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Challenging Dutch Holocaust Education: Towards A Curriculum Based On Moral Choices And Empathetic Capacity

The primary task of education should be to prevent another Auschwitz. – Theodore Adorno

The important thing is the possibility of identification. It is so difficult to understand. They can only identify with stories that help them imagine ‘how would I have been, what would I have done’? – Frieda Menco


What makes people able to make moral choices and take actions that reflect respect for the right of all people to live in freedom? This question surfaced repeatedly during our discussions on the Humanity in Action program and we found ourselves unable to develop a coherent response to it. This led to pessimism on the part of some students who often expressed frustration with the lack of a clear way to prevent the collapse of morality that made the Holocaust possible. We propose that through education society can protect itself against moral indifference and the proclivity to dehumanize minorities and justify their marginalization and oppression. By stressing the importance of the autonomy and agency of individuals we believe that people can resist the temptation to be moral bystanders and behave altruistically.  

We analyze how the Holocaust is taught in fourth-sixth grade Dutch college preparatory secondary school history classes.  Our aim is to explore how it is used, if at all, to engender a commitment to the principles of freedom and equality in secondary school students. Secondary school education is an essential agent for socialization and values formation. During adolescence students learn to make critical moral choices, to analyze the role of morality in the development of their nation’s history, and to enjoy the rights and challenges of democratic citizenship. Like Frieda Menco, a Dutch Holocaust survivor who shared with us her goals for effective Holocaust education, we believe that students need to learn how to empathize with those who are different and to think critically about ethical issues. This will enable them to act in accordance with an ethic of respect for freedom and equality for all people.

Dutch Pedagogical Goals - An Overview:

Characterized by a strong commitment to promoting “active democratic citizenship” and the liberal democratic values of tolerance for human difference in a “multi-cultural society” the Dutch educational system shares our educational objectives. The educational objectives explained in the General Attainment Targets 1998-2003 call for consideration of moral choices in history curriculum.  Students are to learn how the skill of: “Recognizing and dealing with one’s own standards and values and those of other people.” In the new policy statements released on the revisions of the historycurriculum we also found significant areas of common ground with the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. Their objectives are to have students:  “Obtain insight into the way their own lives relate to historically related social phenomena and processes, taking due account of the nature of these phenomena and processes”, and “The development of an understanding of active citizenship in a democratic state and in the international community.”  While these objectives are impressive they are often not reflected in student achievement.

Pedagogical Freedom for History Teachers: A Potential Obstacle to Holocaust Education?

A fundamental value of the Dutch history curriculum is the freedom of teachers to determine both the content of their classes and the methodology of their teaching. C. Fuykschot, the head of the Department of Special Educational Projects at the Ministry of Education said that, “Schools are 100% free to choose their method.” The new policy statement on history education from the De Rooy Committee, responsible for revising the history curriculum states that,  “Personal… attitude towards life and personal interest of the teacher and pupils must provide the emphases of history on the pupils.”   The State prescribes broad historical subjects that should be addressed, including World War Two history, but howit should be addressed is left open.  The preamble to the main educational targets states that:  “Students should be able to mention certain consequences of the German occupation during the Second World War and the process of Nazification and the persecution of the Jews.” The students are also expected to be able to recognize different reactions of the Dutch population to German occupation. They have to be able to explain different meanings of the remembrance of the Second World War and the image of Germany in Dutch society.”  The statement that students should be able to recognize the different reactions of the Dutch population to the German occupation is of great importance.  It acknowledges after decades of ambivalence in Dutch schools and Dutch society generally that students need to understand the moral choices made by the Dutch population. Students are expected to learn about the distinctive roles of victims, bystanders, and perpetrators in the history of the Holocaust. 

There is no nationally mandated Holocaust curriculum, although some organizations, such as the Anne Frank Stichting, (foundation) distribute their own Holocaust education materials voluntarily to secondary schools throughout the country.  We are sympathetic to this educational philosophy that maximizes teacher freedom and believe it to be a prerequisite for good teaching – for it allows teachers to be creative in how they teach and to teach subjects about which they are passionate. However, in the context of Holocaust education it can also have negative consequences. 

