Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Young Brits Back Harry’s Costume, Although They Learn About Holocaust

January 18, 2005
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The publication of pictures showing Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party caused outrage around the world. But it seems that most of his British peers can’t see what all the fuss is about.

In the days following the furor, a poll published by the Sunday Mirror newspaper showed that although 71 percent of those interviewed thought Harry was wrong to wear the costume, which featured a swastika armband, more than half of those between 18 and 24 said the choice of outfit was acceptable.

The results were particularly dispiriting because they followed a recent BBC survey in which 60 percent of those younger than 35 claimed never to have even heard of Auschwitz.

It’s hard to understand this level of insensitivity in a country where the subject has been a compulsory part of the national curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds since 1991.

Although the 20-year-old prince was far from an outstanding student during his education at Eton College, one of the most prestigious private schools in Britain, he could not have avoided being taught about the Nazi genocide.

Britain also has a wealth of resources for Holocaust education, including the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire and Europe’s largest permanent exhibition on the Holocaust. The latter exhibit opened at London’s Imperial War Museum in 2000 and is visited by 25,000 schoolchildren each year.

Established in 1988, the Holocaust Educational Trust runs teacher-training courses and an outreach program for schools, taking high school seniors to Auschwitz.

But an effective strategy for Holocaust education takes time to develop, trust spokeswoman Emma Sandler said. “Students need to know that it is relevant today, not just a history lesson. It’s about tolerance, prejudice, anti-Semitism.”

That means ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust and World War II are not only taught but understood. Sandler pointed to encouraging new developments, such as the U.K. citizenship curriculum introduced in the last two years, which covers issues of justice, democracy and human rights.

The trust hopes the curriculum will provide the perfect vehicle for Holocaust education, with its latest project, a Web-based resource about the Holocaust, specifically designed to support the citizenship curriculum as it is developed in schools.

Community leaders also hope that a high-profile event such as Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on Jan. 27 and first was marked in 2000, can help to remedy the public’s apparent lack of awareness of the Holocaust.

A series of high-profile media events, including a BBC broadcast of the official national ceremony, will bring the issue of the Holocaust directly into people’s lives. Prince Harry’s grandparents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, will be at the ceremony, set for London’s Westminster Hall; so will Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The day “gives schools and the wider community something to focus on, which will help it become more ingrained in the public consciousness,” Sandler said.

That’s why, even though the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Prince Harry to join the British delegation to Auschwitz on the 60th anniversary of its liberation, Anglo-Jewish groups hope that the scandal does not eclipse the commemorations.

Although unanimously condemning Harry’s actions, Jewish groups and Holocaust educators largely accepted the brief apology that the prince, third in line to the throne, issued through the palace soon after the story broke.

“Harry shouldn’t be the center of attention on Holocaust Memorial Day,” said James Smith, Beth Shalom’s chief executive. He suggests that Harry visit the center, meet survivors and travel to Auschwitz, “but only once the attention has died down,” an option a royal spokesman said would be considered.

Smith sees an encouraging aspect to the prince’s ill-advised prank. “His actions have done an enormous amount to generate debate around the issues raised by Holocaust Memorial Day, and that has been very positive,” he said. “We should be pleased he that has highlighted something important — that knowing about history is not enough in itself. The Holocaust wasn’t just a stain on European history, it’s about why we desperately need to combat prejudice and discrimination in our own society.”

Recommended from JTA