A new EuroClio project: Who were the victims of the National Socialists?

Enabling young people to gain a deeper understanding of the roots of discrimination in the present by researching the victims of National Socialists is the goal of our new project. To achieve this, we will design, develop, and test local youth-empowered history projects around the key question “Who were the victims of the National Socialists?” in six countries. This will be done by an interdisciplinary cross-border team of history educators, specialists in the history of National Socialism, and museum educators in close cooperation with youth and community members.

Rationale for this project

On paper all citizens are treated equally. Constitutions do not differentiate between sex, gender or religion, ability, and all citizens above a certain age have voting rights.  The reality, however, is very different: Every day there are people in Europe who are suffering from racism, LGBTIQ hostility, anti-Semitism, anti-gypsism, discrimination, and xenophobia. The lack of justice and equality in society, makes people lose faith in democracy and human rights, give space for nationalism and populism, and undermines democratic values and systems. The best chance to realise a future that does justice to the promise of democracy and human rights, is education. To achieve this, there is a lot of potential to learn from the history of the National Socialist in Europe, especially since is the topic that might be most common in the history curricula in Europe.

Youth empowered history projects

As part of this project, students and educators from 6 countries representing North Europe, West Europe, Central Europe, East Europe, South Europe, and South East Europe. Our idea so far, is that students will start learning from the sources they like - such as games, tv series and books. They will then continue learning through place-based learning at museums, memory sites, archives, and NGO’s, and use their findings to improve their answers. Finally, they will learn from historical sources – selected by their teacher - to get an even fuller understanding of who the victims were. By this point, students will have acquired deep knowledge of all victims, including those who received less attention in the past (such as people with disabilities, Roma, Sinti, and Travellers, LGBTIQ, political dissenters). As a final step, the students will us their acquired knowledge to reflect on contemporary issues and think what can be done to prevent historical injustices to continue in the present. In each step of the process, the students will work together with peers, share research findings and lessons learned.

Outcome of the project

The project will result in several outputs that EuroClio and the Max Mannheimer Study Centre, intend to use as part of their educational programmes and membership services, and which will enable them to spread this as an inspiring practice across Europe:

  • A promotional video with footage from students and educators who are directly involved in the project that explains the rationale for the project, demonstrates how the project works in practice, and convinces educators to explore and use the toolkit.
  • A toolkit with a step-by-step instruction on how to design the history project for students, support materials (such as the peer-to-peer tutorials) for each step, including preparation and assessment. The toolkit will be translated in the official languages of the countries where the student history projects take place.
  • A research report on the effectiveness of the project in terms of learning outcomes.
  • An internal and external evaluation of the project.

A say for communities affected by the history

For the development of the project, we will consult representatives and members of the Jewish community, LGBTIQ community, Roma, Sinti, and Travellers, and people with disabilities on the design of the toolkit, and seek advice from academics who are specialised on the history of these groups during the National Socialist era. For each of these group there will be a Council Member representing this group.

A new partnership

The Max Mannheimer Study Centre is an extra-school educational institution that aims to enable, first and foremost, young people from throughout the world to take a more in-depth look at contemporary history. The educational services include single or multiple study day courses for school classes, youth association groups, students, and other interested groups. The Max Mannheimer Study Centre is running a variety of projects, including international youth exchanges, and offers educational programme for schools, teachers in training, and NGO’s. The focus is placed on examining and discussing the National Socialist period in general, with special reference given to the history of the Dachau concentration camp. Our joint project offers the Study Centre an opportunity to make teaching about the Holocaust easier in Europe, to reach more teachers and more students through participant-centred-learning. The project teams will benefit a lot from the knowledge and experience of the Study Centre, on the Holocaust and crimes committed by the National Socialists.

A new agenda

The project is supported as part of the Education Agenda NS-Injustice, an initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Finance (BNF) and the EVZ Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, which was created in response to the worrying increase in antisemitism, antigypsyism, racism and LGBTIQ hostility and acts of violence and attacks, such as the recent attacks in Hanau and Halle, are occurring with increasing frequency. The idea is that lesson about the National Socialist past and the visualization of experiences of those affected by persecution, will reinforce democratic attitudes, and counteract antisemitism, antigypsyism, racism and LGBTIQ hostility, and project like these, are needed because learning about this period is on the decrease, with generation of survivors and with increasing temporal distance.

Next steps

The next steps will be to work with the project advisors and partners, on the human resourcing of the project. As soon as we are complete, we will all the team members together for a work meeting early next year at the Max Mannheimer Study Centre in Dachau.

Are you interested in this new EuroClio project or believe that you can help us achieve the project outcomes? Please email Executive Director Steven Stegers (secretariat@euroclio.eu).

