust, genocide. These words now took on new meaning. Upon exiting the class each day I would try to assimilate what I had just witnessed. The victims reality at the time of footage, our reality and then the survivors reality. I felt a sort of dread during that time, simply getting up from the chair and leaving them behind and exposed, in front of the lens.

Victims being somehow categorized, grouped and led away to... chambers. You could see that they knew their fate. Women, men children- Stop! But there was no stopping. I could even smell the air of the footage. Humanity looking straight into the camera. Did they know that we would be watching them go to the chambers, camps at this later date in history? Gaunt figures, bones, their eyes, the pinstripes, wire fencing. Living ghosts of humanity at a moment of reckoning.

Enormous pits of earth being dug and just for a moment of innocence, we asked, “why ?” Pause and then we watched the corpses fall–over and over filling the earth. Pre-dug, Premeditation. Hands in our faces, shame that we are human. Our first exposure to genocide- a little less innocent now.

Over the years I'd often reflect on those images forever burned in my conscience and other educational experiences for which I am thankful- and so the words of Francois Masabo ring true to my ears like a small bell that tolls, a profound reminder-

“what that writing on the walls looked like, how it could have been stopped, and how such warning signs need to be taught to our children. Francois Masabo of the National University of Rwanda explained that every genocide, even a spontaneous genocide like the one in Rwanda, is planned. It is planned through propaganda, derogatory comments that become common and acceptable, and the language of inferiority and dehumanization. These lessons must be part of our Holocaust education -- the bystander who adds to a culture of hate is not a bystander at all.”

Watch for the writing on the wall and listen to the language of hate- and stand up for those who cannot.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
February 5, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Great post Maureen!,

Took me back to when I was little and Life magazine existed, and shot scenes from behind the Iron Curtain; German cities still filled with rubble 20 years on after WW2 was over and people living in misery. I was like 5 yrs. old or so, and and it got me wondering "Why?"

Been a student of the human condition ever since I guess.

"never again" keeps happening over and over again, just to different folks.

If the latest UNSC resolution failure on Syria is any indication, We must go beyond registering our "disgust" with nations who would arm tyrants and stand opposed to removing genocidal dictators who comit atrocities upon their owen people.

The only way I think to give Russia and China pause for thought before they again veto a resolution designed to support a people's legitimate aspirations for freedom from oppression, is to flat guarantee these nations that their veto will promt the collective will of democracies to militarily intervene to put a halt to the slaughter of innocents and remove said abysmal regime from power.

Re;
'http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/2012/02/the-situation-in-the-midd...'

---

Given the situation in Syria, the escalating violence, the shelling of Homs, and the aquiesence of some nations to allowing this to continue; wheras the President of the United States has once again called for Assad to step aside, along with other leaders calling for Assad to as well, I have the following recomendation.

Come Monday morning, a coalition of the willing introduce a chapter 7 resolution into the UNSC's agenda, and give notice to those who may be opposed that whether or not it passes in the UNSC, that Assad will be removed from power by force if neccessary and call upon Russia to serve notice to Assad in their meetings in Damascus that we will not compromise with evil or its supporters.

Digging back into the archives,
'http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/syria_no_going_back#Comments'

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Here's a little food for thought for all those commenting here in support of Assad's insanity.

You know folks, as an American all I really want to see is folks generally get their act together and stop being stupid;...there's a reason it took me ten years to write "The Cure for Political Stupidity, and /or How not to go to war with America", and I'm still not sure if dictators are a byproduct of genetic mutation or simply idiots due to the fact that their mommies and daddies were brother and sister.

But good folks like yourself came before you praising one such as this and followed Hitler over oblivion's cliff.

Lest you'all make the same mistake today, you might want to take off your rose-colored glasses.

Just sayin'...

It's your country and you can screw it up if you want to, just don't screw with us or we'll drop a rock on your pencil necked geek you call a leader, but who is just a chip off the old block, for like father like son,...mass murder runs in the family.

Good luck with it,

EJ

Posted on Thu Jun 30, 2011

---

And just for the record...It's been a long strange trip...and a million words and counting later;

'http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/clinton_senate_foreign_relat...'

.

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