Educators in a country that confronted its own racist past recently learned new ways to teach about Nazi racism in the nation’s schools. A four-day seminar for educators was held Aug. 1-4 at the initiative of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, in consultation with South Africa’s national department of education.
Facilitated by Stephen Feinberg, the national outreach director for the education division of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, “Understanding Social Darwinism, Race, Eugenics and Human Rights” attracted more than 60 curriculum advisers, administrators, education managers and teachers.
The subject forms part of the new 11th-grade history curriculum, which examines how social Darwinism, race and eugenics motivated Nazi ideology and also partially influenced apartheid ideology.
The moral and ethical issues that arose out of the Holocaust are also being taught as part of a separate school curriculum for students in grades 10, 11 and 12.
Feinberg conducts educational programs throughout the United States, and through his association with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, he has worked in several European countries. It is not necessarily nations with troubled pasts that avail themselves of his services, he says, but rather countries that are “interested in learning about the Holocaust and how to teach it.”
Feinberg is full of praise for the work being done at the South African center and the quality of the local seminar participants, who came from seven of the country’s nine provinces.
“I think that the teachers here in South Africa are extraordinary,” he says. “They are asking questions and raising issues about this history within the context of South Africa’s past in a very constructive, positive way. I think their experience under apartheid has made them more understanding of the similarities and, more importantly, the differences between the history of apartheid and the history of the Holocaust.”
Holocaust education has until now, at least in the United States, been viewed as “pure history,” he says, without as much emphasis being placed on extracting ethical lessons and acting on them. “I think that in the 21st century, a lot more emphasis is being placed on helping people develop moral compasses.
“After all, of the 14 people who attended the Wannsee Conference to implement the Final Solution, seven of them had Ph.D.s. Therefore you ask yourself a question: Is education enough? Is there something more than education in educating about the Holocaust?”
Pam Bernardo, a history teacher at the Ned Doman High School in the Cape Town suburb of Athlone, which was once a town for mixed-race South Africans, says she learned a different way of approaching the Holocaust in the classroom through her participation in the seminar.
“We all know about Adolf Hitler and Nazi atrocities, but what bothered me is how neighbors could be blinded or choose to be blinded, could allow the kind of evil that occurred. Ordinary people were neighbors to Jews, and ordinary people turned away and allowed these things to happen. I was more horrified by just how you and I could do that.
The center, which opened in 1999, offers programs for high school students, teachers, university and college students, members of the civil service, the military academy and navy, corporations, prisons and a wide variety of other groups in South Africa.
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