Compulsory British Holocaust teaching stays on the books

london | Britain’s Holocaust education programs still — and always will —rank among the strongest in the world.

That’s the message from British educators and government, contradicting recent reports that the Department for Education and Skills would scrap its Holocaust curriculum requirement.

“Holocaust education in Britain is compulsory and there has never been any other suggestion,” said Nikki Ginsberg, a spokeswoman for the Holocaust Educational Trust.

The programs have come under recent scrutiny. Several major British newspapers reported that fear of offending Muslims who oppose Israel was spurring concerns among educators about teaching the Holocaust.

Holocaust educators believe the rumors stemmed from one passage in a 47-page report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills. In the passage, a teacher in an unnamed school said she hesitated to teach the Holocaust for fear of offending Muslim students.

“Challenges and Opportunities for Teaching Emotive and Controversial History,” released in April, chronicles the pressures educators face in tackling difficult issues like racism, the Crusades and the Holocaust. The report gives examples of how to handle such issues.

The Holocaust became part of the British national history curriculum in 1991. It is mandated for ninth-graders in England and Wales. High school students have the option of studying the Holocaust further in religion, English and citizenship lessons.

Education experts say the program is considered among the strongest in Europe, perhaps second only to Germany, where Holocaust education is compulsory in middle and high school. In the United States, only a handful of states require Holocaust teaching.

Britain emphasizes programs that bring high school students to former concentration camps in continental Europe, often Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

The “Lessons from Auschwitz” project, which has been run by the Holocaust Educational Trust for nine years and represents the largest such program in Britain, funds 15 trips a year to Auschwitz. Educators say students describe the trip as a life-changing experience that spurs them to activism when they return to Britain.

After a visit to Auschwitz, one 16-year-old girl wrote to the head of her school: “From studying the Holocaust, what we have learned is that we can make a difference. Our promise to you and those who died is that we will stand up for what we believe in and spread the knowledge of the Holocaust to prevent suffering like this from ever happening again.”