Israel Unveils New Holocaust Studies Program Starting in Kindergarten

The idea is to give teachers the tools to teach a subject that kids hear about anyway.

Israeli schoolchilldren taught about the Holocaust on an annual remembrance day,
Muki Schwartz

The Education Ministry and Yad Vashem have unveiled a new curriculum to teach the Holocaust starting in kindergarten — the first time the authorities have provided a mandatory program for teaching the Shoah for the entire school system and every age group.

The program, which will be launched the coming school year, was announced Thursday, a few days before Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The aim is to tailor Holocaust studies for each age group at a time when the last generation of Holocaust survivors is dying out.

The Shoah will be taught for two to 15 hours a year, depending on the age group. The program will augment the Holocaust studies that are already part of the curriculum for 11th and 12th graders.

Currently, Israeli students receive some form of Holocaust education; for example, Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked with ceremonies, a two-minute siren and day-long broadcasts on radio and television.

The ministry notes that many teachers discuss the Holocaust extensively before Holocaust Remembrance Day; the idea is to train teachers beforehand. In 2009, the state comptroller criticized the Education Ministry for not sufficiently teaching the Holocaust to all age groups.

According to the ministry and Yad Vashem, the program also includes “the Jewish-Zionist legacy and the humanist-universalist legacy as central aspects. By these means the transmission of the memory from one generation to the next will be guaranteed. It will become a part of the collective memory of the Jewish people.”

In the program, kindergarten children will receive guidance only on Holocaust Day or a day near it. According to the program’s instructions for kindergarten teachers, “before the siren, it should be explained to the children that ... [this was] a difficult period that happened many years ago – a period even before the children and their parents were born. There will also be an emphasis on the physical distance – ‘It happened in distant lands.’”

According to the ministry and Yad Vashem, the kindergarten teacher will share with parents the methods for preparing children for Holocaust Remembrance Day. “The program stresses that material with frightening content based on physical demonstrations should be avoided,” the ministry and Yad Vashem said.

According to the program, in the first and second grade, “We recommend telling the human stories to the children; on the one hand to learn about what was lost – communities, families, people, cultural assets, concepts and opinions – and on the other to hear stories about coping, heroism and rescue.”

Issues for the higher grades include the crisis created by the Holocaust around the world and in later generations.

Topics include “Between Crisis and Continuity,” “Creativity and Its Meaning in a World of Destruction,” “Jewish Identity in the Holocaust and Afterwards,” “The World After Auschwitz,” “The Believing Jew in Light of the Holocaust” and “Survivors and Their Contribution to the Establishment and Building of the State of Israel.”