In June 1981, Abba Kovner stated, “As long as it is not too late, we must recognize that the Holocaust is not the obsession of those who survived, and that the identification with the six million victims, and the elements of that period are not just the concerns of those who experienced it themselves, but part of the long collective memory of the Jewish people, and the place of the Holocaust is in the historical consciousness of every Jewish generation everywhere.”
This week, almost exactly thirty years later, Kovner’s words reverberated in the hearts and minds of more than one thousand Israeli teachers who gathered at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem to participate in the fourth national conference on Holocaust education, “The Individual and the Collective during the Holocaust.” During her remarks at this conference, Professor Dina Porat, incoming Chief Historian of Yad Vashem, related to Kovner’s personal dilemmas during the Holocaust, touching on the tension between his perceived responsibility to himself, his family and to his community. Kovner wrestled with his memories, and the choiceless choices that he faced during the Holocaust period, until his death in 1987.
Sitting among educators from throughout the country, inside a large tent that was especially built for this event, it quickly became evident that their commitment to teaching about the Holocaust was of the utmost importance to them – not only professionally but also personally. Holocaust survivors sitting among them were clearly moved by the teachers’ dedication as well.
However, at one point, a question popped up in my mind: Would Kovner and his generation have approved of such a mass gathering of educators, discussing the pedagogical imperative after Auschwitz, rather than a more intimate setting of a smaller group in the School auditorium? Although we will never know the answer to this question, hopefully he would have been pleased that the message of his generation has become engraved on the memories of future generations.