Teachers told us that there was no mechanism to ensure that students would learn about the Holocaust in a comprehensive manner. Professor Mijnhardt, currently on the board of De Rooy Commitee, did not share that concern. “Prescribing to teach the most renowned facts and the most horrific ones I would regard as a serious offence towards any teacher,” he said.  Mijnhardt thinks that the absence of a state-pedagogy is a “great privilege” and that Dutch history teaching is, and should be based on “trust”.  In light of our research these statements seem rather naive and indicate an unwillingness to acknowledge that many teachers do not invest enough time teaching about the Holocaust or do so ineffectively.  Some teachers we spoke with were concerned that teachers who are uninterested in the subject or afraid of approaching it because of its complexity barely address it.  Teachers may teach about the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis but will ignore the role of Dutch collaborators and bystanders.  Mijnhardt’s comment on those concerns was to say that, “The importance society puts on certain issues determines history, so the problem with those issues might not be in history teaching, but in society.”  Mijnhardt appears satisfied with the role of schools as merely a mirror of current societal values and norms, rather than a means by which society can make ethical progress.

Dutch History Textbooks: A Problematic Resource for Holocaust Education

The freedom given to teachers to determine the methodology and emphasis of Holocaust curriculum also applies to the textbook writers. Our research showed that many textbooks address the Holocaust only in brief, and present contradictory information about it. While they superficially meet the government targets in reality they fail to impart the factual and conceptual objectives.  Having knowledge of Holocaust history is a prerequisite for substantive educational programming on moral choices and civic responsibilities, and is valuable in its own right. But Dutch students do not demonstrate such a basic knowledge.  A recent article in the NRC Handelsblad quoted the NIK (Nederlands-Israelitisch Kerkgenootschap-Dutch Jewish Church Council) that criticized Dutch ignorance of Holocaust history. “Holland does not have Holocaust education, but stresses in education the occupation of the Netherlands. Therefore the Holocaust loses attention… But we in the Netherlands do need that attention. The youth know what the occupation is but do not know what Jews are and their history.”

A survey undertaken by the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad released on May 4rth showed that Dutch students lack both a factual and conceptual understanding of the Holocaust. Many cannot explain the difference between resistance and collaboration for example and only 55% could correctly state that 6,000,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. (The remaining students, except for 2% that did not answer the question thought that either 60,000 or 600,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust.) The strong conviction from educational journalist at the Volkskrant, Sander van Walsum, that “Everybody in Holland knows the basic facts” is not substantiated by evidence. But the problem does not stem from the students. One of the major reasons why students are ignorant of basic concepts and facts about the Holocaust is because of the content of their history textbooks. 

For example, two books differ on the origins of the famous February-strike in 1941 in Amsterdam. According to the textbook Pharos the strike took place because 425 Jews were sent to Mauthausen whereas the textbook Memo states that the strike was met by repercussion-measures sending 425 Jews to Mauthausen. (The former claim is correct.) We asked fourth grade secondary school student Rolf Wierenga about his experience with Holocaust education.  “Our textbook, Pharos, was a terrible one. We did four lessons on World War 2 and only one on the Holocaust. Of course, most of that time was dedicated to the Dutch part in the Holocaust,” he said.  The authors of the textbooks also widely disagree on the number of NSB (Dutch National Socialist Party) party members. This number varies in the books from 50.000 to 200.000.  Not one of them uses the same number. The amount of coverage each textbook offers on the Holocaust differs widely and they all provide little information about it.  Some spend just 5 lines on the Holocaust (addressing the German history of the inter-war period), while others devote hardly more than a page to it (primarily about the Holocaust in the Netherlands.) 

Although they mention basic information about concentration camps in Poland there is little effort to explain the Holocaust as a broadly European phenomenon. The textbooks approach the teaching of the moral aspects of the Holocaust in diverse ways but rarely pay much attention to them.  Pharos, avoids the moral question almost completely: “The Holocaust… was mainly the work of the terror organization SS (Schutzstaffeln),” it states. This oversimplifies the Holocaust and ignores the bystander issue and questions about the extent of active support for the Nazis in both Germany and the Netherlands.  One textbook, MEMO, does address the implications of the Holocaust for human morals, but only vaguely. “The Holocaust… changed our thoughts about human nature forever,” it says, leaving students unclear how and why such a transformation took place.  Little information is provided in the textbooks about who the Jews are and their history and culture.  Consequently, it is difficult for students to develop empathy with them and appreciate the magnitude of their destruction and its ramifications for European and Dutch history and culture.  

