On the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz by forces of Red Army, an online discussion entitled “New Approaches to Holocaust Education at the University” was held on January 27, 2021.
The discussion was organized by Documenta – Center for Dealing with the Past in cooperation with the Israeli, German and USA Embassies in the Republic of Croatia, with a main focus on the issues and challenges of university education on the Holocaust in the context of three decades of diminishing and relativization of the Holocaust and genocide against Serbs and Roma in Croatia. During the discussion, the participants analyzed complex social issues, highlighting examples of positive practice.
During the opening statement, the head of Documenta, Vesna Teršelič highlighted the disturbing trend of increase in hate speech and continued relativization of crimes committed during World War II, which is the product of thirty years of revisionist approach, concluding that nevertheless, certain institutional steps towards resolving open issues are visible, such as the decision of the Ministry of Science and Education to finance visits to Jasenovac Memorial Site or seminars for teachers, which are increasingly organized by Education and Teacher Training Agency.
The first participant was Oleg Mandić, witness of the times and the last prisoner of the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz in which more than a million people were killed, who left the camp alive. His grandfather was exiled from Istria in 1937 at the time of fascism for anti-Italian activities. He spoke about his life journey marked by active participation in the fight against oblivion, for example, as part of the manifestation “Days of antifascism” in Opatija, which is organized in cooperation with the local “Eugen Kumičić” high school. He also mentioned numerous public testimonies about his experiences, which happen more often in Italy than in Croatia, especially emphasizing the need for strong involvement of young people in building peace, tolerance and remembrance, while dealing with the past. He pointed out his great confidence in young people “who will become my mouth when I’m gone”.
The discussion was also marked by the speeches of the H.E. Ilan Mor, Israeli Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, and H.E. Robert Klinke, German Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, who stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to Holocaust issues in education and society, emphasizing the significance of learning from the past in protecting the human rights of minorities, from Jews, Roma and homosexuals persecuted during World War II, to all those exposed to hatred today. Mato Škrabalo from the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs announced the Croatian presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which begins in 2023, and presented the activities of the Croatian delegation to the Alliance.
In an exhaustive discussion, Dinka Čorkalo Biruški, a professor at the Psychology Department, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, emphasized the need to adopt lessons from the past for a better future, so that educational institutions become places where social narratives that shape consciousness and conscience are transmitted, because it is “very important to understand the nature of good and evil in a certain historical period, as well as to understand what people can do to prevent crime, and what consequences inaction can have.”
Hrvoje Klasić, professor at the History Department, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, commented on current issues and the intertwining of the cultural and political sphere in Holocaust issues. “Until a year or two ago, we had ministers in the Government of the Republic of Croatia who had a picture of Ante Pavelić on their wall. We react when reprimands come from abroad, and during the rest of the year we tolerate or even promote something that is completely unacceptable, such as Ustasha symbols.” Nevertheless, “big steps forward were made, textbooks are much better, but there is still room for improvement and I hope we are moving towards a better time.”
Ivica Kelam, professor at the Philosophy and History department, Faculty of Education, University of Osijek and Kristina Dilica, enrolled in the “The Education System and Perspectives for Education” doctoral program and Croatian language teacher, emphasized the importance and possibilities of an interdisciplinary approach to education as a way to comprehensively connect and develop topics through a method of creating a more concrete and broader picture, such as illustrating the experience of racism and discrimination on the example of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, or teaching at the Department of Croatian or Italian Studies, as well as analyzing relevant literary works, such as books of Primo Levi or The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
The discussion ended with questions from the audience and closing remarks of Oleg Mandić, who as an eighteen-year-old managed to resist his own hatred of Germans who were visiting Opatija, calling on everyone to get involved and build a better society together “because hatred benefits no one”.
The discussion on the occasion of the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Nazi and Fascist Regimes and their collaborators, such as the regime of the Independent State of Croatia, was also attended by primary and secondary school pupils. Their teachers and university professors stressed the importance of exchanging good practices in Holocaust education and opposing the relativization of crimes.
Recording of the webinar is available here.