Earlier last month, French President Nicholas Sarkozy proposed that every fifth grader learn about the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazi in the Holocaust.
“Nothing is more moving, for a child, than the story of a child his own age, who has the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as he, but who, in the dawn of the 1940s, had the bad fortune to be defined as a Jew,” Mr. Sarkozy said at the end of a dinner speech to France’s Jewish community on Wednesday night. He added that every French child should be “entrusted with the memory of a French child-victim of the Holocaust.”
Needless to say, his plan was controversial. His political opponents derided the idea, psychologists and educators claimed that it would traumatize the students. One Holocaust survivor noted:
“It is unimaginable, unbearable, tragic and above all, unjust,” Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and honorary president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust, told the Web site of the magazine L’Express. “You cannot inflict this on little ones of 10 years old! You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. The weight of this memory is much too heavy to bear.”
I came about this story from a thought-provoking post by Jessica Helfand of Design Observer. She wrote:
Meanwhile, schoolchildren are typically taught history by fact and by date. They memorize key battles and identify significant acts of legislation, a process intended to highlight those benchmarks of civilization with which we should all aspire to fluency. Curiously, the notion that making history human would devalue such learning seems odd, if not entirely oxymoronic: if we read and analyze fiction to come to a better understanding of our own humanity, why would we not derive similar lessons from our own history?