USING THE HOLOCAUST AS A MEANS TO FIGHT RACISM

AND INDIFFERENCE IN ORDER TO CREATE AWARENESS AND

CIVIL COURAGE

Helge Pedersen, Skagmo Secondary School, Skien, Norway


Using the Holocaust as the main approach from where to fight racism, lack of historical knowledge and indifference has been a useful method for me when trying to care in everyday teaching.

A documentary journey to Auschwitz helps students comprehend that modern 20th century civilization was a necessary condition for the Holocaust. As a historical phenomenon the Holocaust must find its place in a context dealing with our own times and the future. To recognize the mechanisms and lack of values that make ordinary people capable of becoming an active perpetrator or a passive, indifferent observer. Make them realize the aspect of continuity.

In our material and technological progress we must not underestimate its true and horrible potential. Auschwitz is within reach. Help the students to insert the Holocaust in a broader context, to realize the scope racism and misanthropy are given the moment the surrounding world is dominated by too much silence and indifference. This cowardice and egoism has always been the major threats against minorities. Teach them that those hundreds of thousands of perpetrators or participants on every level of the genocide were not insane. They were, like you and me, well-educated people, neatly and obediently adapted to a western civilized bureaucracy, trade and industry and army, which by our advanced technology administred a disciplined genocide.

The Holocaust didn´t avoid - in a mystical way - conflicts with the norms and institutions of modern society. It was the norms and institutions that made Holocaust possible - within a system totally devoid of conscience. A systematic genocide needs a bureaucracy, where obedience towards authorities is prevalent. And then organize the routines within an atmosphere of obedience. Therefore it might make more sense to fear the person who uncritically obeys laws and orders than the ones who break laws and do not obey orders.

So when dealing with Holocaust and the enormous number of perpetrators, helpers, bystanders and their behaviour, perhaps the most frightening fact to convey to the students is that these acts were not committed solely by cruel individuals, but by men and women striving to fulfill their daily duties. In other words, inhumanity is often a question of the role and position of the indivdual in a modern social hierarchy. That´s why Hanna Arendt´s warning is of eternal importance. She warns against those who always keep silent when given an order "... every time we submit to an order from an authority without judging or examening it morally - then Eichmann bows inside us".

All the way I stress the mechanism of how it was possible - even in their country and region to let a local Holocaust occur in 1942. Gradually they hopefully recognize the similarities from what made things happen then, to what might be the result of their indifference, ignorance and lack of civilian courage today. To make an 18 year old aware of his/her lack of courage and cowardlly behaviour, and compare it with the individual and collective guilt from the near past is a real eyeopener for many.

You don t have to ask for attention at the hotel after a visit to Auschwitz, when a former Norwegian prisoner tells them that he is doing 2 or 3 such exhausting journeys for the sole purpose of giving a true warning against the powers of darkness, which again threaten the minds of young people. That resistence during the war was a fight against human contempt and that nowadays this fight has to be fought by them. Like they were, every single one of us is alone when taking the decision to fight for human worth - because finally you are the one - like it always has been - to take the responsibility for your moral choices in order to make this world a bit better. Together we want them to comprehend how walking in step jeopardizes their own future. That their indifference doesn´t solely represent a human sin, but sooner or later will be their punishment. That courage and determined minds are what is needed to face cowardice and intolerance.

It is a matter of urgency to try to implement the moral responsibility in young people, to make them capable of standing alone when fighting intolerance and selfishness. Many of us know enough. It's not always the knowledge we lack. What many lack is the courage to realize what we know, and take the consequences of theis knowledge.


 

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