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Rewriting History: WWII and the Holocaust

Posted: 08/11/2012 09:02

By Richard Foreman author of Warsaw and A Hero of Our Time.

There seems to be an increasingly alarming trend nowadays for some people to consider that the story of the Second World War was the story of the Holocaust. They would perhaps mention the Holocaust in any word association exercise with the Second World War, or posit that the Allies went to war in order to end the Holocaust or save the Jews. This trend is particularly taking root in the young, I fear. I often visit the Imperial War Museum in London and nigh on every time I attend I see a school party being marched up to the (excellent) Holocaust exhibition. As heartening as this is, I feel subsequently disheartened by the fact that the teachers and syllabus ignore so many other benefits that the museum and a study of the Second World War in general has to offer. In many ways it was Britain and America's finest hour. To some extent it may be argued to be the greatest story ever told, full of heroism, tragedy, social upheaval and inspirational - and abhorrent - characters. But all too often students are marched straight back out again once they have seen the exhibition, staring in wonder at the tanks and mini-sub on display to swiftly be up close and personal with a school bus again, as opposed to a Spitfire.
Is it not time that a general study of the Second World War replaced a Holocaust-centred syllabus? The course could and should encompass military history, economic history, political ideologies and social history - and more. It should also of course encompass the history of the Holocaust, a significant part of the story of the Second World War but not the whole story. Some people have tagged today's students as being part of a lost generation, in regards to the economic climate, their job prospects and the national debt, hanging over them like the Sword of Damocles. The greater tragedy however, for me, is that students today may be judged as being the ill-informed generation - through a narrow curriculum, lack of intellectual curiosity and the rewriting of our island story.
I may be seen to be shooting myself in the foot by arguing for the above. I have recently released the novel Warsaw, set in 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto, with the central character of a Jewish Policeman. I have already been contacted by a couple of colleges to give a talk about the book as it fits in with the Holocaust module of their syllabus. Upon the basis of my prospective, altered, syllabus however the colleges would be contacting the likes of Adam Tooze ("The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy") and Max Hastings ("All Hell Let Loose") to take my place. If I am shooting myself in the foot by saying such a thing though, it is an academic war wound that I would be willing to endure.

Richard Foreman is author of Warsaw and A Hero of Our Time.

 

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