A third textbook, Sprekend Verleden (Speaking Past) integrates the subject of moral choices fully and clearly states that the Dutch people failed to protect the Jewish community.  It states, “The Dutch failed by not protecting their Jewish inhabitants.”  The summary text used to prepare students for high school final exams asks why the Dutch people failed to protect the Jews. It provides a weak rationalization that avoids confronting the moral choices faced by the Dutch.  “That most Dutch people accommodated to the German occupation is not surprising…” it says.  The authors offer reasons such as the “ the lack of a resistance mentality in the Netherlands” and the “lack of knowledge about what was really going on” without explaining these reasons or examining information that may potentially contradict them.  Sprekend Verleden recognizes the fact that individuals do have autonomy in facing up to moral questions about their own actions.  It even states that this was a major question for people in the war. “It is for sure, that the longer the war took, the more people started to have problems about what they ought to do.” It also has students consider the moral choices made by different Dutch citizens in sidebars by the main text.  This textbook is not widely used anymore because it is considered to be too challenging for many students, according to Karen Polak. 

That only one of the books touches upon this very difficult issue of moral choices indicates that the Dutch ambivalence about the role of ordinary Dutchmen in collaborating with and accommodating the Nazi persecution is still a problem.  Historian Chris van der Heijden says that in the past in the Netherlands,    “Nobody really wanted to show the real picture, because then we would know, that a great many (Dutch) people had butter on their heads.”(were deliberately ignoring their role in the war.)  Journalist Sander van Walsum stated simply that:  “The Dutch have a lot of difficulty with their own role.” All of our interviewees stated that since the 1980s there has been a vast shift in public opinion, and a willingness to confront the less savory aspects of Dutch behavior during World War 2. But most also noted that some of the ambivalence lingers. Polak said, “Twenty years ago the Holocaust was hardly mentioned at all. Maybe just for three sentences. Now there’s an improvement, but it’s very limited. There are 300 words now…” Textbook authors seem to find it very hard to find space to discuss the Holocaust; to get the facts right, to address moral questions facing people during the Second World War and to enable students to make an empathetic connection with people during those time. All but one seems to fail on every one of our educational goals. 

According to Dr. Elise Storck, from the Interfaculty Center for Teacher Training at the University of Leiden (ICLON), the government has made little attempt to remedy the situation through concrete measures such as commissioning new educational curricula on the Holocaust and distributing it to teachers. According to Storck, in 1988 the government realized that many Dutch youth knew little about the Holocaust or confused basic facts about it. In response, it organized conferences that were open to educators around the country who were asked how to implement an effective Holocaust education curriculum.  The result was a highly successful handbook with sample lessons. Since then, however no such initiative has been undertaken again and the materials from the handbook have not been integrated into textbooks, where they would reach a larger audience. 

Polak cited this as an area of concern in Holocaust education and stated that in the Netherlands, “We don’t have a proper Holocaust education curriculum for secondary schools.”  When we asked why there was nothing done about the treatment of the Holocaust in textbooks, she explained that there is no pressure-group to influence the publishers of history education books on Holocaust education.  She suggested that such a group could be instrumental in bringing about substantive changes. The lack of a textbook that addresses the Holocaust adequately makes the task of Holocaust education for teachers extremely difficult.  “What we need in Holland is a guideline for teachers”, said Polak. We asked her if she thought that the 1988 handbook on Holocaust education was helpful and she said that it was, but that an updated version was necessary.  She suggested that such a handbook should consist of essays that critically examine topics such as perpetrators of crimes, victims, and bystanders and the role of moral choices in the actions that all three groups of people took during the war. 

Polak noted that even in teacher training institutes Holocaust education is often minimal and inadequate. Teachers that are ignorant of the subject pass their ignorance on to the students. Polak said, “It’s not central in the teaching at the colleges. It depends on the teachers who trained them. It’s not compulsory.” This comment highlighted the recurring problem we found in the approach of the educational system to the Holocaust: It is characterized by the refusal to make any official requirements that will be enforced. The government makes goals that are wide in scope and generally unrealistic. It fails to offer teachers the necessary teacher training and curricular resources that would empower them to teach about the Holocaust effectively. The core problem is a lack of any accountability and any effort to link educational objectives with what actually happens in the classroom. 

