This morning I watched the BBC Programme “Antiques Roadshow: Holocaust Special”. I cannot improve on the following Tweet by the comedian David Baddiel
It was superbly done with Holocaust survivors and their descendants showing artefacts that had been kept from that horrible experience. It reminded me so much of my visit to Israel in 2002. I visited Yad Vashem with a coach full of tourists and we walked around the many displays showing the most horrific pictures, films and explanations about the death camps and the “Final Solution” but it was the artefacts, the gold stars, the child’s shoe the striped pyjamas, that grabbed you and had the most emotional impact.
I remember that I had been told about the one child’s shoe that represented all of the 1.5 million children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, I steeled myself not to break down when I saw that exhibit and I just about managed it. Then I walked outside and saw a tree that had the simple legend: “To the people of Denmark” and I broke down!
Artefacts are powerful. They say so much more than words ever can. They have the power to move you, to make you think. I suppose it is why museums have always been such important places for learning and have played such an important part in my life.
In this programme there were rings, jewellery made in Belsen, old photographs of people who perished in the camps, a pair of striped pyjama trousers worn by one of the inmates, but the most surprising artefact to me was a board game.
The board game came from Germany and was intended for commercial sale. It is a game where you round up Jews and win if you manage to get six of them in a detention centre (a corner of the board) where they are taken to another part of the board for expulsion to Palestine!
This game can be seen in the second photograph above. It left the presenter of the programme Fiona Bruce, temporarily speechless. It shows the extent to which hatred became a part of the culture and indeed it left me thinking about the role of education in “brainwashing” young German children in the Nazi era.
I found a superb lesson plan from the excellent “Facing History and Ourselves” website. The lesson plan looks at “Life for German Youth in the 1930’s “with the subtitle: “Education, propaganda, conformity and obedience”.
There were some excellent insights in the lesson plan into the role of education in Nazi Germany. An example is:
German school teachers and university professors were not Hitler’s adversaries. . . . Quite the opposite; the teaching profession proved one of the most reliable segments of the population as far as National Socialism was concerned. Throughout the Weimar era, Germany’s educational establishment, continuing its long authoritarian tradition, remained unreconciled to democracy and nationalism. Once in power, the Nazis expunged dissenting instructors, but there were not many. On the other hand, at least two leading Nazis, the rabid antisemites Heinrich Himmler and Julius Streicher, had formerly been teachers. Eventually more than 30% of the top Nazi Party leadership came from that background. Teachers, especially from elementary schools, were by far the largest professional group represented in the party. Altogether almost 97% of them belonged to the Nazi Teachers’ Association, and more than 30% of that number were members of the Nazi Party itself. From such instructors, German boys and girls learned what the Nazis wanted them to know. Hatred of Jews was central in that curriculum.5
I feel that the last sentence is the most telling sentence is the last one. Hatred of Jews was central in that curriculum. It made me think about the curriculums taught in Apartheid South Africa, in the southern States of America. How can teachers live with themselves teaching, literally teaching hate?
If you haven’t seen the programme I strongly recommend that you do. Maybe you will stop and think just as Fiona Bruce did when you get to the board-game part.