Faculty, Research

Between Trauma and Perpetration: Psychoanalytical and Social Psychological Perspectives on Difficult Histories in the Israeli Context

Tsafrir_GoldbergProfessor Tsafrir Goldberg, PhD, teaches From Silence to Omnipresence: Holocaust in the Curriculum and Beyond.  

In his most recent academic article, Professor Tsafrir Goldberg addresses a ground-breaking question in the realm of Holocaust education, asking whether the Holocaust should still be understood to be an episode of ‘difficult history’ in Israel today?

Episodes of ‘difficult history’ are those which challenge self-identity and in some way threaten the student’s self-esteem. From a psychoanalytical perspective, historic topics covering collective trauma constitute ‘difficult history’. Experiencing historical testimony can bring a sense of ‘return of suffering’ to the student, which needs to be processed in order to restore the learner’s sense of self-identity as part of the victimized group.

In contrast, a social psychological approach indicates that topics of ‘difficult history’ are those in which the student’s ‘in-group’ is perceived to be the perpetrator. From this point of view, a historical episode of perpetration becomes ‘difficult’ because it brings a sense of guilt at having victimized others, which is a threat to self-identity of the group and the individual as part of that group.

Today, Professor Goldberg writes, collective trauma could be seen as an asset, fostering positive identity and moral self-esteem. This has given rise to ‘competitive victimhood’, which leads groups to ignore or reject the suffering of other groups because they are seen as undermining their own platform of righteous suffering.

Holocaust education has long been the paradigmatic ‘difficult history’, and the path of Holocaust education in Israel has traditionally followed the psychoanalytic perspective of aiding students to process their sense of collective trauma. But Professor Goldberg points out that in recent years, Holocaust education in Israel has burgeoned into the largest and most important topic on the curriculum. In comparison with this, the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem has been evaded and rejected as a topic in the history curriculum. He brings reports from those teachers who do teach it about their students’ opposition to this topic and their rejection of Palestinian narratives of suffering. Alongside this, history teachers report that their students exhibit intolerance of other nations’ genocides.

On the foundation of these observations Professor Goldberg asks the disruptive question: “Could a historical issue that arouses enthusiasm, excitement and satisfaction among teachers and learners still be considered a difficult history?”

Professor Goldberg goes on to evince that students of the Holocaust do not feel shame, defeat, or hatred even on the most intensive engagement with testimony of trauma. On the contrary, facing testimony of collective trauma in Poland increases a sense of victory and and national pride in Jewish students instead of challenging it. In contrast, accepting learning about in-group perpetration in the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem lowers students’ sense of national glorification and increases their empathy with the suffering of others, which indicates “The unsettling effect of difficult knowledge which challenges learners’ identity or social identification.”

He suggests that given students’ reactions to learning about the Holocaust, educators should consider a social psychological approach. Engaging with difficult history of collective trauma in a psychoanalytical fashion can successfully process that trauma and is a way of coping with a ‘difficult return’. But it could also move to a ‘strategic practice’ of enhancing a sense of moral victimhood instead of increasing learners’ ability to feel for others’ suffering.

Professor Tsafrir Goldberg, PhD, is a member of the Dept. of Learning, Instruction and Teacher Education at the University of Haifa.


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Seminars, Special Tours

Our Visit to the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum: The Center for Humanistic Education

This is part four of a series about our four day seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House. You can read about the first day of our visit hereour second day here, and our third day here.

On the last day of our seminar at the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum, our students spent the day at the Center for Humanistic Education (CHE), which is located just next to the main museum. CHE hosts groups of school aged youths from all over Israel to learn about human rights and realistic application. They have many workshops designed to teach students about different forms of oppressive governments and genocide prevention.

