August 22, 2019

The Future of Holocaust Education in Germany

“Pulling their scarves and jackets tighter against the chill of a gray winter morning, 38 high-school students walked the grounds of the Sachsenhausen Memorial, a former Nazi concentration camp just outside Berlin.

They had come here to learn about the horrors and crimes committed at Sachsenhausen, where tens of thousands of people were murdered: the prisoners’ cramped quarters in the extreme heat or cold, their starvation after crushing hours of hard labor, the brutal treatment at the hands of their guards.

Even as the students’ tour focused on helping them understand the history of this place, however, the politics of the day inevitably crept in.

At one point, the students’ teacher, Matthias Angelike, interjected to ask their guide about a recent incident involving lawmakers from the far-right populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) and a group of their constituents. While on a tour here last summer, several members of the group interrupted their host to cast doubt on the existence of Sachsenhausen’s gas chambers and diminish the crimes committed in Nazi death camps. “They questioned whether people were actually killed here,” Angelike said to his students. “They questioned the Holocaust.””

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