Government Objectives Versus the Classroom Reality

Most teachers complained that the government goals were too expansive, both in terms of number of subjects in history covered and the concepts that teachers were expected to convey to students. Elise Storck said, “There is a gap between what I will like to do and what I can do. What you can say is that 0 minutes as a minimum is spent in Dutch secondary schools addressing the Holocaust to 50 minutes as a maximum… Officially there are so many goals, they are too extended.”  Theo van Praag,  coordinator International Relations at the Hoogeschool of Rotterdam, similarly stated, “Teachers will have to work very hard to make time for the Holocaust.” Time devoted to the study of history is limited and it is extremely difficult to teach students the diversity of subjects that a secondary school graduate is expected to know.  Evelien van den Boom, a history teacher at the Keizer Karel College in Amstelveen said  that in the 4th grade of high school, teachers must teach students twentieth century world history with only one and a half history hours a week. That is a virtually impossible task and consequently only one lesson is spent teaching the Holocaust. 

The De Rooy Committee on changes in history curriculum addressed this concern, proposing to limit the amount of topics being taught. It also proposed to focus history teaching on giving all students a common historisch besef (historical sense); to be able to teach all students a common set of historical references. The Committee made clear choices in which subject in history teaching should be addressed in primary and secondary education. Twentieth century world wars are one of them, which include the teaching of  “genocide (especially of the Jews) as the consequence of discrimination and racism” and “German occupation in the Netherlands.”   The De Rooy Committee merely reaffirmed these broad requirements, however, and did not offer new ideas on how to teach them more effectively or provide resources for doing so.  Consequently, it is unlikely that it will affect the quality of Holocaust education in the Netherlands.

In general, teachers were suspicious of government objectives and complained about the way in which it sets standards that fail to recognize the needs of the schools. Elise Storck explained that, “The professors (who set the history standards) don’t know anything about education but their influence is quite big. They don’t understand that school history and the goals of school history may be different than academic history. And [they do not understand how] to bridge the gap between historical knowledge and how to teach history.” Although Storck insisted that she could never afford to spend more than one class period on the Holocaust we learned that other teachers choose to focus on it in great depth. At the Barlaeus Gymnasium in Amsterdam, for example, students study World War Two and the Holocaust for several months. At Keizer Karel College, where Van den Boom teaches, a former teacher, whose father was shot in the war, also set up a extensive Holocaust educational program there. Students go on an excursion to the Holland Schouwburg in Amsterdam, the place where the Jews where rounded up by the Germans during the occupation. Nevertheless, these examples appear to be the exception and not the rule. Professors and other educators that we spoke to confirmed Storck’s statement that the Holocaust is rarely addressed in depth because of time constraints. They also confirmed that if the Holocaust were to be treated in a comprehensive way it would be impossible to address other subjects adequately.  This finding was especially troubling because we believe that to be successful Holocaust education must involve a far more extensive period of study. We asked Polak the minimum amount of time she felt was required to teach basic Holocaust education. “I would say that if you want to teach it sensitively you need 4-6 lessons, ideally 12 but that’s not realistic.” The moral and ethical issues involved, the challenge of cultivating empathy, and the knowledge necessary to address the subject with depth and sensitivity all require a substantial devotion of time, far more than the typical Dutch student is exposed to today. 

Dutch Ambivalence About Teaching Democratic Values

Teachers and government officials also expressed differing notions of how to transmit values. The government favors educational programs that actively promote certain liberal values such as tolerance. Teachers, while supportive of these values, were often skeptical of the way in which they were expected to transmit them.  Leen-Jan van Hot and Marja Jansen, teachers at the Barlaeus Gymnasium, rejected the notion that students should be told by teachers that democracy and human rights are inherently superior to dictatorship and oppression – they adamantly want students to discover this on their own through the study of history. Elise Storck expressed a willingness to embrace actively the values of “liberal democratic citizenship” but was skeptical of the superficial way in which she believes teachers often pass on these values. She worries, for example, that Holocaust education has become so fraught with clichés that few students are given the opportunity to reflect meaningfully on the moral choices that confronted the Dutch non-Jewish population during World War Two: to collaborate with the Nazis, to be indifferent to them, or to resist them actively. “It is very clichematic. We are so sorry for the Jews as it was so terrible. It doesn’t go further, to the civic and ethical component.” She also worries that images of graphic horror overwhelm students and their empathetic capacities shut down and therefore certain aspects of Holocaust education can be of detriment if they are not approached sensitively. “But what you don’t want to do is to make your pupils cynical or just to paralyze them.” Storck wants to have that reflect on the ethical choices that were made by all Dutch citizens, to teach them about the way “…that people did not react. That the perpetrators were human too. To teach the students that they could do that too.”

