Holocaust Education - the parallels between now and then

By Ilana McCorquodale, Senior Educator, Sydney Jewish Museum


October 7 is a notorious day in our history.  Having just returned from Europe and preparing for the start of Term 4, the events started to unfold, and the reality and tragedy of what had happened began to dawn on us. The following week, we immediately started to get schools calling us and essentially cancelling current bookings but rebooking for a future date in the 2024 school year. It was a difficult time for all of us. The schools that did come had massive drop-offs in numbers – for example, if they had 160 students, only 90 students would come on the day. There was no explanation, but we surmised that parents had concerns about safety and repercussions.

As educators at Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM), we grappled with how to educate based on the new topography of what was happening overseas. We are an institution where teachers send their students to learn about the Holocaust, and the context of how the Holocaust came about. (Nothing in the curriculum says “we want our students to come to you and learn about the current events happening in 2024”).

However, it's a narrative we want to discuss; we want to make those links obvious but still stay within our scope purview.  What's changed personally, for me, and for many of us in the museum, is that when we talk about history, we're now using words that other agendas have hijacked. When we talk about the ghettoisation of Jewish people, when we talk about the genocide of the Holocaust, we're also cognisant of the fact that those words are now being essentially co-opted for alternative motives, making it very, very incongruent and quite uncomfortable.

Essentially, when we realised the limitations on discussing contemporary antisemitism and current affairs, it was still essential for us to create a bridge for the teachers, the students and the people visiting the SJM to our broader message about the dangers of antisemitism and its historic manifestations. The Museum Education Team developed a resource pack for teachers and schools aiming to enlighten students about antisemitism’s historical roots and equip them with tools to confront and combat prejudice in today’s world.

Another area of great concern was the care for our Holocaust survivors at this time. There is an incredible amount of concern and shock – for them, it's happening again.  Something they didn't think they'd ever see in their lifetimes, is once again unfolding in real-time and rapidly.  They've seen this narrative before; they've seen the danger that misinformation breeds.  Our survivors have been attending the Museum faithfully for years, inspiring people with their ability to instill hope and shine light despite living through one of the darkest times in history. Their reason for being at the Museum has always been to give a message to those that attend, warning about prejudice, particularly against Jews.  For them, what's happening now is powerfully familiar. 

Like our survivors, as an educator, I must have hope.  Established in 1992, the Museum stands as a testament to the reality and the dangers of what happens when antisemitism goes unchecked.

While it may seem that my work and the work of the team at the Sydney Jewish Museum has been in vain, we realise that this is precisely what we've been teaching against; Maybe this time, humanity has an opportunity to ensure that things turn out differently.  We have people outside the community who have surrounded us with their solidarity and support – because the Museum is a place honouring the death of six million Jews – and it's a place where people come to hear the truth.

Ilana McCorquodale is a Senior Educator at Sydney Jewish Museum

This article was taken from an interview done in April 2024