Teaching about the N.African Holocaust

Haaretz reports that ‘a new program for teaching junior-high students about North African Jews and the Holocaust aims to minimize the alienation felt by students who are not Ashkenazi Jews of European descent.’ Nothing to do with teaching schoolchildren the historical facts, of course. (With thanks: Lily)

“The curriculum developers at Yad Vashem say most Israelis know nothing about the fate of North African Jews during the Holocaust. Yael Richler-Friedman, who heads the Holocaust Authority’s curriculum development department, says she gets puzzled looks every time she points out to visitors the memorial plaque in the Valley of the Communities for the Libyan Jews who died in the Holocaust. (…)

“The current Israeli Holocaust high school curriculum devotes only seven pages to the Jews of North Africa, from the “Shoah Vezikaron” (“Holocaust and Memory”) textbook used to prepare students for matriculation exams. It provides a dry, factual description of events but does not deal with daily life and with the complex issues of identity – Jewish, North African and European colonial subject – faced by North African Jews.

“Richler-Friedman believes the new program, which is filled with testimonies, personal stories and archive photos, will lead the students to “connect” to a historical narrative that is perceived as alien and distant.

“When students discover that their grandparents were also in danger, they lose their sense of distance toward the Holocaust. It’s a situation that we’re aware of, but not proud of, because the main goal of the program is different, it is to teach a chapter that had been neglected in the curriculum,” Richler-Friedman explains.

“According to Richler-Friedman, in the past it was impossible to develop a separate unit on North African Jewry because the dominant educational approach gave decisive weight to what she terms the “numerical element.”

“The name of the unit – “North African Jewry during the period of the Holocaust” – consciously avoids coming down on either side of the question of whether North African Jews can be viewed as victims of the Holocaust.

Mainstream Holocaust researchers believe that these communities did not face total annihilation, and their persecution was not based only on racist motives but also on doubts regarding the Jews’ loyalty to the government.

“Dr. Irit Abramsky, the academic adviser for the curriculum, believes the Nazis had identical plans for the Jews living in Europe and in North Africa, but they did not get the chance to implement them in the latter case.

“In the curriculum developers chose to tread carefully with regard to this sensitive issue. They do not explicitly say whether the Germans took the North African Jews into consideration when the decision to obliterate European Jewry was made at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942.

“Dr. Abramsky believes the Nazis included these communities as part of the Italian and French Jewish populations, but Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Prof. Dan Michman, believes the Nazis were thinking only about eliminating European Jewry at Wannsee. A flurry of e-mails eventually produced an oblique formulation that was acceptable to all sides.

“When the Holocaust is discussed only in demographic or numeric terms, it is obvious that there was no Holocaust in North Africa. But if one is attempting to understand the Holocaust in terms of values, it is clear that North Africa plays an important part.”

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