Friday, 22 February 2008
French split over plan to teach Shoah
Jewish community officials are divided over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial new plan to teach schoolchildren about the Holocaust.
The project, announced by the president during the umbrella Jewish group CRIF’s annual dinner last week, consists of “twinning” French pupils with the 11,000 Jewish children deported from France and killed in the Second World War.
Mr Sarkozy’s goal was to catch children’s attention by telling them the true stories of those their own age, an initiative inspired by the great educational success of Anne Frank’s diary.
However, the plan was widely and immediately criticised by professors, psychologists and several Jewish community leaders who considered the burden of history and possible feelings of guilt to be too heavy for children to bear. Accusations also came from one of Mr Sarkozy’s political allies, Simone Veil, a survivor of Auschwitz and honorary president of the Shoah Memory Foundation.
“I am furious and I don’t understand how this initiative was even considered by the president,” Ms Veil told the JC. “These victims are not symbols, they were real children and this initiative will not do them justice.”
But Serge Klarsfeld, the French lawyer who battled throughout his career to find and try former Nazis, said he approved of Mr Sarkozy’s initiative.
“From my experience, children of 12 to 13 listen carefully and give so much attention when they are told about the Second World War. This is the right age to talk to them about the Holocaust,” said Mr Klarsfeld, who for years has gathered thousands of documents about children killed in the Shoah. “I will give all of the information I gathered for this new project.”
Mr Sarkozy’s advisors said the president came up with the programme himself out of concern for the transmission of information on the Shoah to future generations.
CRIF, which deemed the controversy to be “artificial”, suggested that pupils do not focus solely on the victims but also on righteous gentiles.
Mr Klarsfeld also suggested that the project could be extended to cover other historical events and other victims.
According to a poll by IFOP survey institute, 85% of the French disapprove of Sarkozy's project on Shoah study - an exceptionally strong opposition.