Study: German universities neglect Holocaust studies
Despite investing heavily in Holocaust research, universities don't offer sufficient courses, study finds
Trying to come to grips with its past, Germany has invested significant resources in Holocaust research, but in one aspect its efforts appear to be lacking: Educating university students on the topic. German universities offer an insufficient number of courses about the Holocaust, claims a new study, strengthening experts' outcry over the overall neglect of the field.
Reviewing the course list of 79 German universities over the last two years (excluding institutions focused on science, medicine and music), researchers of the Center for Digital Systems (CeDiS) in Berlin found that on average each of them offers only 1.5 courses in connection with the Holocaust per semester.
A quarter of the reviewed institutions were found to offer no such lectures or just one course in the last four semesters. “It is clear that not at every university a basic knowledge about the Holocaust is provided,” deemed the study.
These findings illustrate the extent of the problem, says political scientist Dr. Johannes Tuchel, who advised the researchers. “We have no basis for teaching the Holocaust in German universities and it's a problem, an institutional problem.”
“Holocaust studies were never established in the academic world,” he continued. “Germany has a strong tradition of Holocaust research but it does not translate into a strong tradition of teaching. In other countries, like the US or the United Kingdom, these are accepted topics for teaching.”
The majority of courses relating to the Holocaust are offered in universities with ties to nearby Holocaust research institutions, like in Berlin, Munich or Hamburg. But there is only a handful of such institutions, explains Tuchel, leaving most students dependent on the personal interests of individual professors.
✕Currently, no university in Germany has a chair devoted solely to the study of the Holocaust. Frankfurt's Goethe University plans to be the first, with the establishment of such a professorship this year, a move already dubbed a milestone in German Holocaust research.
“Over the decades it was felt that there was no need for institutionalization of Holocaust research and teaching in Germany,” told Dr. Peter Klein, dean of a unique M.A. program in Holocaust Communication and Tolerance at Berlin's Touro College.
“Historians had the impression that it was only one part of German history and should not be detached from its entire course, so they were not willing to establish an institute. They didn't see it becoming an international topic of research and teaching.”
Tuchel, who also heads the German Resistance Memorial center, attributes this also to the presence of Nazi sympathizers who remained in office after WW2, including in universities. “We didn't change our people after 1945, so there was only a minority of researchers in the academic world who dealt with Holocaust Studies and to focus on this field would never guarantee a career.”
These views have changed, but the established practice is currently limiting the possibilities of students to educate themselves about the Holocaust. “All we are saying is that if you want to study the Holocaust, you should always have the opportunity to hear a lecture on the subject at your university without having to wait two or three years until the next course is offered,” stressed Tuchel.
This is particularly true for students en route to become teachers. “It's really appalling that even for teachers we have so few lectures,” noted the researcher. “Anyone who will later stand in front of pupils has to have taken at least one course that deals with the Holocaust and the Nazi system.”
Not providing future educators with enough information could harm the quality of education given to the next generation of school children, he says, “and from that point, to have no information, to say there was no Holocaust, it is only a small step.”
It is also possible that eventually schools will follow the universities' example, suggested Klein, and will also offer fewer lessons about the Holocaust and National Socialism, disregarding this chapter of history. “For future teachers, learning about the Holocaust should be mandatory,” agreed Klein.
The students, on their part, don't seem to show much objection. “There should be more classes about the Holocaust especially because I had none and I'm in the university now for three years,” admitted Laura (23), who is studying to become a Chemistry and English teacher. “It would be a great topic for a term paper.”
“We are already taught a lot in high school,” noted Simon (25), also a future teacher, “but teachers need a lot of general knowledge. This is a big topic for German teachers, so I think there should be a university class where students can learn more.”
“If people think that what they learned in high school is enough for them, that's fine,” emphasized Jana (25), a law student, “but every person should have the opportunity to learn more during their studies because then you have the time to go deeper into these topics.”
Demand isn't the problem – it's supply, say the experts. “If I were to give a lecture at the Free University, there are more people who want to hear it than there are places in the course, and this is also the experience of many of my colleagues,” argued Tuchel. “So it's really not a problem of people saying, 'we heard too much, we don't want to hear about the Holocaust anymore.’”
“Students and pupils are still interested,” agrees Klein. “We know this from the statistics at the German memorials - school classes aren't booking visits and lectures because the teacher planned to, but because the students want to have one. I don't think we have a so-called Holocaust fatigue here in Germany.”
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