Kofi A. Annan: The Myth of 'Never Again'

Roundup: Talking About History

[Kofi A. Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, is honorary president of the advisory board for the Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention Program at the Salzburg Global Seminar.]

Many countries in Europe and North America now require all high-school pupils to learn about the Holocaust. Why? Because of its historical importance, of course, but also because, in our increasingly diverse and globalized world, educators and policy-makers believe Holocaust education is a vital mechanism for teaching students to value democracy and human rights, and encouraging them to oppose racism and promote tolerance in their own societies.

Of course, prevention is always difficult to prove. But the least one can say is that the cry of “never again,” raised by so many in the years after 1945, has rung increasingly hollow with the passing decades. The Holocaust remains unique in its combination of sophisticated technical and organizational means with the most ruthlessly vicious of ends, but instances of genocide and large-scale brutality have continued to multiply — from Cambodia to the Congo, from Bosnia to Rwanda, from Sri Lanka to Sudan.

Few countries at present, even among those that require their teachers to teach the Holocaust, give them any specific training or guidance on how to do so. And few teachers in any country have the knowledge or skills to teach the Holocaust in a way that would enable today’s adolescents, who often represent within a single classroom a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, to relate it to the tensions they encounter in their own lives. More and better teacher training is surely needed....

This is certainly not a problem with a “one size fits all” solution. Teaching the Holocaust to a class in Ukraine is obviously different from teaching it in Israel, and indeed is likely to vary widely even between different districts of a European city. But insights and examples can surely be shared with advantage, and it seems fitting that Austria — which provided both victims and perpetrators of Nazi atrocities in abundance — should be hosting such a program.

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Michael Schack - 6/18/2010

I am a “certified docent” from the Ann Frank Museum and have taught a class in Middle School on the Holocaust. The class is designed that the course content changes based on level of knowledge and background of the class. In Maine it is quick assessment.. One goal of the class is to offer the students an understanding of how the Holocaust was implemented. There are a number of activities where in small groups they play aggressor, observer (needing to decide if they will get involved or not), and inmate attempting to escape., For any group though I present to them a timeline of acts of genocide post World War Two, and remind then that more people have been killed by machetes then all the military deaths in World War 2. (A statement by Victor Davis Hanson.