Israeli professor Gideon Greif lectures before thousands of German students a year. But even he is sometimes rattled by their questions.
[..] Greif spent last fall in Germany. His journey, which lasted a month and a half, included 60 lectures before thousands of school pupils and university students all over the country. The Muslim girl’s question was unusual for the local landscape. Greif says that most of the German pupils express empathy over what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, show interest in the darkest period of their country’s history, and ask intelligent questions that show familiarity with the subject. “I meet such great teenagers. What wonderful young people they are! Where were they then? Why weren’t their voices heard then?” he asked in late November, when I spent an intensive week of lectures with him in western Germany.
“German teenagers are showing more and more interest in the Holocaust — the opposite of the situation we feared in the past. They are studying the Holocaust above and beyond. Their teachers devote a great deal of time to the subject. They go to Auschwitz on study trips and devote more time to the topic than the curriculum demands,” says Greif.
Remembering the Muslim Righteous Among the Nations
Greif is not the first Israeli who teaches about the Holocaust in Germany. Aya Zarfati, a 32-year-old Israeli woman, has been living in Germany for the past few years as she studies for her master’s degree. She works as a guide at three sites that are related to the Holocaust, each in its own way: the Jewish Museum in Berlin, a memorial site at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and the House of the Wannsee Conference, where German senior officials met in 1942 to discuss the implementation of the Final Solution. Zarfati has guided many pupils there. “They come with a great deal of knowledge,” she says. “Holocaust studies in Germany are just as thorough as they are in Israel, if not more so. For example, here you will never encounter a German class that does not know about Kristallnacht. Almost every school in Germany where I have worked has a project related to the Holocaust. The topic of the Holocaust appears in almost all areas of study.”
“Particularly in Berlin, every fourth pupil comes from a non-German background,” Zarfati says. When one seeks to answer the question of what the Germans learn about the Holocaust in 2014, one must first ask: Who are the Germans? “It changes their perspective on history,” she says, referring to pupils from immigrant families who study the Holocaust. “If you give these …read more