Australia/Israel Review

Lessons that must not be forgotten

Dec 16, 2020 | Sharyn Mittelman

Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre
Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre


Seventy-five years after the Holocaust ended, its memory is tragically already fading from public awareness. As the last survivors pass away, it has become critical to preserve their testimonies and teach their stories to future generations, especially as antisemitism and Holocaust denial become increasingly widespread online.

Survey after survey has revealed shocking results. In September 2020, a survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that two-thirds of young Americans do not know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and one in 10 adults under the age of 40 does not believe the genocide happened. The survey involved interviewing 10,000 people between the ages of 18 and 39 – 200 from each US state. Meanwhile, a 2019 poll in the UK found that one in 20 British adults does not believe the Holocaust happened, and 8% said that the scale of that genocide has been exaggerated. 

Thankfully, there are a number of initiatives now being undertaken in Australia to ensure that children are being taught about the Holocaust and its universal lessons. Following disturbing reports of antisemitic incidents at public schools in Victoria last year, in February the Victorian Government announced various programs to counter antisemitism and also stated that education on the Holocaust would be mandatory for Years 9 and 10. The Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino stated, “It is critical that each generation understands how hatred and discrimination led to something as horrific as the Holocaust in order to fight intolerance and prejudice in our own communities.”

While Holocaust education on its own is not sufficient to stop antisemitism, it can help in countering religious, racial and political sources of anti-Jewish hatred, and is of course essential to learn about in and of itself. 

Currently Victoria and NSW are the only states in Australia to make education on the Holocaust compulsory, despite it being included in the Australian curriculum which all states and territories are expected to use as a guide.

In February, Minister Merlino announced that the Victorian Government would work with Gandel Philanthropy and the Jewish Holocaust Centre to review and develop resources for the Victorian curriculum based on adaptations of existing teaching resources and lesson plans produced by the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial Centre in Jerusalem. 

The Victorian Government appears to have called on Gandel Philanthropy for assistance because of its impressive track record in the area. Over the past 11 years, the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program for Australian Educators (“the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program”) has trained around 350 Australian teachers to both teach about the Holocaust and explore its universal implications using an inter-disciplinary and age-appropriate approach. 


Gandel Holocaust Studies Program

Recently, Philanthropy Australia conferred its Bolder Philanthropy Award on Gandel Philanthropy and the Australian Foundation for Yad Vashem in recognition of the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program. This award category acknowledges “philanthropic investment that is used as ‘social risk capital’ to provide early-stage support for an initiative, helping to scale or evolve it to deliver sustained positive change.”

Over the years, the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program has expanded from being a learning segment at Yad Vashem into a year-long professional development program for teachers across Australia. It includes pre-departure online learning elements and the delivery of a Holocaust educational project by teachers in their schools upon return. Key partners in the program include the Australian Foundation for Yad Vashem, the Raoul Wallenberg Unit of B’nai B’rith Victoria, the Jewish Holocaust Centre, Sydney Jewish Museum, Courage to Care Victoria, and B’nai B’rith NSW.

Natalie Baker, who completed the program in 2012, said of it, “The Gandel Program is such an effective program because it humanises the Holocaust in classrooms. It provides current best-practice pedagogy and resources for teaching the personal narratives of survivors, and gives guidance on how to approach challenging content such as Holocaust Denial and Antisemitism. It gives teachers access to world-class educators, and that access doesn’t start or finish with the study tour to Yad Vashem.” 

She added, “There is now a network of like-minded teachers across Australia who are a pretty connected community, who have a chance to share ideas and resources relevant to Australian educational needs, and this is invaluable as we try and build a Holocaust-aware society.”

Duane Galle is a graduate of the program from 2013, and currently a teacher at Banora Point High School in NSW. Since returning from the program he has developed a number of educational resources for teaching about the Holocaust. He told AIR: “Since completing the program I’ve become an advocate for Holocaust education. I’ve delivered professional development to teachers at national and state History Teachers’ Association conferences, run webinars for teachers throughout NSW, and developed teaching programs and resources that are now used by well over 100 teachers throughout NSW and Australia.”


Victorian Government review

A Steering Committee and Working Group for the Victorian Government’s review of curriculum and resources regarding education on the Holocaust was established in May. The Working Group was comprised of representatives from the Department of Education and Training, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority and several Jewish community organisations including: the Jewish Holocaust Centre; Jewish Museum Australia; Courage to Care; the Jewish Community Council of Victoria; the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (represented by Sue Hampel OAM); Yad Vashem (represented by Richelle Budd Caplan); Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation; the United Jewish Education Board; and five graduates from the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program.

