Collegiate Holocaust Education in Germany

This blog was originally posted on the blog Holocaust Studies in Haifa. To learn more about our International MA in Holocaust Studies please click here

Guest Speaker, Verena Lucia Nägel, spoke to cohort V earlier this month, her lecture was titled, “Teaching About the Holocaust in the Country of the Perpetrators.” In elementary school all German children learn about the Holocaust in several different disciplines. For example, they may learn the Holocaust first in German History, then in Global History (taught in different grades). But Verena said this is not enough. She and a small group of researchers want to practically understand the status of collegiate Holocaust Education in Germany, so they started a statistical analysis.

Their focused question was to “ascertain and describe the current state of University teaching in the history of the Holocaust in the German context.” The sought to do this by statistical analysis of German Universities and how many Holocaust courses they offer. The based their statistical analysis on a Dual-Level Empirical Survey based on a sample of course catalogues from 79 universities in the German Rechter’s Conference. By searching through each of the course catalogues from the past 4 semesters with keywords relating to the Holocaust or National Socialism, they found all of the possible related courses provided by the universities. They also conducted interviews with 13 experts in the field, covering the most important universities in Germany. These 13 exports ranged from tenured professors to first time lecturers.

Their findings led to the conclusion that there is not enough higher Holocaust education in Germany specifically for students planning on becoming history teachers in the public school system. Verena said that the findings of her survey are particularly problematic for students who want to be history teachers, because they will be required to teach history but some of them have never taken a course specifically on the Holocaust. On average, 117 Holocaust courses were offered per semester throughout Germany, or about 1.5 are taught at each university per semester. This information leads to the conclusion that there some universities that do not teach on the Holocaust each semester, and this does not get enough basic background in the Holocaust. In the course of 4 semesters at university, the survey reports that in 16 universities students can take only 1 course on the Holocaust, in 28 universities students are not able to take such courses, in 29 universities students can take at least 2 courses and in five universities students can take Holocaust courses every semester.

The top universities for Holocaust Education are the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Freie University Berlin, Touro College Berlin, and Humboldt-University Berlin. The survey found that universities with institutes for Holocaust Education generally offer more Holocaust courses. Also, bigger universities often provide a better variety of course and therefore tend to offer more Holocaust Studies.

The 13 interviewees said that their classes on the Holocaust are often full and their students would like more courses to be offered. In all of the courses throughout Germany only 5 courses offer meetings with survivors of the Holocaust.

In academia there has been a shift from Holocaust Studies to Genocide Studies. But this is not happening in Germany. There are only 17 courses throughout Germany in Genocide Studies and 5 of these also discuss the Holocaust.


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