History Retold, so it’s Never Relived: Holocaust education in schools for the prevention of future genocides

As a leading body for Holocaust education in Australia, we believe in the power of education and its propensity to combat issues facing the world today. With a recent surge in cases of antisemitism among Australian schools, effective Holocaust education remains crucial in understanding the role of harmful rhetoric in the deterioration of a peaceful society.

So, what is effective Holocaust education? And how can it help us to prevent genocides from occurring today?

With almost 40 years of experience facilitating Holocaust education for students, we have witnessed specific key messages consistently affect meaningful learning outcomes in students and lead to a deeper understanding of genocide and the warning signs that precede it.

Discussing the impact of unchecked hate

So, why is teaching history useful to combat genocide today?

Retrospection allows us to take a step back from the present day and look at circumstances through an objective lens.

In the late 1920s and as the Nazis came to power, few could have foreseen that the rise in antisemitic sentiment around Europe would ensue the largest state-ordered genocide the world has ever experienced.

Our In Touch with Memory program is designed for students to not only reflect on the aftermath of the Holocaust but focus on what led to the Holocaust and the impact of unchecked harmful rhetoric on contemporary cultures.

We were recently visited by a high school that had reported several incidents of antisemitism in recent months. Following the visit, we were glad to hear valuable feedback that a particular student — who had been a perpetrator of antisemitic slurs — had apologised for their actions. The student said before their experience at the museum, they were unaware of the significance of their behaviour as they did not appreciate the lessons of the Holocaust. Once they heard what our team had shared and taught them through the program, they apologised to the student who was the subject of the antisemitic incident.

Gardenvale Primary School listening to Holocaust survivor Andy Factor as part of the MHM Hide and Seek program.

Past the immediate impacts of our education programs, we aim to foster long-term partnerships with schools that extend past their visit to our museum to help educate on the outcomes of unchecked hate.

 

Demonstrating the dangers of Propaganda 

One of the most valuable tools in the propagation of genocide is misinformation or propaganda to fuel a ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality. Once those persecuted are no longer seen as human in the eyes of the perpetrators, facilitating large-scale extermination operations comes to be seen as a duty rather than a crime against humanity.

With younger generations growing up in an environment of increasing misinformation, trusted sources are often overshadowed by attention-grabbing media that continually misrepresents the facts.

As a museum, our education programs are bolstered with a collection of over 20,000 historical artefacts and 1,400 Holocaust survivor testimonies.

This cigarette card, from the MHM collection, was produced in 1934 to celebrate one year of the government of Adolf Hitler. The slogan for the series this particular card was part of was, ‘The state of work and peace.’ These became so popular with young people that by 1934 around 250,000 albums were distributed monthly. The cards celebrated the achievements of Hitler, the Nazi party, and the German nation. Sometimes these albums were used by German teachers in classrooms as learning tools.

Using artefacts from our museum collection within our education programs provides students with tangible context to a complex theme. Knowing they can rely on the provenance and authenticity of these artefacts invokes a sense of trust in students and visitors to the museum. The reliability of these historical artefacts helps to unveil any misconceptions in the current climate and invites open discussion and reflection in a safe environment.

 

Hearing from living history  

Holocaust survivors founded our museum, and they remain at the core of everything we do – including our education programs.

Hearing from a Holocaust survivor has a lasting impact on students in our In Touch with Memory program. Our ‘memory wall,’ designed for students to leave feedback on their experience at the museum, is filled with beautiful statements indicating survivor testimony’s influence on them.

 No matter what happens, I will never forget the survivors and the experience of being able to be physically present to have the chance to listen to a Holocaust survivor and pass it on to the next generation. – Mercy College student.

Melbourne Holocaust Museum memory wall displaying ‘I Will Remember’ cards from Brunswick Secondary College students.

Meeting somebody who has survived a genocide and connecting with their story is one of the most impactful ways we can combat the antisemitism, prejudice, and racism that has the capacity to lead to large-scale attacks on human rights, as seen in the Holocaust.

Our Eyewitness Project allows the public to access Holocaust survivor testimony to build on their knowledge of the Holocaust and the warning signs that preceded it.

If you would like to learn more about our education programs or how we can help you facilitate effective Holocaust education in the classroom, please visit this link.