How does education about the Holocaust advance global citizenship education?


How societies deal with the past has direct implications for our present and our future. Education about the Holocaust and genocide can help to shape societies today, to prevent mass atrocities and to address persisting grievances and prejudice. In this light, UNESCO has published a Policy Guide on Education about the Holocaust and preventing genocide, informed by the Organization’s longstanding work in education about the Holocaust and genocide and Global Citizenship Education (GCED). 

In support of this Policy Guide, UNESCO has commissioned a paper entitled “How Does Education about the Holocaust Advance Global Citizenship Education? A Critical Examination of the Research”,  to demonstrate how teaching and learning about the Holocaust and genocide can meet key learning objectives and provide added value to GCED, highlighting the potential to mainstream education about the Holocaust in this framework. 

“That the Holocaust and the Second World War led to many international norms regarding human rights and conventions protecting civilians enhances its relevance when educating about global citizenship concepts, ” underlines Jennifer Ciardelli, a main contributor to the Policy Guide and  Director of Civic and Defense Initiatives at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Through Global Citizenship Education (GCED), UNESCO aims to empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world. "Working towards this goal requires both institutional and individual commitments”, expresses Doyle Stevick, the author of the paper and Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina. “Effective education can empower students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to advance and sustain this effort." For UNESCO, this implies providing learners of all ages with the cognitive, behavioural and social-emotional skills that strengthen their resilience against violent extremism and forms of group-targeted violence and empower them as responsible citizens. Education about the Holocaust and genocide can align with this understanding of GCED.

GCED and education about the Holocaust are historically linked and deeply interconnected, though they may vary in overall orientation, scale and scope explains Doyle Stevick in the paper.  “GCED encourages us to recognize our common humanity, a recognition and understanding that was tragically absent as the Jews sought refuge from the Nazis. Education about the Holocaust and genocide and GCED both teach us that we all have a responsibility to act against injustice, whether in our own communities or in the global community.”

UNESCO encourages Member States to develop programmes that foster knowledge of the history of the Holocaust and atrocity crimes to help learners worldwide become more aware of the processes that can lead societies to descend into violence. “Decades of educational research show us that we have much to learn about the Holocaust, and much to learn from the Holocaust,” explains Doyle Stevick. “Studying this genocide enlightens students about the particular history of antisemitism and the dangers of racism more generally, while at the same time helping us understand that human rights are not just vague abstractions: they mark the shared commitment of humanity not to allow such crimes to occur.”  UNESCO’s Policy Guide on “Education about the Holocaust and preventing genocide” supports policymakers and educators to engage in this critical reflection about the roots of genocide and the value of nurturing peace and human rights concepts to guard against such atrocities in the future.

This education also has value to address histories of violent pasts and can assist societies in reconciling fragmented communities and overcome persisting grievances. “Such societies are fragile,” describes Jennifer Ciardelli. “Only when we understand that fragility can we work to guard against those tensions and dynamics that threaten stability and peace.” The paper shows that the Holocaust’s historical significance and universal implications can provide an entry point to inform a longer process of dealing with the past. “People who study the Holocaust in places that are grappling with their own historical traumas often recognize commonalities that help them begin to engage their own experiences in new ways”, explains Doyle Stevick, underlining the global relevance of education about the Holocaust.

The paper’s research findings are reflected in UNESCO’s Policy Guide that promotes teaching and learning about the Holocaust as an opportunity for contemporary skill-building and self-reflection about one’s own role in society. Education about the Holocaust and genocide can challenge assumptions about social responsibility and decision-making and can transform observers of prejudice and discrimination into actors against warning signs of oppression and genocide.

The paper provides a critical examination of research regarding the contribution of education about the Holocaust to GCED’s three domains of learning, including examples of good practices, a terminology overview and an extensive bibliography. The paper will also be integrated in APCEIU’s GCED Clearinghouse.