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Raising Children After Auschwitz

Translated from a Dutch local newspaper

In Germany, a heat debate is going on: which meaning have the horrors of the holocaust and other deeds of the nazis for us? 
We often said: "Never again!" But isn't this a hollow phrase?  
Or does our conscience need to remember Auschwitz?

Auschwitz and our memory of it.

There are important reasons for teachers, parents, students and other youths, to intensively think about the holocaust. 

At first in order to learn about ourselves, the human beings. The holocaust teaches us how bad 'bad' can be, but also that a human may reach a higher level by supporting other humans.  Aggression is within each of us. Education may learn us to use that aggression to create instead of delete, to build instead of to break, to change conflict in dialogue. With the notion that some conflicts are not resolvable.

Another reason is to caution everybody, but especially the young people, against such kind of things that still happen. Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz, said:

"It had happened, thus, it may happen again. This is the kernel of what we have to tell."

A third reason is to avoid to share the rows of the brutes and the deniers. About the deniers, Roger Errera, a French judge, said that it was their aim "to delete our memory, the only tomb for the died, and to delete each track of the crime from our memory".


In 1966, philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno wrote a now famous passage in his essay "Raising Children After Auschwitz": 

"The very first claim for education is that there will be never a second Auschwitz."

Education after Auschwitz implies two things: 

teaching about the holocaust, de shoah and the 'Endlösung', and

the way to raise children in general. 

  1. Raising children must be directed to de-barbarization. Barbarism - such as Auschwitz - the lack of love, the lack of warmth; it is chilliness, the inability to identification, not being able to identify with other people and situations. Barbarism is the inability to empathy. 
    Education after Auschwitz is stimulate 

    empathy (to put oneself in other people and situations), and 

    warmth (a climate of safety, security and openness).

  2. Young people should not only think about other humans and situations, but must also think about themselves and their own situation. Such thinking and self-knowledge should bring that mentioned chilliness to consciousness. This should prevent that the young ones would act out their feelings of hate and aggression on other people or things. It should stimulate that young people make their own decisions and choices instead of automatically follow the majority. We call this autonomy. 
    Education after Auschwitz implies promoting autonomy: to think self, to chose and decide self, not to unthinkingly follow the crowd. 

  3. The horror of Auschwitz is the horror of our world. The meaninglessness of the horrors of Auschwitz is the meaninglessness of all horrors. Our children must get the insight that the Auschwitz of then is a part of our world nowadays. If not, the chance of repeat is greater. 
    a second Auschwitz might not mean that the victims will be again Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, invalid people or other groups the nazis labeled as 'enemies' or 'inferiors'. It might simply be deviant groups. 
    Education after Auschwitz implies stimulation empathy with the horror of Auschwitz, which is the horror of our world. 'Empathy' implies here: to accept Auschwitz as a fact in your inner self, not to place it outside yourself. It means also to place Auschwitz - and such kind of horrors - within our world, not outside. It has happened and it might happen again; that is the crux of the matter.

  4. Young people has also to put themselves in the place of the offenders of the holocaust. There were three groups or roles involved in the holocaust:

    the offenders,

    the victims (see point 3), and

    the bystanders.

    With the bystanders, we have in mind, within the context of the national socialism, 

    those who helped the nazis,

    those who helped the victims, 

    those who followed the nazis, and 

    those who obstructed, who offered resistance.

    To understand the holocaust, the juvenile has to put himself in the place of all actors: of the offenders as well of the victims, as well as the bystanders. 
    Education after Auschwitz implies promoting empathy with the offenders, the victims and the bystanders of the holocaust. 
    Because Auschwitz has become the symbol of many forms of cruelty and aggression, education after Auschwitz means also promoting empathy with offenders, victims and bystanders in general. 
    No human is unfamiliar with those three roles. 

  5. Young people has to try to gain insight in the mechanisms and circumstances which, under national socialism (and other ideologically motivated murder programs) human beings made - and make nowadays - to aggressors and murderers. 
    Education after Auschwitz implies gaining the insight in the mechanisms and circumstances which make people aggressors and murderers, insight in the structure of the destruction.

The educational principles of this five-points program are


empathy, and


Young children

According to Adorno, Raising Children After Auschwitz should begin in early childhood. However, he doesn't tell us how to do that. 

"I cannot presume to draw up even an outline of such an education."

Having the five-points program given above in mind, we are able to draw up such an outline for raising children between three and ten years of age. Actually, it will be and 'Education after Auschwitz without Auschwitz', an education without detailed and extreme horrors. The first two points remain. The third and the fifth point expire, the fourth point may be shortened. By doing so, we create the next three-points program:

  1. Raising children after Auschwitz implies promoting

    empathy (putting oneself in the place of other humans and situations) and

    warmth (a climate of safety, security and openness).

  2. Raising children after Auschwitz implies promoting autonomy: to think self, to chose and decide self, not to unthinkingly follow the crowd.

  3. Raising children after Auschwitz implies promoting empathy with offenders, victims and bystanders. No child is unfamiliar with those three roles.

The educational principles of the three-points program for children between three and ten year are the same as the three principles of the five-points program for older children and youths:


empathy, and


To give form to the three-points program, the use of picture books may be a good help.

[Abram gives examples of Dutch books which are usable]

Professor Dr Ido Abram
is lector at the general Educational Study Center in Utrecht and
special professor of education at the University of Amsterdam.
He published amongst other works [translated title:]
Racial Myths and Racial Hatred: Lessons about and from the Shoah.

This article is a re-written version of a lecture held on 29 November 1998 at the Etty Hillesum Center in Deventer, The Netherlands.

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