Popular misconceptions of the Holocaust – what can we do?

This was probably my favourite session of AmCon at home as I was in the middle of devising a scheme of work on the Holocaust for my PGCE. I’m gutted I didn’t have the chance to deliver it and tackle some of these issues in the classroom.

Catrina Kirkland, HET’s education officer who delivers their teacher training programme, firstly acknowledged that as Ambassadors, we are able to have a level of conversation about the Holocaust that the general public cannot have, due to our knowledge and exposure to primary sources (Auschwitz, survivor testimonies). She proceeded to define ‘misconception’ as an idea which is wrong based on one’s failure to understand; it is a genuine mistake that can often derive from mishearing, misinterpretation, or oversimplification.

Common misconceptions, why they are problematic, and how to tackle them:

  1. The Holocaust refers to ALL victims of Nazi persecution. The first step to take when tackling any misconception – especially in a school setting, is to reassure the person making the comment that lots of people think this before addressing why it’s wrong. Here, you should give the definition of the Holocaust which refers to the systematic persecution of Jews alone. Absolutely acknowledge that other minority groups were also persecuted and that other stories are equally as worth telling.
  2. Jewish people were persecuted for not having blonde hair and blue eyes. This misconception is problematic as it assumes that Jewish people were targeted for no reason other than how they looked; it also suggests that Jewish people could not possibly have blonde hair and blue eyes! Show people photographs to demonstrate the diversity of the Jewish population.
  3. Hitler was alone responsible for the Holocaust; the Holocaust was only perpetrated by the Germans; most Germans did not know about the Holocaust. Again, this implies that the Holocaust was exclusively German, and that it was kept a secret. It is much more complicated than that! What about the people who ran the camps? The people that betrayed Jews, exposing their hiding place? The people who herded the Jews onto the trains – they knew they were sending them to their deaths. This would be an appropriate time to discuss the definitions of persecutor, bystander and victim.
  4. Most Jews were murdered in concentration camps. Here, we need to use concrete examples. 100,000s died in the Ghettos of maltreatment, malnourishment, poor hygiene and general neglect. Many also died in mass shootings in the Soviet Union.

For details on my scheme of work, please click the button below:

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