A survey by the Nederlands Dagblad finds that almost 10 percent of history teachers in secondary schools have to deal with students in their class who deny the Holocaust. Especially in schools with a large percentage of students with an immigrant background, incidents of Holocaust denial occur twice as often, reports Nederlands Dagblad.
The frequency of these incidents are kept within limits, according to the survey. For 10 percent of teachers who regularly deal with Holocaust deniers in the classroom is 1 percent. In contrast, 8 percent of teachers sometimes deal with students who deny or question historical events. Only one teacher reported that teaching about the Holocaust evokes relativistic responses every time.
This pattern is most common in classes where there is a higher percentage of students with immigrant backgrounds. In the survey, one-fourth of the teachers reported that in classes where there are more than a quarter of students with an immigrant background, they sometimes or regularly deny the Holocaust.
Vincent Pap, history teacher at Oostvaarders College in Almere told the newspaper that he regularly deals with some students who downplay the Holocaust. For example, he says, he is confronted with statements such as “that the Holocaust is used to justify the state of Israel’s attitude toward Palestine.” These students also believe the figure of 6 million victims of the Holocaust is exaggerated, reported nearly 20 percent of teachers.
But according to Pap, he can always refute these statements and skeptical attitudes with facts and usually the students accept his explanations.
However, it is not only students with an immigrant background who seem to relativize or even deny the Holocaust, mentions Marc van Berke, who is a lecturer at the Arnhem and Nijmegen University of Applied Sciences.
During one of van Berke’s studies regarding the topic, teachers reported that they were confronted with nationalistic or right-wing extremist students who believe “that the Jews are striving for world domination and that the Holocaust contributes to a positive image of the Jews,” he says.
Having students confront teachers with conspiracy theories and old Jewish stereotypes in the classroom is a major challenge, says Matthijs van Setten, who teaches at BRAVO! college in Budel. Most of the time, students get their information from the Internet or point to social media platforms as their source.
The only solution to move away from a denialist or skeptical attitude, he said, is primary sources and visual evidence. “If I read the story of a survivor or show pictures of certain events, my students actually always come round.” In addition, van Setten uses these moments to teach recognizing reliable sources.