Many of the Working Groups’ recommendations have been adopted by the Victorian Government, and on Dec. 9, the Victorian Minister for Education, James Merlino, announced that new teaching and learning resources will be ready for schools in 2021 to teach the Holocaust and address antisemitism. The announcement stated: “This includes lesson sequences, a bibliography of Holocaust-related texts and a comprehensive suite of historical sources that teachers can draw on to enhance existing or develop new Holocaust education programs. There will be more than 280 resources available such as diary extracts, documents, interactive online exhibitions, virtual tours, poems, newspaper articles, videos and images.” 

It added, “New school policy and teaching guidelines have also been developed that includes a requirement for schools to teach the Holocaust in secondary schools in Year 9 or 10.” 

The Victorian Government also announced $50,000 in funding for the Jewish Holocaust Centre to develop a professional learning program for teachers to help them develop learning programs in Victorian secondary schools, as well as increased funding to Courage to Care. 

In addition, the Victorian Government has established a dedicated hotline to report racism intended for use by schools, students and parents, and created a new student advisory group to make recommendations on addressing antisemitism and ensuring Victorian schools are inclusive communities. 

Commenting on the experience of working with the Victorian Government to improve education on the Holocaust, the Jewish Holocaust Centre’s Director of Education Lisa Phillips told AIR: “It was a privilege to co-chair the working group with the Department of Education… Over three months, 13 amazing individuals representing diverse organisations with differing priorities, working under COVID conditions, united in the goal of the project and the passion for excellent Holocaust education.”

Regarding teacher training, she added, “Our 10 step professional development plan has been created to give schools and teachers confidence in using the guidance material and resources now available on FUSE [a learning resources database]. It is designed to support schools if they have not implemented Holocaust studies into the curriculum or for those teachers and schools who would like assistance in ensuring they are teaching this difficult topic in a meaningful and engaging way. Our trial will begin in 2021.”

Natalie Baker also participated in the Working Group to help develop resources for the teaching of content related to the Victorian History Curriculum. Discussing the experience, she said, “It was invaluable professional development, really honing in what we considered to be essential Holocaust education for Victorian students. Collectively, we used our knowledge bank to find the best, most appropriate resources that would be most accessible for student needs. It was an incredible collaborative experience, something that was an extraordinary process to be a part.”

Similarly, Gandel Philanthropy’s CEO Vedran Drakulic praised the Victorian Government’s work with Jewish community organisations, telling AIR: “It has been a fantastic collaborative success, beyond our expectations. I congratulate the Department for doing it and taking up recommendations, but also for being very collaborative to ensure they had the best materials they could get.” He added, “But it’s not the end of the journey, other state governments can do the same thing, capitalise on it, undertake a similar process themselves. First and foremost, they should set the policy framework which makes education on the Holocaust mandatory in years 9 and 10, because we feel that story is important to be told, not as an optional one but as a compulsory one.”

As a teacher in NSW, Galle argues that NSW could improve how it teaches about the Holocaust, “The fact that NSW has mandated Holocaust education for all Year 10 students since 2012 is fantastic. However, it is often covered in a very superficial manner and generally by teachers with no specific training in Holocaust education. The Year 10 curriculum also allows schools to develop their own school-based units, and many are now delivering Holocaust units of upwards of 10 hours. I think this is excellent, and would like to see the NSW Education system develop exemplar units of work and teaching resources. At this stage this is being done by the Sydney Jewish Museum, but a more coordinated ‘top down’ approach would help get in-depth Holocaust education into more schools. I also think there is value in providing opportunities for the Holocaust being taught in non-history settings (such as English and art), which is an area that both the Gandel Program and the education unit of Yad Vashem have been working towards.” 

As the memory of the Holocaust fades, not simply education on the Holocaust, but quality education on the Holocaust and quality professional development for teachers, become critical. 

The Gandel Holocaust Studies Program has certainly played a significant role in achieving this goal, and over the years its alumni have taught thousands of students across Australia. 

The Jewish Arts Quarter in Melbourne, currently being developed with Victorian Government and local Council support, and which will include a remodelled Jewish Holocaust Centre and Jewish Museum of Australia/Gandel Centre of Judaica, will also play a vital part in teaching future generations. And while it may initially have been slow to act on reports of antisemitic incidents in public schools, the Victorian Government has done a commendable job by making education on the Holocaust mandatory and developing best practice resources to help teach about it. If implemented successfully, these could be used as a model for other jurisdictions in Australia and around the world. 


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