Photo Credit: Yad Vashem
Opening ceremony: children from the southern region attending school at Yad Vashem.

Founded in 1953, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, is dedicated to Holocaust remembrance and education. Since October 7, we have seen many parallels between today’s events and those of Nazi Germany.

During her first interview one month after having been freed from Hamas captivity on November 30, Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli woman, said, “I went through a holocaust.”

Dr. Robert Rozett is the senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem.

Dr. Robert Rozett, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, told The Jewish Press that the fundamental core issues about the Holocaust still need to be taught because they never change.

“How we might go about doing it – those are pedagogical questions about how do you deal with it now with people under trauma,” he explained. “But we still need to teach them the same basic things about antisemitism, about Nazi ideology, about how anti-Jewish policies unfolded, how the Jews responded and how the world responded.” Rozett said that people understandably relate to events because of the similarity of the suffering, but he stressed that “you also have to keep the integrity of each of the events.”

Sheryl Silver Ochayon is the project director of Yad Vashem’s Echoes & Reflections.

Sheryl Silver Ochayon is the project director of Yad Vashem’s Echoes & Reflections, which empowers educators to teach about the Holocaust through their partnership with the Anti-Defamation League and the USC Shoah Foundation. After October 7, they created a frequently-asked question sheet for teachers to use with their students regarding the Israel/Hamas war. It asks questions such as, “What happened on October 7?”; “How does this conflict connect to the history of the Holocaust?”; and “The October 7 attack has been referred to as a ‘pogrom’ – what does that mean?”

The answers include references to how dormant antisemitism can be reignited during periods of extreme unrest, where Jews are scapegoated, and recycled antisemitic tropes used throughout history resurface. The Q&A also describes how the slogan “From the River to the Sea” is antisemitic and has genocidal intent, and how antisemitism can incite opposition to Israel’s right to exist.

The Q&A and lesson plans examine “Holocaust Inversion” – the hurtful act of equating Israel with Nazi Germany in an attempt to extinguish the pain and suffering of Jewish people and turn them through propaganda into hateful oppressors. Similarly, massacres that were committed by Hamas against Israelis on October 7 are being denied and blamed instead on the IDF. Ochayon referenced Dr. Gregory Stanton, founding president and chairman of Genocide Watch, who categorized the ten stages of genocide.

“The last stage in a genocide is always denial,” she said. “The genocidaire is always trying to get away with it.”

To counter the genocide while it’s happening and try to stop it, Ochayon suggests getting teachers to encourage students to take proactive measures to stand up against silence, indifference, and feeling too afraid to speak out. She explained, “We teach about the dangers of silence…especially leading up to Kristallnacht.”

A classroom in the International School for Holocaust Studies.

She relayed the testimonial of a Holocaust survivor, Kurt Messerschmidt, who was 23 during Kristallnacht. He was bike riding through Berlin with a friend when they spotted two brownshirts outside a cigar shop that had a shattered window. The brownshirts forced the owner, a little old Jewish man, to crouch down on his hands and knees and pick up shards of glass from the ground. Ochayon remembered Messerschmidt describing how there were “about 40 people who were all standing there and watching, and he said, ‘I know that many of these people felt the same way that I did, but their reaction was only silence. And silence is what did the harm.’”

Ochayon equates the silence of people during the Holocaust to the silence of women’s organizations and celebrities who stood up during the #MeToo movement, but said nothing about the brutal rapes and mutilations of Israeli women on October 7. Ochayon stated, “I think it became very clear from their silence that they’re basically antisemites, because if they’re willing to go to march and to have rallies for every single kind of women’s rights issue until Israel is involved, then obviously something is wrong here.”

To show solidarity for people who are being marginalized and persecuted, “You teach about how to be an ally,” she said.