This conflict between the goals of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science and of teachers reflects a larger societal phenomena that we noted in our interviews: a postmodern ambivalence to explicitly endorse any particular value system, even those liberal values purported to be fundamental for Dutch democracy. What the Dutch government urges teachers to teach explicitly, many teachers believe is implicit in all history teaching, and that it happens without a deliberate effort. As Leen – Jan van Hot phrased it  “History is a way to teach an attitude on all moral issues, if I don’t have that idea, I would stop teaching.” When asked in our interview how he teaches “active democratic citizenship”, he half-jokingly stated that he did not even know what democratic values were, and how could he possibly teach such inherently undogmatic values in a seemingly dogmatic fashion.  

Although we strongly support this attitude of teaching students to think critically about morals and ideas we still find the resistance to foster deliberately and openly certain liberal democratic principles troubling. We are confident that teachers can and should enable students to realize why democracies are inherently more likely to preserve the rights of people to live in freedom than dictatorships. Likewise, teachers should enable students to realize that respect for human difference is vital to maintain a just society that ensures freedom for all. Teaching democratic values need not be dogmatic.  We do not wish for teachers to simply tell their students that democracy is a better form of government than dictatorship, for example.  But through the study of history, discussion, and debate students can learn these things based upon historical evidence.  They can examine, for example, why famines never occur in democracies and why democracies never go to war with one another. This will lead them to explore the subject of accountability between the voter and the person representing him.  They can also critically address conflicting democratic values such as the values of freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination. Having students analyze these conflicts and develop their own stances on them would be an ideal way to teach respect for democratic values and active citizenship.  There is a tension between the government and teachers’ objectives that needs to be resolved that allows teachers to retain their pedagogical freedom while meeting government objectives to transmit democratic values to students.  

Particularism Versus Universalism

One of the difficulties inherent in Holocaust education, particularly when it is taught within a moral and civic framework that emphasizes democratic values, is the tension between its particular and universal character and implications. Professor of Intercultural and Holocaust Education, Ido Abram, expressed concern that the Holocaust is often taught from such a universalistic perspective that its particular character is lost. He explained, for example, that students will learn about the Holocaust without learning much about Judaism and the Jewish people and understanding how they were integrated into European society.  Consequently, they view the Holocaust as just another human tragedy without understanding the historical conditions that made it possible – such as the effects of anti-Semitism on European attitudes towards the Jews. 

Abram criticized the Anne Frank Stichting for exemplifying this attitude. He questioned the moral and intellectual integrity of its rush to universalize.  “I have an argument with the Anne Frank Stichting. I am not satisfied with the content. (Of the Anne Frank House exhibit and of their educational curricula generally and the magazine that is mailed to Dutch elementary schools.) All the Jewish elements of the girl have disappeared in the exhibition. They are only interested in what is generally human in her, not what is Jewish in her… The way they speak about the Second World War there is no mentioning of Jews. It is Judenrein.” This, he stressed, has an enormous effect on Dutch educational programs on the Holocaust because thousands of Dutch students visit the Anne Frank House annually and in hundreds of schools educational curricula from the Anne Frank Stichting is used.  

We recognize that by teaching about the Holocaust from a universalistic perspective certain issues such as racism and inequality may initially resonate more strongly with students. Nevertheless, we adamantly believe that the challenge of effective Holocaust education is to teach students to empathize across divisions of ethnicity and religion, and not to obfuscate these very real differences. This does indeed make the educational challenge greater, but ultimately it yields a far more transformative and meaningful experience for the student. Karen Polak explained that the attitude of the Anne Frank Stichting on this matter is both pragmatic and principled, and that our stance, and that of Abram’s was too idealistic and unresponsive to the present Dutch reality. Polak is probably partially right, but we believe that education is an inherently progressive enterprise that is meant to inspire change - to push the intellectual and moral capacities of individuals and societies beyond their present point. Call us idealists.   

