For Dutch educators, Islamophobia can be a teaching aid for Holocaust studies

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority this week hosts a week-long seminar for 21 teachers, the first run by the museum for Dutch educators, with one day devoted to discussions about teaching Holland’s Muslim minority about the Shoah.

When teaching Holocaust studies to Dutch Muslim teenagers in Amsterdam, Mustafa Daher says he first has to defuse his pupils’ own hostility toward Jews and Israel.

“If I don’t capture their interest, then I have done nothing. So I use the rising Islamophobia to help them connect to the persecution of the Jews,” the seasoned educator says.

“For example, I tell them that when the Nazis suspected someone was Jewish, they would pull down his pants to see if he was circumcised. Then I remind my Muslim students they are also ‘snipped.’ So they, too, would’ve ended up in a concentration camp,” says Daher.

Judith Whitlau, who teaches groups about the Holocaust at the Dutch Theater in Amsterdam, says she has to contend with another analogy.


“Some point to media reports from the occupied territories, and they want to know what exactly Israel itself is doing to internalize the Holocaust’s lessons as it preaches others should do.”

But not all the teachers in the group have Muslim students. Franca Verheijen teaches at an affluent school in Leiden, some 35 minutes by train from Amsterdam. There, drawing parallels between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism can be counterproductive.

“If I make this connection, some students usually reject the analogy, saying that unlike the Muslims, the Jews never engaged in terrorism,” she says.

Another charged issue for the teachers is the question of complicity. Some 100,000 Dutch men and women belonged to the country’s Nazi party during the war, openly collaborating with German authorities.


Despite this, Meir Villegas Henriquez from the Hague-based Jewish non-profit Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), said he wouldn’t want to see a whole chapter in the school curriculum on Dutch Nazis.

“We’re here to educate, not blame,” the delegation organizer said.

Other participants in the seminar – which is partly funded by the Dutch government’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies – were also hesitant about the issue.

“For many people this is taboo and we can’t afford to waste our two weekly hours [for history] on it,” said Wout Claessens from the eastern Netherlands.

One advantage Dutch teachers have over colleagues abroad, they all agreed, was the diary of Anne Frank, the world-famous manuscript written in hiding in Amsterdam by the young girl who later died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.


Her story, which is mandatory reading in Dutch elementary schools, is still very useful in helping young pupils connect to the Holocaust, the teachers said. According to Henriquez, Frank’s image is so indelibly etched into the Dutch psyche, that it can sometimes overshadow current problems.

“When our organization, CIDI, released its annual report last month on a 64-percent hike in anti-Semitic incidents, the study received less exposure than the decision to fell the tree outside Anne Frank’s hiding place,” he complained.

“Her story is a big frame of reference, but the Netherlands still has a Jewish population which is facing some challenges.”

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Ha'aretz, Israel
Jan. 3, 2008
Cnaan Liphshiz and Ruthie Pliskin
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This post was last updated: Jan. 3, 2008