Dr. Mehak Burza

Dr. Mehak Burza

Dr. Mehak Burza is one of the Board of Directors and the Head of Global Holocaust and Religious Studies as well as the program director of Holocaust Studies at The Global Center for Religious Research (Denver, United States). As an Assistant Professor of English, she has taught in various colleges of the University of Delhi. She was a selected scholar-in-residence for the ISGAP antisemitism workshop held at the University of Oxford. 

In the aftermath of the devastating October 7, 2023 attacks amidst the latest turmoil, agitation surges anew with the decision of the Ministry of Education of Israel to make Holocaust education non-mandatory in the high school curriculum. In contrast to the decision of the British Colombia Government in November 2023 which made Holocaust education mandatory for 10th graders in response to the Israel-Hamas war, the decision of the Israeli Government in January 2024 poses a striking juxtaposition. Further, granting teachers the discretion to decide whether to include Holocaust education in the curriculum on a case-by-case basis sends a dangerous message that the subject is optional or expendable, in a way suggesting that the emotional comfort of students takes precedence over the imperative of remembering the past and learning from it. While the intention may be to prioritize the emotional well-being of students, such a move risks undermining the fundamental importance of Holocaust education and the lessons it imparts. Such a policy also undermines the efforts of educators, survivors, and advocates who have dedicated their lives to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and ensuring that future generations never forget. It disregards the sacrifices of those who perished and the resilience of those who survived, and dishonours their memory by relegating their stories to the peripheries of the curriculum. Though it is understandable that parents and professionals may express concerns about the emotional and mental well-being of students, eliminating Holocaust education is not the solution. In fact, it is precisely during times of turmoil and tragedy that requires an urgent need for education that promotes understanding, empathy, and the rejection of bigotry in all its forms. Disseminating the knowledge of the Holocaust plays a vital role in this endeavour by providing students with the historical context and moral framework to confront hatred and injustice in their own lives and communities.

Guarding Against Amnesia: The Essentiality of Holocaust Education in High Schools 

It is important to bear in mind that Holocaust education is not just about the past; it is about shaping the future by equipping students with the knowledge, skills, and values to confront hatred and build a more peaceful and equitable world. It is not merely about imparting facts and figures; it is about cultivating empathy, critical thinking, and moral courage. It is a painful reminder and yet a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the imperative of never forgetting the past. By studying the Holocaust, students not only gain insights into the consequences of prejudice, but also learn about the dangers of propaganda, unchecked hatred, scapegoating, and erosion of democratic norms. As Holocaust education fosters critical thinking skills, it challenges the students to grapple with difficult questions about individual responsibility, moral courage, and the obligations of citizenship in a diverse and interconnected world. Holocaust education thus, requires to remain mandatory not only to honour the memory of those who perished, but also to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and values to confront hatred and injustice in all its forms. 

Navigating the Educator Dynamics 

Though the latest developments may indicate Israel and Hamas inching close to a ceasefire (writing on February 7, 2024), the Israel-Hamas war coupled with the decision of revising the requirement for Holocaust education to be optional is undoubtedly posing numerous challenges particularly to the educators. They are now faced with a multifaceted task of providing accurate information, fostering critical thinking, and promoting empathy and understanding among students during traumatic times that requires humility, integrity, and a commitment to truth and justice.

Foremost, the educators must navigate the sensitive nature of teaching about genocide, war, and mass atrocities. The events of October 7th  and the subsequent war represent a dark chapter in human history marked by unimaginable suffering, loss, and injustice. In presenting this history to students, educators must tread carefully to ensure that they convey the gravity of the events without overwhelming or traumatizing their students. This requires thoughtful consideration of age-appropriate content, sensitivity to students’ emotional responses, and the provision of adequate support and resources for those who may struggle with the material.

Furthermore, educators face the challenge of addressing the complexities and nuances of historical interpretation and memory surrounding the events of October 7th and the war. As history is often subject to interpretation, and different narratives may emerge based on individual perspectives, cultural contexts, and political agendas, in teaching about these events, educators must strive to present a balanced and nuanced understanding that acknowledges multiple perspectives while upholding the truth and dignity of victims and survivors. This may involve engaging with primary sources, encouraging critical analysis, and fostering open dialogue in the classroom.

Final Considerations 

As Holocaust education often intersects with broader issues of tolerance, prejudice, and human rights, educators must consider how to contextualize the Holocaust within the larger framework of history and connect it to contemporary issues such as discrimination, racism, and genocide prevention. This requires fostering a deeper understanding of the root causes and consequences of hatred and intolerance, as well as promoting empathy, respect, and solidarity among students. They must continuously strive to deepen their own understanding of the history and legacies of the Holocaust, engage in ongoing professional development, and seek resources and support to enhance their teaching practice. By creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment, where students feel empowered to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and engage critically with difficult topics, educators can help foster a deeper understanding of history, promote empathy and understanding, and empower students to become informed and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex world.

In light of these issues, the decision to grant teachers discretion over whether to include Holocaust education in the curriculum even for one year is a clarion call to pause, rewind and rethink. By relegating Holocaust education to the discretion of individual teachers, we might risk trivializing its significance and depriving students of the opportunity to confront the uncomfortable truths of history. Only by upholding the legacy of Holocaust education as a fundamental pillar of our educational system can we truly honour the memory of the victims and survivors and uphold the promise of “never again” in word and deed.