With the number of living Holocaust survivors able to tell their stories shrinking each year, a small but influential northern Israel museum founded by survivors is looking to shift the focus from memory to how to teach the lessons of the genocide to future generations.
On Monday, the Ghetto Fighters’ House in the Western Galilee will host the official state closing ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day, with President Reuven Rivlin and former German president Joachim Gauck participating, a reflection of the museum’s drive to spearhead a shift from focusing on the tragedy that befell the Jewish people to drawing moral lessons for all of humanity.
The small but active museum is planning to create a consortium of Holocaust museums and other institutions to discuss how to teach the Holocaust and how to pass on the lessons learned from it to the next generations, said Arye Carmon, chairman of the board of directors at the Ghetto Fighters’ House and founder of the Israel Democracy Institute..
“We’re now in the second decade of the 21st century, when most Holocaust survivors are passing away, a time that could end up encouraging denial and forgetting the Holocaust,” Carmon said. “It makes it necessary that we now focus on the vision for the next generation.”
According to official Israeli figures cited in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Sunday, there are between 155,000 and 180,000 survivors living in Israel; over 16,000 died last year. Numbers vary, though, based on who is counting and who is considered a survivor. Last summer, a spokesperson for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany told Time magazine that there were just 100,000 Jews who were in camps, ghettos and in hiding under Nazi occupation who are still alive today, down from 500,000 just two years earlier.
Gauck’s attendance Monday will mark the first time that a German official has participated in a state ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It’s also notable that President Rivlin agreed to take part in the ceremony,” said Carmon.
Carmon noted that shifting the goals of Holocaust education is challenge beyond the scope of just one institution, and one of his goals is to create a consortium of organizations and set up brainstorming sessions in Europe and North America to develop a road map of next steps.
Carmon, who took up his position at the end of last year, said he had tried tackling the approach to Holocaust education more than 40 years ago and look at the broader issues of xenophobia, but was told that his ideas were ahead of his time.
Carmon believes that the world view of the Holocaust has shifted in recent years. Israel and the Jews were once viewed as victims and are now seen as aggressors vis-a-vis the Palestinians. He also pointed out what he saw as world trend toward nationalism and xenophobia in global democracies, political shifts that he said make it necessary to change the focus in Holocaust education.
“Change is not easy,” he said. “Many insist on sticking with the lessons of the past and that’s what guides them. But the day after Holocaust Remembrance Day we’ll start the strategy process, seeking partners and finding more tangible ways to remember.”