Unlocking Anti-Semitism

On Tuesday, Darius Jackson from the University College London, Centre for Holocaust Education, came to Saltley Academy and lead a twilight teacher training session called Unlocking Anti-Semitism. He was there because we are about to start working on The Merchant of Venice with the English Department and Year 8 students and it seemed sensible for us to arm ourselves with a bit of knowledge about the history of Anti-Semitism before we start.

I’d met Darius about six months before when attending a day-long course about teaching the History of the Holocaust prior to making Zigi Doesn’t Hate with students from the Jewellery Quarter Academy as part of a city wide Echo Eternal project.

Both training sessions were a treat, it was great to be back at school as a student. I spend so much time leading stuff it is great occasionally to follow stuff.

Their approach seemed so simple and sensible: University College London have a team of historians and educators who strive to define and support best practices in Holocaust Education, in order to do so they research common misconceptions among students and the needs of teachers, they then develop educational approaches and resources that address these problems and spread these as widely as they can through events such as the training session I attended at Nansen Primary School.

Here are some of my notes from the day written up:

Students are almost never taught about Jewish life and their contribution to Europe culture immediately before 1933 but are almost always taught about Anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews at the time – as a result students struggle to replace the caricatures with any other image of Jewish people!

Confused about exactly what the Holocaust was? That’s okay, definitions do vary and are subject to debate but definitions are always most helpful when they are precise, so the the tightest definition of the Holocaust is most useful. Try something like “the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews in Europe between 1941 and 1945.” This tight definition doesn’t include people murdered by the Nazis within the same system but this does not deny the horror and tragedy of these events. The systematic murder of Roma within the same period has its own name Porrajmos.

Note the term ‘murder’ in this definition. We should try not to use the language of the perpetrators, the Nazis may talk in terms of ‘extermination’ but we don’t want to; vermin get exterminated, the Jews were murdered.

We should be careful in imagery we choose to use in order to show respect both to the victims and those we are teaching. In their training the centre use images of piles of shoes off wedding rings, the images are upsetting but dignified.

Use individual case studies, stories of people before numbers, remember the Holocaust was not homogeneous, peoples’ experiences varied according to time and place.

Then of course there were lots of extraordinary facts that, despite thinking I was pretty clued up on the Holocaust caused me to realise how embarrassingly little I know about it. As the Holocaust was run by the state it hadn’t occurred to me they had to buy train tickets for everyone going to the camps! Where did they find the money? By selling the property of their victims, in this way The Holocaust was self-financing.

Anyway, I came away really impressed by the teaching and thinking “The Holocaust is a modest but compulsory part of English Key Stage 3 History Curriculum (which only applies to the dwindling number of schools still under Local Authority control). Imagine if the whole curriculum in every subject were subject to a similarly dedicated and professional team working on it in the same way. Our education system would be world beating!”

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