29 September 2021

‘Holocaust Education and Increasing Antisemitism: A Triptych Approach’

Article in Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism – Vol. 4.1, Spring 2021

Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism - Vol. 4.1, Spring 2021

I was very pleased to be asked by the Editor to write an article for the ‘Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism’ last year. I could chose the topic and therefore chose something that I have pondered about for a long time.

Many years ago on a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem I attended a lecture given by the late David Bankier, a Holocaust historian based there. At the end I asked him why with all the Holocaust Education going on antisemitism was also increasing. To be honest I cannot remember what he said but he died in 2010 so you can see I have been thinking about the topic for some time.

My work as a Founder Trustee for the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Trust made me very aware of the considerable effort put into teaching about the Holocaust. But it also made me aware of the fact that so often we were preaching to the converted. In spite of all the amazing work being done all over the world, people are still very ignorant about the scale and the impact of the Holocaust. There are scary statistics about the number of people who have never heard of Auschwitz, have no idea how many Jews were murdered and that the figures included 1.5 million Jewish children.

Over the summer of 2020 when I was confined to my flat because of the pandemic I heard about the accusations made that the Jews were responsible for Covid. I reflected on the fact that 700 years after the Jews were blamed for the Black Death, not much progress appeared to have been made. Other issues that I began to think about were the relationship between antisemitism and antizionism and the argument that teaching about the Holocaust portrays the Jews solely as victims.

I learnt a great deal about Holocaust education in other countries and in particular the lack of uniformity in the approach within different states. I was particularly impressed by the Hungarian University which insisted that before students could graduate they had to complete the Holocaust module.

Suddenly the pictures of triptyches came into my mind. Usually seen in old churches, a triptych is defined as a painting in three sections with two wings and a major image in the middle. I associated them with Christian places of worship but was pleasantly surprised to find on Google that Jewish artists use that format too. In fact the Jewish Museum in London has one by Benjamin Godines from the 17th century and Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985) made a tapestry triptych for the Hall of the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem – the Knesset. See https://main.knesset.gov.il/EN/About/Pages/Building/ChagallHall.aspx for information on Chagall’s tapestry triptych.

I therefore concluded from my research and also from my experiences of lecturing and teaching about the Holocaust that a more comprehensive approach was required. I propose a triptych approach with the first wing dealing with Jewish life before the Holocaust – all the wonderful communities and richness of their lives as well as the pogroms, the middle section would deal with the Holocaust and the final wing would deal with Jewish life after 1945 both in the remaining diaspora and in Israel. It would highlight Israel’s successes out of the ashes of the Holocaust and also the expulsion of around 850,000 Jews from Arab lands after the re-creation of Israel.

I would hope that such a three pronged approach would create a more complete picture of Jewish life during the millennia since our dispersal by the Romans in 70 AD and educate people more fully about the realities of Jewish life.