Cultivating Empathy

Having learned basic Holocaust history students should have the opportunity to discuss the possible motives people would have for making certain moral choices, good and bad.   Karen Polak explained that until recently Holocaust education was focused on teaching students about the moral choices made by resisters to Nazi oppression. Students rarely learned about how and why perpetrators made their moral choices.  Ido Abram said,  “You have to understand the perpetrators. There is no serious attempt to understand people like Hitler and Himmler.” For students to understand the Holocaust they must not dehumanize the perpetrators but recognize their humanity. This lesson is just as fundamental as empathizing with the victims because students need to learn that the capacity for evil rests within everyone.  Elisa Storck wanted her students not to perceive Hitler, for example as a monster but as a very real human. She said that she wanted students to ask, “What were the motives, how did it work that people were cooperating, were bystanders, just let it happen…” and to realize that,  “they could do that too.”  This notion, that the Dutch people, consisting of eleven million autonomous individuals during World War 2 that all made moral choices during the war still has failed to take root in Holocaust education curriculum.  We already saw in one of the textbooks how easily autonomous choice is left out of the moral discussion making it that much harder to do justice to the subject.

Of all the educational objectives of Holocaust education we think the ability and willingness to empathize with others is most valuable. Empathy allows individuals to find the universal within the particular, to respect that which makes people different but to recognize their common humanity. According to Abram, it is, “The ability to place the Holocaust inside their world rather than to keep it outside.” The capacity to empathize is an important component of sound moral decision making. Through empathy we learn to care about more people than ourselves and our immediate family.  We extend our sphere of moral responsibility outwards towards society at large. The relationship between the capacity for empathy and just action is a direct one. Although not all people need to empathize with others to assist them in times of suffering, empathy creates an impetus to action, an urgency that is critical in times of great moral stress. Rescuers during the Holocaust often explain their actions simply: that they recognized their common humanity with the Jews or another oppressed people, and that this basic empathy spurred them to action. Consequently we recognize that as students learn to think critically about moral issues and to debate their relative value, they need to be able to grasp the human implications of these seemingly abstract moral choices.


The major problems we found with Dutch Holocaust education are: 

1. Students may fail to acquire basic knowledge about the Holocaust because of inadequate amounts of class time devoted to it and textbooks that do not address it substantively. The Holocaust is placed within the larger context of World War Two, often without recognizing the distinctive moral and intellectual challenges that it represents. 

2. Freedom for teachers to determine curriculum should be reconciled with specific attainment goals for which teachers will be held accountable including: basic knowledge of the Holocaust, moral and civic choices, (the implications of choosing to be a bystander, for example), and strengthening students’ empathy skills.

3. The culture and history of the Jews is rarely addressed in textbooks and consequently students may have difficulty empathizing with them and understanding their role within Dutch and European society.

In response to these problems we suggest that the Holocaust be integrated into the curriculum of the new course developed for 16 year olds (the Dutch fourth grade) that addresses civics.  This will address the rights and duties for citizens in Dutch society, political rights in a parliamentary democracy, social rights of the welfare state, and cultural law that addresses the rights and responsibilities of living in a multicultural society.  We believe that teaching all Dutch students about the Holocaust in the context of a course on civics would be an ideal way to ensure that every Dutch student experiences a sound Holocaust education. We recommend the Facing History and Ourselves program, based in the United States and with a European office in Switzerland because its content and philosophy are so similar to both our educational objectives and those of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

The introduction to the Facing History curriculum states that,  “By studying the historical development of the Holocaust and other examples of collective violence students make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives.”  Facing History integrates the study of human behavior with the study of the history of the Holocaust and teaches students to consider and develop their capacity for moral agency and to be aware of the consequences of their actions.  The curriculum is informed by cognitive and moral development theory and practice and emphasizes the importance of analyzing differing perspectives, competing truths, and one’s own motivations and those of others. In its attention to moral choices and empathy, the way it links past and present and makes history relevant to students, and its commitment to nurturing respect for democratic principles and for the rights of minorities it would be appropriate for the new course proposed by the De Rooy Committee. 

We also recommend that the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science examine the standards set for Holocaust education by the State of New Jersey in the United States. New Jersey’s Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum, developed in 1994 and now in implementation offers valuable insights into ways of approaching Holocaust education from a civic context. Its 7th-12th grade curriculum requires students to confront challenging and comprehensive civic, ethical, and historical topics. It has a strong historical foundation based on the study of Jewish life in Europe before, during, and after the Holocaust; the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, German political and cultural history leading to the Holocaust, and the history of the behavior of individuals and nations under German occupation. An important feature of the curriculum is the study of other genocides and contemporary human rights issues. It requires students to consider how the Holocaust is unique as well as to consider what it has in common with other genocides. On this basis of historical knowledge key civic and ethical components are addressed that include but are not limited to: 

1. The nature of human behavior: obedience, conformity, silence, courage, integrity, empathy, and cruelty. 

2. The relationship, if any, between education/culture and the potential for genocide. Why was the Holocaust perpetrated by a civilized, highly educated people?

