Hannah Rosenthal serves as U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
The weather in Paris today reflected the mood in UNESCO’s conference room — gloomy with a chance of sunshine. For just as the clouds were heavy, so too was the discussion of Holocaust education and how genocide and hatred still exist despite the global effort to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. And just as the sun poked through at the end of the day, so did the optimism that great minds can come together and tackle this problem.
Just last week, on January 27, the world remembered the victims of the Holocaust on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This week, while still remembering the victims, we sat down to discuss how to make “Never Again” a reality.
The morning started with a welcoming address from Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO. She highlighted the point that as the world becomes more interconnected and a new global history begins to emerge, it is necessary that the Holocaust be part of this global awareness and that the world understand how the Jewish history of the Holocaust has shaped our present.
Following Bokova’s remarks, we spent the day learning from experts who discussed how to shape this global history so that the mistakes of our past do not become the mistakes of our present. Yehuda Bauer of Hebrew University stressed in his remarks that the Holocaust could have been avoided. Not in 1939, however, when world attention only slowly and belatedly began to pay attention to Hitler; rather, the Holocaust could only have been avoided earlier, by a coalition of the willing who saw the writing on the walls and stood up before it was too late.
Later in the day, we discussed more thoroughly what that writing on the walls looked like, how it could have been stopped, and how such warning signs need to be taught to our children. Francois Masabo of the National University of Rwanda explained that every genocide, even a spontaneous genocide like the one in Rwanda, is planned. It is planned through propaganda, derogatory comments that become common and acceptable, and the language of inferiority and dehumanization. These lessons must be part of our Holocaust education — the bystander who adds to a culture of hate is not a bystander at all.
I had the honor to be a part of the last panel with UNESCO’s new Special Envoy for Holocaust Education, Samuel Pisar. Together, we spoke about the challenges of creating age-appropriate curricula. And, more so, how, if we really are going to do this correctly, these curricula need to not only be for our schools, but for our civic leaders, military, journalists, and our communities. As Mark Richmond, Director of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development at UNESCO said in closing, “Holocaust education in our schools alone will not solve the problem; the whole society must become a school for us to succeed.”
I’m so grateful I was able to be a part of this conversation and this Administration’s strong support for and contribution to UNESCO’s Holocaust Education program. Be sure to read President Obama’s statement and Secretary Clinton’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I look forward to continuing to work together to make “Never Again” a reality.
More information on Special Envoy Rosenthal’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism can be found on the Department of State’s website and on the Facebook page for the virtual campaign 2012 Hours Against Hate. Stay connected with Special Envoy Rosenthal on Facebook and Twitter.