Virtual Discussion – “75 Years Since: How We Remember World War II in Europe”

On 2 September 2020, the world is marking the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II (WWII). The war remains one of the most painful and conflicting episodes of the European nations’ memories. Many current conflicts are embedded in history and in the use of history as a political tool.

On May 2020, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum released a short film - “Clash of Memories: 75 Years after the End of WWII in Europe”. The film deals with historical memory and different modes of remembrance in Germany, Poland and Russia.

Taking the film as a starting point, the speakers will seek answers to the following questions:

  • What are the main narratives of remembrance surrounding WWII in different European countries? Who are the major actors in the process of commemoration?
  • How does the clash of memories emerge? In which way do the current conflicts of memories relate to each other?
  • How is the topic reflected in history school education? Is a unified history (textbook) possible?
  • What can be done to resolve these conflicts deriving from the historical past?

All participants are encouraged to actively contribute to the discussion and share their thoughts and narratives from their own countries.

Speakers:

  •  Jörg Morré, German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst (Germany)
  • Alexandra Polivanova, International Memorial (Russia)
  • Jan Szkudliński, historian, former specialist at the Museum of World War II (Poland)

Moderator:

  • Steven Stegers, EuroClio (the Netherlands)

The discussion will take place on 2 September 2020, 4pm – 6pm, via Zoom. The language of the discussion is English, no interpretation will be provided.

To register click here.

 

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was established in 2011 by non-governmental organisations as a permanent common platform. At the moment, 183 NGOs from Russia and the European Union are members or supporters of the Forum. It aims at developing the cooperation of civil society organisations from both Russia and the EU, and greater participation of NGOs in the EU-Russia dialogue. The Forum has been actively involved, inter alia, in the question of Visa facilitation agreements, the development of civic participation, the protection of the environment and human rights, as well as dealing with history and civic education.

To watch the short film “Clash of Memories: 75 Years after the End of WWII in Europe” please click here. The film is a follow-up of the Touring Exhibition “Different Wars: National School Textbooks on World War II”, which was shown in 2016-2019 in 20 cities and towns in EU member states, Belarus and Russia.

Supported by:

Knowledge and/or Active Citizenship – What does Dutch Youth know about World War Two?

Jonathan Even-Zohar Articles , , ,

Knowledge and/or Active Citizenship – What does Dutch Youth know about World War Two?

The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport) is committed to remembrance, research, and education related to the Second World War. On 21 June, it organised a mini-conference, inviting an array of Dutch stakeholders, including museums, archives, research centres, remembrance organisations, and history educators. I also attended this very interesting conference and hereby share my report.

The conference was in fact the launch of a new study, commissioned to the HAN University of Applied Science (based in Arnhem-Nijmgene), led by Dr. Marc van Berkel, which is aimed at helping the Ministry face the challenges of keeping the memories of the experiences of World War Two alive in a society where the eye-witnesses are dying out.

This study (available here in Dutch) puts forward a wide range of research findings. Essentially, around 1200 young people (ages 13-19) were surveyed on their factual knowledge, the sources from which they delve this knowledge, their assessment of these sources, and their attitudes with regard to the history of the Second World War. The survey put forward various names, places, events, processes, and concepts related to World War Two and mainly provides an impression on the state of factual knowledge on this topic.

One by one, representatives of key organizations in this sector commented on the findings:

Kees Ribbens (NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies) commented on the overly positive results of the survey, stressing that the majority of surveyed youth would like to learn more about the topic. He emphasized how the persecution of Jews is much more well-known than other aspects of the war, such as the military aspect, and that the Western European perspective is clearly dominant in the known narrative.

At the same time, he alluded to the conclusion that many concepts (like collaboration, genocide, antisemitism) are much less known. Since two-thirds of the respondents did not answer that it would be better to forget everything about the war, remembrance is actually seen by the youth as very important. He suggested this could also be related to the societal presence of the war as essentially a collective experience and a moral benchmark in schools, museums, and even in public history, including entertainment such as films.

His overarching conclusion drawn from the report, however, was the need for a more critical foundation to enrich this collective understanding. Yes, it seems youth have core knowledge, which is good for keeping the memory of the victims alive, but societal expectations about what is expected to be known about this war is in flux – for example, the need to understand the worldwide historical processes of the war.

Ton van der Schans, President of the Dutch History Teachers Association, VGN) compared this research to earlier research which had also laid bare how much more importance is given to this topic in history education than to any other topic, and within this topic by far most attention is given to the Holocaust. This situation, in his view, is justified by the way in which citizenship, and related values as freedom and justice, is morally benchmarked in The Netherlands with, and through, deliberation on this history.