3. The concepts of prejudice, scapegoating, bigotry, discrimination, and genocide and their contemporary manifestations.

4. Resistance and intervention and non-action. (Resisters, bystanders, perpetrators, and related actors.) 

5. Related issues of conscience and moral responsibility including  subjects such as apartheid in South Africa and segregation and the civil rights movement in the United States. 

6. Review and study of genocides and atrocities of the past such as the: 

African – American (slavery), Native American, Armenian, and Cambodian as well as the more current ones in Bosnia and Rwanda.   

Both the Facing History and Ourselves program and New Jersey Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum are geared towards American students. However, with the proper changes that take into account the uniqueness of Dutch history, culture and civic and political values and systems they could be highly useful to the Dutch educational system. The Facing History and Ourselves program has been used successfully in Scandinavia and in several European countries and is adaptable for the Netherlands. 

You stand for decency in your life and how to deal with right and wrong, ethical or unethical… How you can apply these things in your life is also what it is all about.  You can only give the seeds in the schools… - Frieda Menco


Holocaust education, and education in ethics and civics is not only a project for the schools. It is the mandate of a democratic society that celebrates its commitment to freedom and tolerance to actively nurture these values throughout its culture. We place our faith in the transformative power of education, in its capacity to make us more sensitive to one another’s common humanity and to inspire us to defend the principles of freedom and equality with tenacity and vigor.  



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Niet zwart, niet wit, maar grijs. In: Vrij Nederland 03/03/01

De oorlog, wanneer was dat? In: Algemeen Dagblad 04/05/01

Frank Bovenkerk, 2000, The other side of the Anne Frank story: The Dutch role in the Persecution of the Jews in World War Two. In: Crime, Law & Social Change 43: 237-258. 

Anne Frank Krant, 2001.

Sprekend Verleden, Nijgh Versluys bv, Baarn, 1998.

VWO Examenbundel Geschiedenis voor 1990, Onderwijspers, Leiden, 1989.

Pharos, Meulenhoff Educatief bv, Amsterdam, 1998.

MeMo, Malmberg, Amsterdam, 1999.

Judith Goldstein, 2000, Anne Frank as Symbol. 

Ido Abram, ‘Education after Auschwitz’for young children as well! conference paper for The Amsterdam Conference on Remembrance, Westerbork,  02/05/01

Ira Zomberg, Classroom Strategies for Teaching about the Holocaust, 10 lessons for classroom use. Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, New York, 1992.

Rapportage inzake het beleid Jeugdvoorlichting Wereldoorlog II-Heden (1987-1993), WVC, Rijswijk, 1994.

Anne Frank House, Annual Report 1999, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, 1999.

Kristen Renwick Monroe. The Heart of Altruism: Perceptions of a Common Humanity. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996.  


www.facinghistory.org  Website of the Facing History and Ourselves Holocaust Education Program. 

www.minocw.nl  Website of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. 



Theo van Praag, Coordinator International Relations, Hogeschool Rotterdam

Karen Polak, Director of Educational Group Programming, Anne Frank Stichting

Elise Storck, ICLON: Interfacultair Centrum voor Lerarenpleiding Universiteit Leiden.

Professor dr. I.B. H. Abram, APS: National Centre for School Improvement

David Barnouw, Public Relations, Netherlands Institute for War Documentation

Frieda Menco, Former head of Liberal Jewish Congregation of Amsterdam and Holocaust Survivor

Sander van Walsum, Education Editor at Volkskrant

Leen-Jan van het Hot, history teacher, Barlaeus Gymnasium, Amsterdam

Marije Jansen, history teacher, Barlaeus Gymnasium

Professor Dr. W.W. Mijnhardt, Professor of Cultural History at University of Utrecht, Member of De Rooy Committee

Evelien van den Boom, history teacher at Keizer Karel College, Amstelveen

Rolf Wierenga, student at Willem Lodewijk Gymnasium, Groningen

C. A. Fuykschot, head of the department Thema’s & Aspecten, Department of Education, Culture and Science

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Netherlands Netherlands 2001


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