The Shoah explained to our five-year-olds
Teaching the Holocaust to kindergarten children, as Israel's Education Minister proposes, is a dangerous step that is liable to imbue them with the feeling that they are eternally in danger of annihilation.
Education Minister Shay Piron went on a trip to the Nazi death camps in Poland to mark the 25th anniversary of the start of organized tours to these camps by high-school students. While he was still there, the Education Ministry unveiled Piron’s plan to promote a new educational program that would obligate the Holocaust to be taught from kindergarten through high school.
This is necessitated by reality, since a survey of teachers and students in seventh through twelfth grades that was published in 2010 found that many teachers want training in how to teach the Holocaust, which is currently taught in an organized fashion only in eleventh- and twelfth-grade history classes (Yarden Skop, Haaretz, October 25). A 2009 State Comptroller’s Report also concluded that “Holocaust education in high schools began without the ministry determining its educational goals, without a defined curriculum and without textbooks.”
Nevertheless, more than a few researchers have cast doubt on the need to expose young children to a terrible event like the Holocaust, as well as on their ability to deal with the emotional burden this would impose. It’s enough that these children are exposed to this issue year round, and especially around Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the siren sounds: There’s no justification for imposing any additional burden on them. Nor is it unreasonable to expect the Education Ministry to protect kindergartners and prevent them from being exposed to what they will in any case learn about later, when they reach the appropriate age.
It is both possible and necessary to teach the Holocaust to older students, while emphasizing universal, humanistic and Zionist values. But exposing young children to Holocaust education – which then continues with countless ceremonies and sirens and organized trips to the death camps – is a dangerous step: It is liable to give them a victim complex and imbue them with the feeling that they are eternally in danger of annihilation.
Nowadays, the Holocaust serves as a key reference point for many politicians, first and foremost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it is associated on an almost daily basis with Israel’s diplomatic situation. From Netanyahu’s speeches in international forums, one could easily conclude that it’s eternally 1938, and Israel is always in danger of destruction.
The Holocaust is the most horrific event in human history, but it has no connection to Israel’s security situation today. We must remember and honor its victims, but we must not make our children imbibe it with their milk. Every Israeli child has the right to live a life free of collective traumas, and to deal with those traumas only once he is ready to do so.