The Myth of 'Never Again'

Many countries in Europe and North America now require all high-school pupils to learn about the Holocaust. Why? Because of its historical importance, of course, but also because, in our increasingly diverse and globalized world, educators and policy-makers believe Holocaust education is a vital mechanism for teaching students to value democracy and human rights, and encouraging them to oppose racism and promote tolerance in their own societies.

That was certainly my assumption in 2005 when, as secretary general of the United Nations, I urged the General Assembly to pass a resolution on Holocaust Remembrance, which included a call for “measures to mobilize civil society fo r Holocaust remembrance and education, in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.”

Indeed it might seem almost self-evident that Holocaust education would have that purpose, and that effect. Yet it is surprisingly hard to find education programs that have clearly succeeded in linking the history of the Holocaust with the prevention of ethnic conflict and genocide in today’s world.

Of course, prevention is always difficult to prove. But the least one can say is that the cry of “never again,” raised by so many in the years after 1945, has rung increasingly hollow with the passing decades. The Holocaust remains unique in its combination of sophisticated technical and organizational means with the most ruthlessly vicious of ends, but instances of genocide and large-scale, merciless brutality have continued to multiply — from Cambodia to the Congo, from Bosnia to Rwanda, from Sri Lanka to Sudan.

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