Kimberly Mann – “It’s Key to Present Information to People in a Way That Allows Them to Understand the Lessons That Are to Be Learned from This Tragedy”




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Nov 19, 2017
by Louise Hallman and Tomas De La Rosa
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Kimberly Mann – “It’s Key to Present Information to People in a Way That Allows Them to Understand the Lessons That Are to Be Learned from This Tragedy”

UN education outreach chief shares why learning about the Holocaust is so important for today’s youth Kimberly Mann facilitates a workshop on Global Citizenship Education

It happened in Europe over 70 years ago, but teaching about and learning from the Holocaust is still vital across the world today, says Kimberly Mann, Salzburg Global Fellow and chief of the Education Outreach Section in the United Nations’ Department of Public Information.

Speaking at the session, Learning from the Past: Sharing Experiences across Borders to Combat Extremism, Mann discussed the importance of Holocaust Education: “I think that when we look at Holocaust Education, we have to focus on two things: education and remembrance. It’s key to present this history to young people in a way that they can understand the lessons that are to be learned from this tragedy,” Mann says.

In her role with the UN, Mann devised the strategy and outreach program to be used by all 63 field offices of the UN around the world, which each has a mandate to observe the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 (the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp). In 2005, the first year of the outreach program, 10 Holocaust education and remembrance activities were held in 10 countries. By 2017, this had grown to 150 events and activities in 50 countries.

“To me [that growth] says a lot,” says Mann. “To me it says that the United Nations has taken this subject very seriously and we have been very determined to encourage Holocaust education in countries around the world, in countries that are at risk and in countries that have had absolutely or very little connection to the Holocaust as it occurred at the time.”

In April 2017, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) published Education about the Holocaust and preventing genocide: A policy guide. As Mann explains, the guide “defines what it is about the Holocaust that is universal; why it’s important for educators around the world to introduce education about the Holocaust in their classrooms; the relationship that it has not only with the preventing of genocide but [also] international law; and the role of the international community has in helping to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.”

The document, which was contributed to by 10 Salzburg Global Fellows, makes the link between Holocaust education and global citizenship education and the role that all individuals have to help promote peace and sustainable development. The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme contributed to the document's guidelines.

There are challenges in this approach. Mann attended an earlier session in the Salzburg Global Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention Program where she says there were many intellectual debates: “Do we teach about the Holocaust in order to protect human rights? Or do we look at human rights and then consider the Holocaust? There are some great sensitivities.”

Mann believes that “the Holocaust is a very important subject in and of itself.”

“You don’t teach about the Holocaust to learn about other genocides; you teach about the Holocaust to understand how the Holocaust came about – the specific history, the impact that it had on the Jewish people, and what that meant to the rest of the world.”

“Comparative genocide [studies are] important but you can’t compare the suffering of the victims. There is no hierarchy of suffering,” Mann explains. “But you can look at certain warning signs. You can be more aware and take action to prevent these things from happening by looking at case histories like the Holocaust, and what happened in Rwanda or other countries.”

For Mann, Holocaust education has an important role in teaching societies about what happens when there is discrimination, hatred and bigotry, and a lack of respect for minorities and diversity, as well as how communities – local, national and international – respond to such atrocities. She highlights the importance of learning how the Holocaust was perpetrated and by whom: “It wasn’t just the Nazis, it was the German people and their collaborators.”

Sharing personal experiences such as The Diary of Anne Frank has great value, says Mann, as they can help to make the atrocities feel more “real”: “It’s so important that we continue to listen to the stories of survivors, that this history has been documented.”

At a UN event in New York to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Diary of Anne Frank, at which the accounts of Anne Frank and other young victims of genocidal violence were presented to an audience of than 500 13 to 18 year olds, Mann remarks that she was “very inspired by [their] reaction.”

“The reaction from the young people was to ask: ‘Why? Why do we see people who are different to us as being less than us? Why do we think that people who are different than us don’t deserve to have same treatment, the same quality of life, the same standards of living and protections under the law as we do? Why?!’ …I really think that what I see [now] versus when I was younger in school is that there is a lot of critical thinking that is happening now.”

“There is a lot of work to be done but I think the first step is for young people to analyze the information that is being presented to them and then question the assumptions that they have already made themselves or the so-called ‘truths’ that have been presented to them.”   

Ultimately, Holocaust education is not only about learning about and from the past. Mann hopes that programs like as hers will “motivate [young people] to take some sort of positive action to defend human rights.”

The session, Learning from the Past: Sharing Experiences across Borders to Combat Extremism is part of the multi-year series Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention (HEGP) Program, which is held partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and this year is funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich. Additional support comes from Mr. Ronald Abramson; the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research, and Economy; the Robert Bosch Stiftung; the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation; the HDH Wills 1965 Charitable Trust; the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung; and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

More information can be found on the session here, and you can follow along via the hashtag #SGShol on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram