Monday, May 18, 2009

German children will be forced to see concentration camp sites

German children will be obliged to visit the site of a Nazi concentration camp as part of their regular school curriculum. The move — to be introduced in Bavaria and likely to become the norm throughout the country — is in response to the almost fatal stabbing of a senior police officer by a neo-Nazi. "We have to take a stand against this far-right octopus, this tentacled monster," said Host Seehofer, the prime minister of Bavaria, who has ordered every ministry to come up with proposals to stamp out neo-Nazi influence in southern Germany. They will feed into a comprehensive action plan to be unveiled next week. "The first thing we have to do is set up a website that will give a point of contact to everyone who has problems with far-right extremists," Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian interior minster, said. "Our aim must be to bring up kids so that they can resist any attempt by the far-Right to lead them astray." In the Bavarian case this will mean a compulsory visit to a concentration camp — usually Dachau, outside Munich — or former offshoots of camps where slave labourers were forced to work for the German war effort. History lessons will also include excursions to centres that document Nazi crimes such as the one that has been set up near Hitler's Alpine refuge on the Obersalzberg. Every school to get Holocaust specialist Chief Rabbi: Auschwitz so "evil" for years I could not visit The German educational system is organised on federal lines and some regions already take high school students to former camps. The Holocaust is taught in every senior school during history lessons and in civic studies. Some religion teachers also draw on the moral choices faced or neglected during the Third Reich. The curriculum of North Rhine Westphalia — where camp excursions are already common practice — stipulates that teachers must emphasise the Holocaust from the perspective of the victim. German experience in teaching about Nazi atrocities is being used to inform a new British scheme to engage a Holocaust specialist in every seconday school. The Holocaust Education Trust recently received £1.5 million from the British Government to send two sixth-formers from every school to Auschwitz. German Holocaust education, though taken very seriously by education ministries, is often sloppy in its implementation. It is too easy for pupils to dodge out of a camp excursion and the children are often left to their own devices when they arrive at the site. The Bavarian plan is supposed to bring more rigour into the visits and if possible to link up the children with a camp survivor. Moreover the teaching of the Nazi period is supposed to be conducted not in a historical vacuum but to be compared with contemporary anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. The Bavarian authorities see a direct link between Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi violence. Some of the measures to be introduced next week include a new programme to encourage young people to extract themselves from far-right groupings —they often stumble into a gang and stay because of peer-pressure — and a crackdown on Germans who use American websites to access forbidden material glorifying Hitler and the Third Reich. Neo-Nazi sympathisers circumvent strict German laws by making contact with American-based mail order companies who send out Nazi memoribilia and German-language pamphlets on the Third Reich. "We are going to talk to the US authorities about this," said Mr Herrmann. "It is not acceptible that publications denying the Holocaust should be made available here." Holocaust denial, the display of the swastika, the sale of Hitler's memoir Mein Kampf and the raising of the straight-armed Hitler salute are all banned in Germany. The Bavarian action — long overdue, according to officials from other regional states — was triggered by an assault on Alois Mannichl, chief of police in the Bavarian town of Passau. He was famous for his hard line against right-wing extremists and there is little doubt that this was the motive for his doorstep stabbing. The culprit is still at large. Passau is a particularly sensitive place for such an attack. A young amateur historian, Anna Rosmus, kicked up a stir there in the 1990s when she exposed how many of the local bigwigs had been enthusiastic Nazis and how ordinary people had benefitted from, and exploited, forced labourers. The town turned against Ms Rosmus, who left for the United States. In the meantime, the old Nazi generation has died out or has no say in the town, but younger neo-Nazis, some of them the granchildren of Nazi veterans, have become active, stoking sentiment against foreigners.

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