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Cohort V in one of the exhibitions at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

Our students’ host took them through one of these workshops. They discussed different currents of theory based on Holocaust education. The students split into five groups, and each group was given a quote from leading Holocaust scholars about the value of Holocaust education. Some scholars claim that the Holocaust is unique, there was a certain set of preconditions that made the Holocaust possible. Other scholars affirm that genocide is universal, and so the Holocaust offers general education about genocide to some extent, and through studying the Holocaust genocide can be prevented. Another scholar claimed there is actually no worth in studying the Holocaust, because, as an affected society, Jews should forget the Holocaust and move forward with future-oriented thinking. Our students defended each of these theories, and then they had to pick which theory they most identified with. Discussing these theories reminded our students why they are studying the Holocaust.

Another workshop that CHE leads students through is called Brain Land. In this workshop, students create a government based on the ideology that people with a high IQ are high class and the governing one, while people with a low IQ are the lower class. The students work together to create a government based on this ideology. The students find that it is easy to create laws that oppress the lower class group. After this exercise they talk about how the Holocaust is universal, hate is hate, and ideology based on hate is dangerous.

 

 

Noha Khatib, Deputy Director of CHE, discussed with our students how Arab and Jewish students study the Holocaust both differently and similarly. Many students compare the Holocaust to the Nakba, which in Arabic this means “Great Catastrophe.” The Nakba occurred in 1948 when the Palestinians lost the War of Independance. Most people who study the Holocaust compare their own feelings of loss and hurt with what the Jews went through during the Holocaust, at least to their own extent. If the Holocaust can be considered universal, and the ideology of hate is universal, then these comparisons come naturally and they can be used to further Holocaust education. At CHE, Arabs and Jews can come to the same room and discuss difficult conflicts. Four graduates of this program, aged 17, came to speak with our students – two Arabs and two Jews. They candidly shared their experiences and explained education at CHE.

We would like to thank the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and Kibbutz for hosting us and offering valuable Holocaust education knowledge and methodologies.

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The outdoor Auditorium at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum seats thousands for their ceremony on the eve of Yom haShoah. This year’s ceremony will be on Monday April 24. 

Here are some informational links:

Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

The Center for Humanistic Education

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Internships, Special Projects

Nofim Internship

internship 4  For the second year in a row our students have the opportunity to participate in an internship with Nofim Elementary School in Haifa to design Holocaust lessons and teach them to a group of 6th graders. The internship is led by Madene Shachar, of the Ghetto Fighters House Museum, and Audrey Zada, the internship coordinator for the program. Under Shachar and Zada’s tutelage students have learned about trends in Holocaust education in Israel and how to design age appropriate Holocaust lessons for elementary students.

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Students had the opportunity to visit Nofim Elementary School in order to ask questions of the assistant principal and head English teacher. Our students were eager to find out about the school’s philosophy and expectations as well as the Nofim students’ abilities and interests.

Our students are in the midst of determining their rationale for teaching the Holocaust that at this point includes its centrality to Israeli identity, the need to establish a historic foundation for further study on the topic, and applying the history to lessons on tolerance and how to treat others. Students will use these rationales to select topics and plan engaging and interactive lessons for the students in the coming weeks. After planning the lessons and getting feedback from the internship learning community our students will teach the lessons to the 6th graders at Nofim in May and June.

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The Nofim internship gives our students the opportunity to expand their experiences with Holocaust education to Israeli elementary school students and really plan and execute thoughtful lessons in an ideal situation. The internship provides students with a practical experience that will enable them to apply the knowledge gained from their studies to teaching younger students. Diana Schueman, one of the participants in the internship, has prior teaching experience and she is looking forward to utilizing her background in teaching while gaining additional experience on how to teach the Holocaust with Israeli students.  Another participant, Kim Johnson, said, “At the heart of this internship is children! Young people who have the potential to shape the world for generations to come.  Nothing gives me greater joy than to influence youth regarding the most central event in Human history—the Holocaust.  We have a great team and I look forward to developing the goals and lesson plans for the Nofim class to take their Holocaust understanding to another level!” We are excited to see how this year’s lessons will turn out.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/

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