Don't Teach Young Kids About the Holocaust

Education Minister Shay Piron has had the dim idea of introducing Holocaust Studies to kindergartens.

Niva Lanir
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Shay PironCredit: Olivier Fitoussi
Niva Lanir

I hate my dreams. One of them, a nightmare I have been having for 30 years, might interest Education Minister Shay Piron, who recently announced on his Facebook page that he was launching a comprehensive move to create a Holocaust curriculum beginning at kindergarten. “A decision had already been made to formulate a circular curriculum … in many countries,” the minister wrote, adding, “There is a spiral curriculum on the subject of the Holocaust that determines to what stratum the students will be exposed at every age level.”

When I hear the term “comprehensive move” “stratum” and “circular curriculum,” I assume this is hot air/no action/foolish action. But the minister’s explanation of the developing curriculum gives rise to the fear that this time it’s not window dressing, but too-great passion that will cause too-great damage. By the way, a participant in a forum of educators Piron called together to discuss the subject said that kindergarten age was not mentioned in the meeting in which he took part, and he wondered who had made that decision, and when.

Ideas such as Holocaust studies for preschoolers should be killed when they are small. Not the children, the idea. Are traumas what kindergartners in Israel lack? Do they need to add Hitler to the list of Goliath-Pharaoh-Haman-Antiochus?

I was in second or third grade when we first took part in a Holocaust Memorial Eve activity. Photos were projected on the classroom wall – of the boy from the Warsaw Ghetto with his hands raised before the soldiers and the guns; photos of beaten Jews; mothers and children crammed into a box car; and many others. There were also photos of concentration-camp survivors, walking corpses in striped pajamas.

That was the prelude to an address by Vitka Kovner, who led the partisans’ unit dubbed “Nekama” (revenge), which operated in the Rudniki Forest after escaping from the Vilna Ghetto. We then sang the “Partisans anthem” and the song about the murdered Jews of Ponary, and the poem entitled “Mother, may we cry now” was recited with trembling heart. After my first Holocaust Memorial Eve, the dream appeared: a squadron of Messerschmitts adorned with swastikas, diving toward the square in front of the communal dining room of Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh, their cockpits open, their pilots and gunners draped in kaffiyehs, raining down machine-gun fire. The attack has gone on for 30 years now, on nights too numerous to count.

It is not for nothing that school tours to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum begin in the 10th grade. It is not by chance that a former senior Education Ministry official estimated that the number of school and kindergarten teachers who can deal with the subject is minuscule compared to the damage that the others will cause. That official said he finds some comfort in the fact that “it will end with a few hours of in-service training, a lesson plan, and ministry supervisors who will check whether the teachers have gone through the hour alright.”

Piron has been in office now for seven months, during which he announced the idea of shortening the summer vacation and significantly curtailing matriculation exams, and hinted at the cancellation of psychometric exams, which are not “prophetic tools.” He also stated that exams have, in general, “replaced real education.” What seems to be a fine harvest turns out to be just a prelude to the real thing, the core of our lives and the rock of our existence.

Piron recently headed a delegation to Auschwitz, studying students’ trips to the concentration camps. “I came out with a group of journalists and opinion makers … they did not agree among themselves on a long list of core issues, but we created a wondrous “togetherness” that reminded us what we are doing and what else needs to be done in our wondrous country.”

Yes, yes, dear readers, it happened in Auschwitz – a wondrous togetherness and a wondrous country.

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