Ochayon described how a grassroots movement unrelated to Yad Vashem called Project Menorah started a week before Chanukah this past year. “This was at a period of time when people were starting to take down the mezuzot on their doors, and a lot of Jewish people were afraid to be seen in public with any kind of Jewish signs on them… Somebody came up with the idea of let’s be allies… for the non-Jews, instead of just putting up a Christmas tree, let’s put a menorah in the window… printable menorahs, like paper menorahs in your window, to show we’re offering your support to the Jewish community.” Ochayon continued, “It was a beautiful project. I told all of the teachers that I have worked with, and I know that a lot of them participated.” Project Menorah quickly went global, with thousands of Jews and non-Jews from 16 countries and seven continents taking part.

On October 29, Yad Vashem partnered with Israel’s Ministry of Education to open a new school, The Path of Education, for about 300 displaced children from the south. It is located inside the International School for Holocaust Studies (ISHS), Yad Vashem’s educational department. When war broke out on October 7, the building and facilities were available, and students from first- through eleventh-grade enrolled. Some of the children have lost family members, and many have fathers and siblings who are fighting in Gaza. They come from the religious moshavim Kfar Maimon, Shokeda, Zemrat and Shuva, which were not directly attacked by Hamas.

Shani Lourie-Farhi heads Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies and is the principal of B’shvilei Hachinuch, which serves children whose communities were evacuated after Oct. 7.

Shani Lourie Farhi, the head of the pedagogy and educational project section of Yad Vashem, is the principal of The Path of Education. She relayed to The Jewish Press how two of the moshavim were miraculously protected on October 7. “A military helicopter that had soldiers on it had to land because they got hit, and all these soldiers…landed in an area that was full of terrorists, but they fought them, so essentially they saved Kfar Maimon and Shokeda.”

Posters about the Holocaust have been covered up to make students, many of whom are traumatized, feel more comfortable. Farhi explains that, especially when the school first opened, the students’ ability to concentrate and focus was hindered, and they suffered from separation anxiety. “A lot of kids (were) crying because they didn’t feel at home and they wanted their parents.”

Farhi said that transitory living situations present immediate challenges, as does living with the stress of not knowing if or when it will be safe to go back home. Students are shuttling back and forth between hotels, Airbnbs and homes of relatives, having to do homework in a lobby and sharing a crowded hotel room with siblings of different ages. “There are kids that within three months, have moved five times,” she said. Farhi explained that hearing sirens in Jerusalem heightens anxiety because “they’re used to having sirens in the south, but they moved to Jerusalem because it was going to be a safe place, so how is it a safe place if there are still sirens going off?”

Approximately 50 Yad Vashem historical educators have volunteered to teach these younger students. The Ministry of Education has also provided teachers who evacuated from the south, as well as a co-headmaster, a school psychologist and psychological counselors who work with the educators. The curricula are similar to those of the children’s previous schools, and art and phototherapy are offered to help the children express themselves. Farhi describes the close, trusting bonds between the teachers and students. Administrators take shifts to help watch over the children, and a Holocaust survivor came in to distribute lunch to the students.

Yael Richler is the International School for Holocaust Studies’ pedagogical director at Yad Vashem.

Yael Richler, ISHS’s pedagogical director, volunteered to teach seventh-graders when the school first opened, and she noticed that the students were using their cell phones in class. “I am known as a very stiff teacher,” she explains, “The first thing I would tell every group of youngsters is, ‘put your cell phones in the bag,’ (but) I couldn’t do that…This is their connection to normality. I was thinking of this mother that will call them to see that everything is fine, and he will not answer her.” She adds, “Regular problems of schools are 10 times, 100 times (more) here than at a regular school…. After some time, we were able to create some rules that will help us teach.”

Despite the immense challenges, Richler recalled how deeply moved she felt when heads of the Ministry of Education in Germany recently came to visit and told her, “What we love here the most is the open heart, that we feel the students are being taken care of.” She explained, “It moved me so much. It can happen only in a place where the staff is the one that wants to create this kind of place… to give (the students) some routine, to give them a safe place…to give them some education. I was so happy to hear that.”


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