Van der Schans also wished that the survey would look more into students' attitudes and historical thinking instead of the focus on factual knowledge. Yet, he also unfolded a plea for storytelling in history education, stating that "We, as a society, need a story, a narrative. This is the way in which individuals can actually be deeply motivated for history." Building on this, he expressed his wish that teachers would be able to work more with life stories, and local/regional histories, to make sure that the stories told relate well to the students. If students then have a migration background, he stressed, different stories might be needed.

Norbert Hinterleitner (Head at Education Department at the Anne Frank House) shared his optimistic view that these were impressive results and could be taken to be the result of a lot of care and attention for dealing with heritage and remembrance of World War Two. However, he did share his concern that more attention is needed for the wider historical context. While it is laudable that 99% of respondents can recognise Anne Frank from a photo, much fewer respondents can say that she actually came from Germany. He added that the international aspect seems to indeed be quite unknown, as Eastern Europe and Asia rarely feature in the view of history teaching. He also questioned this need by asking: "Even if all this could be provided, should young people be forced to obtain all this factual knowledge? What space is then left for them to interpret it and apply it in their own lives?" He urged therefore, for future studies, and to explore the deeper understanding related to behavioural patterns in society, as well as the value of the rule of law in the context of the protection of minorities: "Will we score equally important high figures? It will show the value of history and civic education."

Jan van Kooten (Director of the National Committee for 4 and 5 May) also reflected positively on the results of the survey. He discussed in more detail the section of the survey that looked into attitudes – for example, how respondents assessed whether the Second World War is the main influence on the way they think about Freedom (60%), Human Rights (42%), and Racism (34%). He applauded the role of the Ministry in looking at this topic from so many angles and supporting the sector in a broad way, ranging from remembrance to research and education. His key warning, however, was that the survey results may not be able to properly represent all of Dutch society. There seem to be large segments of society which at the moment can hardly be reached. But, with new multipliers, for example, young Dutch rapper Ronnie Flex, with millions of views online, was made Ambassador for Freedom by the committee and this seems to help in reaching difficult target groups.

Kees Boele (Chair of the HAN University of Applied Science) pointed to the fundamental importance of learning history for establishing a personal compass for ethics, which goes beyond the knowledge of facts. He went further to state that this function of education should be made, and seen to be, the very centre of learning. While schools are made more and more to function like factories, and the sector as a whole is seeing education as a feature of the market, with students as consumers of knowledge and teachers as facilitators of learning, he feared that the possibility to think freely in wrestling with concepts of good and evil would disappear. This survey, he held, would need to support that development in education.

Marc van Berkel (Researcher at the HAN University of Applied Science) who led this research stressed the need for more qualitative research to follow up, and - indeed - ensure that empathy, and the ability of people to look beyond their own opinion, should be the prime concern going forward. "It may ultimately not matter if people don't know who Himmler was," he continued, "but if they don't know which activities his policies created, and what kind of trauma these policies left, there is an unbridgeable gap in our understanding of democracy and citizenship."

The final comments of the day were delivered by Erik Gerritsen (Secretary-General at the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport) who affirmed the current government's support to the development of historical knowledge and transfer of values. He expressed that the recommendations of the study would be taken into account in the further development of measures to prevent intolerance, and to keep retelling the history of the World War Two, as it uniquely provides citizen's alertness to learn from the past.

So, what have I made of all of this? Some conclusions:

The report did not make any particular political news. It was ultimately good news, and did not have media-sensitive 'clickbait.' It surely will be used as an initial measurement and hopefully can continue to function as this in the years to come.

European partnerships and the work of EuroClio, the Council of Europe, and many European-funded projects and frameworks are completely missing from this national discussion. This is especially problematic and worrying because so much thinking about these issues has already been done and did not seem to really feature. In addition, looking at the way in which Europe struggles with democracy at the moment, it would be good to have more governmental (public) cooperation on these issues happen not only on the cross-border levels, but also be visible on the national stage.

It is good to look into how historical topics which feature so strongly in the collective memory are actually perceived by a new generation of young people. This survey indicated some interesting trends, and it could be very interesting to see how this plays out across Europe, where some very concerning developments can be seen, including revisionism and political flirtations with fascist legacies.

On a more social note, with the exception of the chair of the day, Tasnim Van den Hoogen (Director at the Ministry), all speakers were male, white and 'of a certain age.' I admit I only realized this myself when I actually started typing up this report. As inclusion and diversity were mentioned quite a few times, it would have perhaps been good to explore and reflect this in the event itself.