How to Traumatize a Nation of Children

The Ministry of Education's plan to introduce Holocaust studies to all classrooms is not intended to protect children, but to shape their identity as early as possible.

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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School children in the settlement of Beit El at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony several years ago.
School children in the settlement of Beit El at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony several years ago. Credit: Omer Landoy
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Last week it was reported that the Education Ministry has decided to expand its Holocaust teaching program to the entire school system and to institute it in kindergartens as well. The official rationale is to protect children and come to the aid of kindergarten teachers.

The ministry explained that during and leading up to Holocaust Remembrance Day, the public sphere is rife with expressions, many of which are not suitable for children’s ears. Kindergarten teachers have to explain to children why there is a siren. “Children must be prepared for the siren because it cannot be ignored and they are afraid of it,” a kindergarten teacher was quoted as saying.

All parents recognize those situations from which they must protect their young children: the scene of a car accident, the open sore of a homeless person, cursing in the street, scenes of a terror attack, pornography on television. As parents, we devise creative solutions to deal with such challenges every day. We cover our children’s eyes, we draw their attention to a minor detail, we sing, we make them laugh -- anything to keep them from being exposed to such things. No parent would even consider explaining the phenomenon of pornography to a child, for example. Clearly we lie, we conceal, we camouflage, we confuse, we do anything we have to just to put off as long as possible exposure to such horrors. But sometimes there is no choice.

The question is whether Holocaust Remembrance Day is such a situation, in which there is no choice. It seems that the Education Ministry and Yad Vashem have gotten confused between the Holocaust and Holocaust Remembrance Day. After all, according to these institutions the main reason there is no choice but to mediate the horrors of the Holocaust is the siren. That is, not the Holocaust itself, but the way the state has chosen to deal with the memory of the Holocaust.

It is therefore difficult to believe the explanation given by the Education Ministry and Yad Vashem’s committee of experts that their purpose is to protect the children and their innocence. Because if the need to explain the Holocaust to children arises only because of the means the state has devised to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, why not modify these means so that they do not harm children, for example, by doing away with the siren?

The problem is that in Israel one cannot start a discussion on the subject without the risk of being branded a Holocaust denier.

It seems that more than protecting the children from too-early exposure to things that are unsuitable for their tender souls, the state wants to take control of the ways this initial exposure takes place. The state wants to prevent spontaneous and disorganized exposure; that is, exposure that does not shape children’s views in the desired way, or exposure that is mediated by the home or the kindergarten teacher, or that is based on the wellbeing of the children and their emotional maturity, rather than the interest of commemorating the Holocaust.

The state, in this case, reveals that it is offering a solution to a problem it has itself invented. It sacrifices the childhood innocence of its sons and daughters for the sake of the organized construction of a uniform national identity. The goal is to replicate the fundamental trauma of the state within each and every one of us. The siren, from this point of view, fulfills precisely that function. It is truly frightening, to children and adults, and it is not by chance that it is connected to the same system that warns us of missile attacks.

The state sees to it that this is done in a controlled manner, to regulate the way the children’s personalities form around the trauma, to make sure to kill the possibility that new generations will be born that are free of the trauma – Israelis who will aspire to live in a country that does not interact with the world as though it were a child with a sick note from its parents.

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